3 Sustainable Ways to Build a Customer-Focused Content Strategy

Learn how to create a branded content strategy that not only produces quality content, but also takes into account what your customers really want.

We’ve all seen umpteen studies proving (correlating) that the more content you publish on your blog, the more visits and leads you get. Marketers take this finding at face value and race to publish more (and more visible) content, with “experts” and “thought leaders” spewing advice on the latest tools and technology that will purportedly have your audience consuming your brand content with tears in their eyes.

The result is that every day, over 3 million blog posts are published, not to mention the countless social media updates posted. While there’s a lot of well-researched content in this haystack, much of it is conjecture and outright replication.

In order to stand out from the overflowing stream of new content, marketing teams often fall into the trap of chasing every tactic that comes their way or “borrowing” from the content created by famous brands or industry experts, and “adapting” (read, rehashing) it to fit their own content strategy. Instead, they should be gleaning lessons from big brands’ innovative content strategies and keep looking for ideas — from the most commonplace to the most implausible sources.

Let’s discuss a few ideas to ensure your content strategy never goes out of style, while matching the pace of your content production with your audience’s propensity to consume it.

Collate Industry Data and Visualize It

From a used car salesman to an apparel website, everyone has to resort to statistics and facts once a while. This was earlier done with presentations, charts, and tables. However, we’ve long needed respite from these boring and confusing ways to present numerical data.

Thanks to Edward Tufte and his four classic books on data visualization, data and visualization came together like two long-lost brothers uniting after a long time. Tufte had faced many problems in his career, because of poor data representation tools. So he revamped data presentation by adding images to data. The New York Times called him the “Leonardo da Vinci of data” while Business Insider referred to him as the “Galileo of graphics.”

Interestingly, research by Nielsen concluded that readers will pay closer attention to relevant pictures included on the page, as our eyes are naturally drawn to images. However, they will ignore visuals included just for the sake of imagery.

But it wasn’t until the availability of infographic-making tools that this method became mainstream. Today, visualization is the basis of content marketing, and not going away any time soon. Whether it is social media posts or blog articles, the simplest way to catch your customer’s eye is with pictures and videos, which get far more engagement than text-heavy content. This holds true across all digital and traditional platforms and channels.

A survey by Venngage built upon this, with empirical evidence that engagement depends on the type of visuals used in the content. Infographics and original illustrations perform the best, followed by charts and video. “Trendy” formats, stock photos, and memes actually receive the lowest amount of engagement.

content strategy graphic
Credit: Venngage.com

The lesson here is that numbers are boring, but you can’t avoid them forever. Content marketers must take a cue from Edward Tufte’s data visualization strategy and revamp their content to include lots of graphics — even better if they are animated or interactive.

Share Success Stories

The best lessons are learned from other people’s experiences. Strangely, many marketers ignore this fact, even though every customer knows it.

Very few companies package their successes into case studies that they can easily use to appeal to a wider audience and acquire more customers.

Don’t make this mistake. Always be on the lookout for case studies — they don’t necessarily need to be yours, if you don’t have enough or relevant experience. Analyze industry examples thoroughly to gauge your potential customers’ intent, challenges in targeting them or doing business, and how these challenges can be overcome. Don’t frown upon any content format — be they detailed whitepapers, listicles, or good old FAQs. Make sure your content marketing plan provides solutions to all of your customers’ woes with actionable advice.

E-commerce platform BigCommerce has dedicated a whole section of its website to showcasing retailers’ (in both the enterprise and SMB sectors) success stories, as well as case studies. The best of the best get their own feature pages, but the showcasing doesn’t end there. (Hey, this is the best in digital merchandising we’re talking about!) BigCommerce even hands out its own annual awards to the merchants who provide a great user experience and innovative eecommerce solutions to their customers.

content strategy screen shot
Credit: BigCommerce.com

These case studies are sorted by industry or topic, and include advice on entrepreneurship, retailing, advertising, media, and pretty much anything related to doing business online. This content has no obvious CTA or tangible conversion value that you might expect. But, despite that, it is worth its weight in gold, due to the brand credibility it portrays and information it delivers to the audience.

Just as in B2C, 65% of B2B marketers believe in the effectiveness of case studies as a content marketing tactic (after in-person events and webinars). People trust real examples more than branded content. Most people (and by extension, organizations) will look at what others are doing and how they are doing it before they make a final decision. Use this psychological tendency as a base on which to build heaps of helpful content.

Combine your case studies with visual testimonials to drive home the value of your product. Video is a great way to deliver a memorable message about the joy your product brings to the lives of real users, while demonstrating to others how it can help them make pressing problems go away. Video conferencing tool Zoom used this strategy to feature one of its largest clients, Zendesk:

Instead of using a quote from the top management, like most testimonials do, this clip features sound bites from people across the organization. It shows the product in actual use by people in different roles and how every one of them is happy to do so.

Focus on Educational Content

CMI’s “Content Marketing Benchmarks” report for 2019 revealed that 77% of the most successful B2B content marketers nurture their audiences with educational content. An overwhelming 96% believe that that building trust and credibility is what qualifies them as thought leaders in their industry. Therefore, delivering useful information to your audience, leads, and customers is easily one of the most effective ways to succeed with content.

Google Analytics is so ubiquitous with website analytics that you’d think it didn’t have to care about acquiring or retaining customers. After all, we all live and swear by GA, right? But Google does not take its position as the market leader in web analytics for granted. With a dedicated Google Analytics Academy that offers how-to guides, training courses, and even certifications to existing Google Analytics users, Google holds its users in an iron grip.

content strategy from Google
Credit: Google.com

The biggest advantage of customer education is retention (which again drives sales at the lowest costs). Another market leader that takes customer education (and retention) seriously is IKEA. From alternate uses for its products to showcasing how customers have creatively used IKEA products to take their lifestyles to the next level, IKEA’s Inspiration section is a design buff’s delight.

content strategy from IKEA
Credit: Ikea.com

Over to You

Drawing and keeping your customers’ attention in this fast-paced marketing age is difficult. Whether it’s your product or marketing that is great, there is someone out there who is doing it better than you and vying for your share of the market. You must constantly attempt to stand out and remain relevant, by relentlessly improving the usability, quality, and effectiveness of your content.

Riding current trends could get your content some short-lived buzz, but it is important to stay focused on pursuing long-term relationships with your customers by creating and publishing content that speaks directly to them.

Imagine This: Better Visuals for Better Digital Marketing

Great imagery can bring your digital marketing to life. Clichéd visuals will do the opposite, and may even drive your audience away from otherwise great content. Here’s how to get better visuals.

“Stock photography” is not a four-letter word. (Though “clip art” probably is.) It’s possible to bring your digital marketing and collateral materials to life without spending a fortune — or looking like you’ve spent nothing at all. Here are some tips for better visuals.

Writers Are Not Designers

At least, most writers aren’t. Some writers do have a good visual sense. But even if you’re blessed with a writing team full of museum-level illustrators or photographers, you’re better off having a visual pro on your team, as well. Not only is that person likely to produce better visuals, but a second set of eyes naturally provides a different perspective.

That additional perspective can be valuable. If your designer comes back and says, “I’m not really sure where to go with this, visually,” it’s a good sign that perhaps the content isn’t as clear as it could be. (Which might also point to the need for writing and editing roles to be handled differently.)

Give Designers a Seat at the Table

Taking this one step further, you’ll want to involve designers early and let them shape the finished product. Design will obviously be central to an infographic, a video, or any other inherently visual medium. But even for case studies and other copy-centric content, the design team should be given the opportunity to help shape the finished product. In other words, don’t bring them at the end with instructions to “do the best you can with this.” Let them help you make it better from the start.

Stock Imagery Isn’t Either/Or

When it comes to fine clothing, your choices aren’t just right of the rack vs. full custom. You can also have a ready-made suit tailored to fit you better. The same is true of graphic elements.

Your design team can combine multiple images to get the effect you need. Or even simply process an image to create a cohesive similarity across a series of blog posts, case studies, or brochures.

Stay on the Right Side of the Rules

I hope I’m not pointing out something new by telling you that most stock imagery requires a license. Tools for tracking down unauthorized usage has become much more sophisticated, so don’t think nobody will notice an unlicensed image, just because it’s not font-and-center on your home page.

One often overlooked detail: making sure that the license allows you to use it as you plan to. And if you plan to alter the image, that makes a difference. Not all licenses allow alteration, nor do all licenses permit any kind of usage.

And please don’t even think of doing a basic Google search and using any old image that shows up. That doesn’t mean it is a public domain image. You’re far better off using a tool like the Google Advanced Image Search, which allows you to filter results by usage rights, along with many other useful parameters.

Conclusion

In the end, there’s no substitute for a talented and experienced graphics pro. But if budget or other constraints make adding one to your team unrealistic, consider at least bringing in a designer as a one-time or occasional consultant who can create guidelines that help you avoid cliches, overly literal imagery, and those shiny happy people who all but scream “clip art.”

Avoid PDFs in Cold Email Templates. Always.

I’m not going to try to persuade you. Instead, I’ll just share my experience — observing hundreds of successful sellers. If you want to get more conversations started “from cold,” avoid including links and/or PDFs in your “first touch” email. Here’s why and what to do instead.

Customer-First Email MarketingI’m not going to try to persuade you. Instead, I’ll just share my experience — observing hundreds of successful sellers. If you want to get more conversations started “from cold,” avoid including links and/or PDFs in your “first touch” email.

Here’s why and what to do instead.

PDFs Are the Devil

Don’t attach PDFs or any literature to your cold email. I have yet to meet anyone who articulates “the why” behind my recommendation better than Scott Britton, co-founder of Troops, a sales productivity tool. If you’re in marketing … get ready. This might jar you a bit. But keep an open mind.

“A PDF should never be able to explain the value or merits of your product within a specific context as well as you can. So why send a deck and let a static document do the selling instead of you?” asks Mr. Britton.

Key words here are “within a specific context.” Our job as sales people is to apply content within context. So if you have a white paper, report, infographic, whatever … effective use means applying it in context of the “buying journey.”

This requires your assessment of the context — first. Everything else is just pushing information at someone who doesn’t want it.

Remember: Customers value more what they ask for — less what you offer them. Thus, help the right customers develop an urge to ask.

But here’s the most important reason to not include your PDF — no matter what it contains.

“If they’re not into (motivated by) your offering after reviewing their deck, there is literally no reason to hop on a call with you,” says Mr. Britton.

Need I say more?

As Scott says, “Don’t take yourself out of play, own the sale.”

Because if you rely on that PDF, well, you are all but giving up. You are also just like 95 percent of sales people out there. You’re not at the top of your game.

Don’t Rush: How to Apply Case Studies

It’s common to use case studies in cold emails, as attachments. But the goal of your first email is not to earn purchase consideration, nor a meeting. It is to earn a reply. Period.

Thus, your goal is not to get prospects to read the case study PDF. They don’t want your case. Because they’re not interested in qualifying you (yet). They’re not in a discussion (yet) that would cause them to want to qualify you.

The goal is to get them to talk with you — about how their goals, fears or burning desires. Then assess if they’re interested in qualifying you, at which time you can offer a case.

Be confident. Don’t rush to show. Get them hooked on the provocation. Once they’ve asked you for what’s in your PDF they’ve opened the door. Otherwise you’re just busting through the door saying, “hey, read this!” like every other sellers is.

Think of it like a first date: The more you promote what you want, the less you’ll get it. The more you allow them to respond and discuss, the more you’ll get it.

Get Into the Conversation — Now

Quick example from a client I’m working with: The goal of their first touch email is to get into conversation about potential clients’ trade shows. But many sellers on their team feel urges. They want to rush the conversation by including case study PDFs on first touch.

We developed a provocative approach, asking the potential client, “Are you open to a different way of attracting decision-makers to your booth? I have an idea for you.”

Rather than asking for a meeting, or if they’re interested in talking about an upcoming trade show, we conclude the email with, “How are you currently earning meeting commitments from prospects prior to the event?”

Because this is the conversation we want to be in! This is the “slow go” type of approach I’m referring to. Ask for the discussion — not for the meeting or the qualification (reading your PDF).

But many sellers on my client’s team felt an urge to add:

“I can send you the case study/testimonial of our client who increased their qualified traffic by 90 percent.”

Do you see how this pushes rather than pulls? It promotes. Instead, consider attracting that conversation to you. Tempt the prospect to ask you for the case.

Why do we do this? Why to we rush the conversation? Because you feel you should. Why? Because you’re worried — what you’ve said in the email is not going to be enough. Be confident. Don’t attach PDFs or any literature to your cold email. A PDF should never be able to explain the value or merits of your product within a specific context as well as you can.

What is your experience? I’m open to hearing it.

How (Not) to Run an Agency RFP

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the RFP process – and I’ll boil it down to three words: Lack of respect

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the RFP process—and I’ll boil it down to three words: Lack of respect.

Agencies are always delighted when invited to participate in an Request for Proposal (RFP) process. While many may choose not to engage due to client conflict or the belief that their likelihood of being awarded the contract is nominal—or the budget outlined in the brief doesn’t come close to paying for the amount of work that will be required to achieve the client’s objectives—those that do participate have an expectation that the process will be fair and somewhat transparent.

Any agency worth its salt invests significant time, energy and out-of-pocket expense in a new business pitch. Whether it’s the early stages of completing the “competency” response (where the focus is on written information that provides an overview of the agency, some case studies that are relevant, industry experience, team bios, etc.,) or it’s a later stage when preparing for a face-to-face pitch, net-net, it takes a lot of hard work to prepare a smart, tightly integrated response that will help put your firm in the best possible light with the target decision makers. After all, we’re all supposed to be marketing experts and if we can’t market ourselves properly to a target audience of our peers, what kind of marketers are we?

That aside, recently we were included in three separate searches for a new agency and they shared a common trait—the big, black, hole.

We received the RFP, spent countless hours researching the brand to fully understand their point of differentiation, talked to past and current customers, participated in the Q&A process, coordinated with partners to fill in some capabilities gaps, and attempted to understand the financial metrics to ensure we could provide intelligent and thoughtful solutions that would actually yield a positive ROI. After weeks of work, we carefully assembled our response, printed multiple copies, bound the decks and invested in a courier to deliver it on the designated date to the clients’ location.

The next milestone on the RFP was to notify agencies that made it to the next round by XX/XX/XX.

Despite emails and phone calls to the RFP contact, we never heard a peep … even weeks and weeks after the deadline had passed.

In one instance, we finally got a junior staffer on the phone who told us the search had been cancelled and they renewed their contract with the incumbent—apparently they shopped around and convinced themselves there was no one better, but didn’t have the courage to let each participant know of their decision. But why? Afraid we’re going to try and talk them out of their decision??

In another instance, we finally got an email from a procurement officer advising us that the RFP had been cancelled—period—no other explanation. After a little sleuthing, we figured out the company hired a new marketing director in the middle of the search, and they probably wanted to regroup before proceeding. Fair enough—but don’t leave us all hung out to dry!

In a third instance, we finally tracked down an insider who told us the marcom team was going through a reorganization, and no one knew what was happening. Gosh. So glad I invested in THAT opportunity!

I’ve also noticed that many clients running RFPs are often ill-equipped to conduct the search properly. When we go through the Q&A process, they can’t seem to answer key questions that will drive strategically smart solutions. Or even basic things like:

  • Why are you looking for a new agency?
  • What are the biggest marketing challenges you’re facing today and, if you know, in the future?
  • What marketing efforts are you executing currently that are working and not working and why?
  • Who is your target audience—SPECIFICALLY?
  • What are your business metrics?
    • What is a new customer worth?
    • What is your churn rate?
    • How many products/services does a typical customer own?

The more you can share during the RFP process, the more likely you are to get intelligent, insightful ideas that can make a real difference to your business. And yes, that takes signing mutual NDA’s, investing real time and energy into the review process, and working with agency teams to discover who feels like a good “fit” and brings fresh ideas to the process that seem viable to your business.

It’s NOT a fishing expedition for free creative. (Would you go to a doctor and ask for a diagnosis without paying?) It’s NOT an exercise to freak out your incumbent so they’ll work harder/reduce their fees/change the way they do business. If that’s what you want, tell them that’s what you need, and if they don’t deliver, advise them you’re going to search for a replacement and that they needn’t participate as you have no intention of keeping the business with them.

After all, we’d all prefer not to work long nights and weekends if we don’t have a hope of winning. That’s just plain respectful.

Fresh Insights in Selling to SMBs

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company. Plenty of agencies, research firms, and other marketers are focused on SMB, and willing to share their insights. One new set comes from Bredin, Inc., a Boston-based agency that just published a new study on how SMBs buy today.

Kudos to Bredin for figuring out how to persuade 532 busy business owners to take a 15-minute survey online, in May 2014. Respondents were asked all kinds of questions about their buying, influences, media preferences, resources, the works. Here are the nuggets that were most revealing to me.

  • These buyers trust their peers more than any other information source, across the spectrum from awareness to researching product details to the buying decision.
  • They still rely on trade shows and events for product information. Second only to peers and colleagues.
  • They like print materials, for brochures, checklists, handbooks, case studies. When it comes to tablets, they expect to see quotes, order confirmations, videos, interactive tools, and presentations.
  • They want to hear from their vendors, regularly. Not just when they are ready to make a purchase. Encouraging, isn’t it?
  • They welcome email, phone and face-to-face contact from vendors in the period when they are researching, but not ready to buy-what we marketers call “nurturing.” But the number of nurturing contacts they want varies widely, from weekly, to monthly, to every six months.
  • Most of the time (74 percent), the business owner himself or herself is the person investigating the new products and solutions. And this is among businesses with up to 500 employees.
  • The vendor website is a top resource when conducting product research and honing in on a purchase decision.

What should marketers take away from these observations?

Thought Leadership: Establishing your executives and your company as trusted advisers in your field is hugely important in this market. This means networking, content marketing, PR outreach, speaking engagements, and trade/industry professional activities.

Block and Tackle: There are always shiny objects out there, but make sure you have the basics covered. A well-trained sales force, enabled with informative materials, both digital and print, email, phone and trade show support.

Content-rich Website: Intuitive navigation, clarity of design, benefit-oriented copy, loaded with explanatory tools, like case studies, product comparisons, testimonials, how-to guides, video demonstrations-this is how to attract and serve the SMB buyer.

This fresh data confirms my long-held view that business owners value the help they get from their vendors. Ours is a relationship of mutual benefit, as long as we do our part to help them solve their business problems.

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

B-to-B Marketing Is Falling Down on the Job

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

Of course, my first thought was sales training. Clearly the reps in these situations need a training refresher—and stronger management, and possibly an improved incentive compensation plan—to handle the engagement more effectively.

But I also cringed at the marketing failure. We marketers should be helping with these sales opportunities, to increase their chance of success.

So, herewith, I set down a list of oft-forgotten B-to-B marketing imperatives.

  1. Marketing’s Role Is to Provide Sales Support
    Unlike consumer-facing companies (where marketing owns the P&L and sales is one of its levers) in B-to-B, sales typically owns revenue responsibility. Our job in marketing is to make sales more productive. It’s a mindset that doesn’t come naturally to marketers. And some would debate this interpretation of marketing’s role. But when a sales rep goes in to a meeting without the tools needed to close, it’s marketing’s failure as much as anyone’s.
  2. Provide Sales With the Tools They Need
    This means presentations that can be easily tailored to target industries, and particular target accounts. It means pre-call preparation documents—company history, personnel backgrounders, installed technology analyses. And a library of content assets the sales rep can choose from, filled with white papers, research reports, case studies, infographics, videos and e-books.
  3. Prove the ROI on Your Solution
    Marketing must gather the data—and the stories—to prove the value of the product or service to the prospect. This might mean independent third-party research. It also means case studies, ROI calculators—whatever points can help the internal advocate represent the project inside the firm.
  4. Resist the Plea From Sales to Pass Unqualified Leads
    I’ve made this point before. But it bears repeating. Some sales people will claim that everything going on in their territory is their business, and there’s logic to that. But if you let them know that a mere inquiry came in from an account in their territory, and they pounce, only to find it unworkable, you know darn well what you’ll hear from sales: “The leads marketing gives me are useless.” A legitimate complaint. But the even more important consequence here: Marketing has failed to enhance sales productivity.
  5. Be Careful How You Promote Marketing Success
    If marketing is heard in meetings to claim responsibility for a certain level of revenue, watch out. Sales is making the same claim. So you might want to couch it in ice hockey terms, like an “assist.” And take full responsibility for interim metrics like cost per lead, and lead-to-sales conversion rates, which are more in the direct control of marketing.

I hope readers will comment on other imperatives for successful B-to-B marketing today.

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

Slapping Lipstick on It Doesn’t Mean It’s Content

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.” In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. Not only does it allow us to take a spur of the moment picture, but it feeds into society’s obsession with “look-at-me-now!” social media. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.”

In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

In the strictest sense of the word, content is the subject or topic covered in a book, document, website, blog, video or webinar. And Content Marketing is the new black.

Just a few years ago, you could generate attention with a few media placements and a well-crafted message. But now consumers, especially in the B-to-B space, want more—more insight into how your product/service will make a difference in their business, more case studies that demonstrate how others have leveraged your product/service to increase ROI, more proof of concept.

The trouble is, many B-to-B marketers (and B-to-C for that matter) haven’t figured out what makes good content. And since the content-to-noise ratio is increasing daily, it’s important that marketers get a clear view of what defines great and valuable content, and why.

Since I’ve not been impressed with many attempts at content marketing, I want to share a few “what NOT to do” examples:

  • Content is different from advertisement. Recently, Boston Private Bank Trust Company was running a leaderboard banner ad with a stock image of a family, in front of an American flag, and a huge headline: “Watch our new video >”. Shaking my head at the banality of the message, I went ahead and clicked just to see if maybe the problem was with the packaging of the content. It took me to the home page of their website, where the video dominated my screen. I started to watch and discovered it was merely a 90 second advertisement. Although it was beautifully shot and artfully directed, it only took 12 seconds for the announcer to start talking about the benefits of banking with Boston. Scanning the rest of the home page (very difficult since the top 2/3 were covered with the video and “Look how great we are!” messaging), I didn’t see one case study, whitepaper/POV document on managing wealth that might help me feel, “Hey, I like what these guys are saying; I’d like to talk to someone at Boston about my needs.”
  • Heavily gated content just irritates me. I understand the strategy: Create content, offer it up to your targets, require they “register” before they can get access so you can fill your lead funnel. But, often, landing pages that require so much information are a deterrent to completion. Sometimes, I’ll provide “Mickey Mouse” types of answers, just so I can complete the process and get to the paper. Do you really need me to answer six questions beyond name and email address so you can pre-qualify me and make sure your sales guy isn’t wasting his time following up? Good content marketing strategies look at a longer term contact strategy, not a one-and-done process. If I download the article, then try dripping on me with more emails with more content. If I keep downloading, chances are I might be a solid lead, so reach out to me via email and, if qualifying me by company size or # of employees is critical, then do a little homework. A few clicks of the mouse will probably find that information for you.
  • Understand the difference between whitepapers and case studies. A whitepaper is called a whitepaper for a reason—it’s supposed to be an independent point of view around a topic. Too many whitepapers are either platforms for self-aggrandizement or poorly disguised sales pitches. Well-written whitepapers are informative, insightful and topical. It takes professional writing skill to add nuances that paint your product/service in a positive light—and not as a thump to the head with a frying pan. Case Studies, on the other hand, are an opportunity to let one of your customers formally endorse your brand. They should include the situation/problem and how it was solved, and, if possible, a quote attributed to a name/title at the buyers organization.

Designing your content so it is attractive, easy to read, and a combination of text, graphs and images, is a given. But don’t, for a minute, think you can take your advertising (video or otherwise), market it as content and check the box for content marketing off on your list.

5 Great Ideas in B-to-B Content Marketing

I recently got my hands on a copy of Joe Pulizzi’s new book, Epic Content Marketing, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Pulizzi has figured out how marketers can apply publishing techniques to marketing objectives, and, along with a couple of other leaders in the category, like Ann Handley and Joe Chernov, has articulated an entirely new type of marketing. One that really works, especially in B-to-B

I recently got my hands on a copy of Joe Pulizzi’s new book, Epic Content Marketing, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Truth is, as content marketing has exploded in the last couple of years, a jillion books on the subject have come along. But this is the one to acquire for your marketing library, for two reasons. First, it’s your one-stop shop on the entire subject, from strategy and planning, to thorny execution matters like measuring the ROI. Second, Pulizzi himself stands at the epicenter of content marketing today, having founded the Content Marketing Institute, and speaking all over the world on this hot new marketing field.

But, as Pulizzi points out early in the book, marketers have used content for centuries, in the form of custom publishing like The Furrow, a print magazine for farmers published by John Deere since 1895. Pulizzi should know, having headed up custom publishing for Penton, which is where I first met him. In fact, he commissioned me to write a piece of content for Penton, on B-to-B retention marketing techniques.

Since then, Pulizzi has figured out how marketers can apply publishing techniques to marketing objectives, and, along with a couple of other leaders in the category, like Ann Handley and Joe Chernov, has articulated an entirely new type of marketing. One that really works, especially in B-to-B.

Here are five of the great marketing ideas I picked up from Epic Content Marketing:

  1. Content formats that I’d never thought of. Pulizzi discusses the usual B-to-B content marketing suspects (blogs, white papers, case studies, e-newsletters, articles and videos) in a meaty chapter on Content Types. But here are several possibilities for sourcing content that were new to me: An e-learning curriculum, online news releases, executive roundtables, discussion forums and teleseminars.
  2. The importance of telling a great story. Most of us in B-to-B prepare content around business problems, focusing on technical information, how-to material, and industry trends. But Pulizzi reminded me about the importance of including the personal. The “What’s in It for Me” benefits couched in business stories, that smoothly draw in readers and keep their attention.
  3. Visuals as a delivery mechanism for complex information. People respond to graphics, movement, and especially images of other people. So designing and condensing rich information into charts, images, infographics, videos and other visual formats is a great plus for business buyers, as well as consumers.
  4. Focus on securing subscriptions. Pulizzi makes a compelling case for promoting content delivered by subscription, like newsletters and social media follows. Customers and prospects who agree to hear from you regularly are likely to be your most valuable audience. To accomplish the subscription mission, you have to deliver valuable fresh content consistently, and promote the subscription vehicle with vigor. Pulizzi notes ruefully that, even though we all hate them, pop-up display ads have proven to be a powerful subscription recruitment device.
  5. Why your website needs to be the platform where most of your content is housed. Pulizzi explains the importance of owning, versus renting, your content platform. When your material lives on Twitter or LinkedIn, it is not under your full control.

I recommend Epic Content Marketing to everyone who sells to business buyers.

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

Assume Nothing

It’s completely coincidental that the mayor of Las Vegas and I share the exact same name … including our middle initial. But unlike me, that Carolyn G Goodman was elected to office and has a huge following in cyberspace. Unfortunately for her, I acquired the Twitter handle @carolyngoodman before she even discovered Twitter

It’s completely coincidental that the mayor of Las Vegas and I share the exact same name … including our middle initial. But unlike me, that Carolyn G Goodman was elected to office and has a huge following in cyberspace.

Unfortunately for her, I acquired the Twitter handle @carolyngoodman before she even discovered Twitter. And unfortunately for me, Madame Mayors’ followers (journalists, critics, and other LV lovers) tweet and reference Mayor Goodman by referencing my twitter handle regularly.

While I enjoy her spotlight for a nano-second, I always reply to the offending tweeter that they’ve referenced the wrong twitter handle, and they usually apologize and quickly do their homework and issue a correcting tweet.

It serves, however, as a great reminder that when pushing content, sending emails, lasering direct mail packages, etc., etc., you should assume nothing.

  • Don’t assume I know who you are when you call me to follow up on an email introduction or direct mail letter you sent. Over 800 emails a day land in my in-box. I don’t read them all, and if I do, it’s probably because they’re client or employee-related. Start the call by introducing yourself. Quickly state your business purpose and then move into your relationship building techniques. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to remind me about the email or direct mail package you sent me because clearly I didn’t see it/read it/absorb it.
  • Don’t assume I want a follow-up call from a tradeshow booth chat within 24 hours of the event. While you may want to “jump while the iron is hot,” I am overwhelmed with other issues since I’ve been away from my desk for a few days. Give me a few days to settle back into the routine and then call (if indeed I expressed an interest in your product/service and didn’t just stop by to drop off a business card to win the free iPad).
  • Don’t assume I want to be your friend on Facebook just because we do business together. Facebook plays a key role in my personal life, and I post regularly with family updates, photos of my dog and things I’m doing locally with friends. If you’re a business colleague, let’s stick to being friends through LinkedIn. Period.
  • Don’t assume I want to be added to your email/newsletter list just because I met you at a conference/trade show/friend’s party and we exchanged business cards. Spamming is no way to start a relationship.
  • Don’t assume I follow the genderization rules of your software program. While the name Carolyn is most likely female, all too often folks named Pat, Leslie, or Chris are offended by being addressed as “Mr.” in your direct mail letter or email. Just ask a boy named Sue.
  • Don’t assume I have interest in or empathy towards your organization/product/service. Starting an email or letter with factual information about your company is meaningless and more than likely to trigger an instant finger on the delete button or a careless toss in the recycle bin. Lead with a story, a benefit statement, a problem/solution … just don’t start by talking about yourself. To paraphrase the great Bob Hacker, all the reader cares about is, “What’s in it for me?”
  • Finally, don’t assume that I have a problem and I’ve just been waiting for your sales call in order to solve it. Do your homework. Understand my industry. Look for case studies within your organization that solve issues that I’m probably facing, because I’m in the same industry. Don’t start your call by asking me “a little bit about myself and my company.”

Net-net? Stop assuming and start doing your homework before you decide that I’m responsible for the woes of Las Vegas. Because if I am, I should be writing the script for The Hangover, Part 4.