Why Your Content Needs to Focus on Expertise and Relevant Experience

Expertise and relevant experience now matter more than price and reputation when it comes to B2B marketing. That’s not to say that your B2B prospects are making decisions with a “hang the expense!” attitude, nor will they ignore any evidence they find of you being difficult to work with or in any way suspect.

Expertise and relevant experience now matter more than price and reputation.

The latter two still matter, of course, but according to a recent study by Hinge Marketing, the old twin pillars of professional services buyers’ decision-making — price and reputation — have been replaced by expertise and relevant experience.

That’s not to say that your B2B prospects are making decisions with a “hang the expense!” attitude, nor will they ignore any evidence they find of you being difficult to work with or in any way suspect. It’s just that they’re going to focus on expertise and experience first.

In other words, without expertise and relevant experience, nothing else matters, because you’re not making it onto the short list.

Relevant Experience

How to Make Your Case

So how do you state your case in a world where buyers are ever more eager to eliminate you before they’re even willing to have a conversation with you? You have to move that conversation from the phone or in-person meetings to your website and social media channels, as well as to other thought leadership channels, like trade show presentations and webinars.

Of course, the trick is that your prospects, like the rest of us, are inured to any empty marketing claims you might make. Everyone and everything today is award-winning, highly regarded and “the best,” not to mention new and improved …

That idea leads us back to the age-old marketing truth that showing is better than telling. Present your prospects with a library of content that demonstrates your expertise and relevant experience creates a much stronger case in your favor than merely telling them that you have that expertise and experience. White papers, case studies and articles outlining the work you’ve done are all helpful. Even more beneficial are the results you’ve achieved.

You also have to present that content in a way that meets your prospects’ needs. Which is to say, not the case stories of every project you’ve ever done. Just the case stories and articles about every project you’ve done in their industry. Or that address the business problem they need to solve.

How Good Information Architecture and a Good CMS Can Help

Because we can’t always know how a prospect will define content as relevant, we’ll want to make use of content hubs and landing pages. These gather the information related to a topic (or industry or problem to be solved) into a single page or section of the site. Your prospects land there and have all of the information they might want, right at their fingertips.

It’s important that your website architecture and content management system allow you to create these pages as the need arises and make it easy to use content wherever it’s needed, rather than asking you to recreate the same content more than once.

Telling the Marketing Story Your Audience Wants to Hear

It’s not enough to tell your story. You have to tailor your story to showcase the chapters that are most relevant to each segment of your audience.

Once you’ve convinced them that you have the experience and expertise to help them solve their problem, that’s when they’ll be more likely to pick up the phone to find out if your pricing fits their budget and if your approach and culture is simpatico with theirs.

Push vs. Pull Marketing: In B-to-B, You Need Both

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing. “Outbound is bad,” she said. What? Well, I guess her feeling is understandable. Inbound marketing is all the rage today. Hubspot promotes it. Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it. With the new popularity of pull marketing, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing. “Outbound is bad,” she said. What? Well, I guess her feeling is understandable. Inbound marketing is all the rage today. Hubspot promotes it. Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it. With the new popularity of pull marketing, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why.

Simply put, B-to-B marketers need a mix of push and pull. Limiting your strategy to pull alone will reduce your market, and limit your ability to identify all the prospective buyers who might need your solution to their problems.

In B-to-B, pull marketing generally means making yourself visible, or being helpful, and hoping that people will get the idea that they should visit your website or otherwise reach out to find out more about you and your offerings. The theory is a good one. And it works great for luring prospects at various stages of the buying cycle, especially when they have already identified a need and are researching potential solutions. Bingo, with pull marketing tactics like providing educational content, you have a good chance of snagging a fairly qualified prospect.

Typical pull tactics in B-to-B include:

  • Developing informative, non-salesy content, to educate all comers on how to solve their problems, and what a great partner you can be in helping them. This can be in the form of blogging, downloadable white papers, videos, infographics and others.
  • SEO and SEM, which will pull prospects to your site and your content when they are looking for particular information.
  • PR, or media relations, to persuade others to write interesting and favorable things about your products, or highlight your expertise and experience.
  • Social media, for distributing your content to followers, and inviting them to share it with their networks.
  • Speaking engagements, whether online or in person, where your expertise is on vivid display.

But what about prospects who don’t even know they have a problem? Or who haven’t defined the problem yet, not to mention considered a solution? Or maybe you have a solution that is so new, prospects don’t even know how to research it. To get all the business you deserve, this is where push marketing is essential.

In B-to-B, push marketing includes all the outbound messaging that have proven themselves for decades, most notably:

  • Direct mail, including dimensional mail. Keep in mind that the list business in the U.S. is so mature, and so sophisticated, you can find just about every prospect using mailing lists, no matter how narrowly you target.
  • Telephone calls, using the same lists, when the list owner gives you permission to call.
  • Advertising, online and offline, with a strong call to action to generate a response.
  • Event marketing, such as trade shows and conferences, where you can not only kick off relationships with new prospects, but also convey your expertise through speaking engagements.

Sure, these methods may be intrusive and unfashionable. But this is what we marketers do. To fulfill our mission of market coverage, scalable lead generation, and profitable sales growth, the modern B-to-B marketer must pull—and push—every possible lever.

Anyone want to argue about this? Let’s discuss!

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

The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown

For years, I was a brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections, meet new colleagues or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website. But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements”

For years, I was brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections (changing jobs, getting promotions), meet new colleagues (either through a mutual connection or using my LinkedIn credits) or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

I carefully built my profile and reached out to clients and colleagues for recommendations, smugly building it to over 700 connections. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website.

But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements.”

On the surface it seems simple enough. You choose a series of “skills” and areas of “expertise” from a long list (or create them yourself).

Connected to somebody on LinkedIn? That must mean you know them and are fully aware of their skills, so you have the experience to give them a nod on a skill they’ve identified in their profile when presented with that question.

The problem is that all sorts of people have now endorsed me—some are people I barely know, and, to be honest, many have endorsed me for skills they couldn’t possibly know whether I have or not.

Out of 700-plus connections, 68 have endorsed me for direct marketing. Fair enough … I run a direct marketing agency and have worked in the business for 30-plus years, so it’s pretty safe to say I have DM skills. But it seems strange to me that a sales rep for a printer (who I have no memory of ever meeting) or my personal realtor neighbor, would endorse me for this skill.

I realize that when I look at someone’s profile, a little box pops up asking me if that individual has the skills or expertise they selected … and I could just skip by and ignore the whole thing. But that’s not my point.

My question is: Does having 68 endorsements for a skill make me more of an expert than, say, the guy who only has 12 endorsements for that same skill?

To answer this question, I clicked on the “Skills & Expertise” section of LinkedIn (found within the “More” drop down menu). I typed in “direct marketing,” and the first “expert” who popped up, Bill Glazer, had only 9 endorsements for direct marketing. In fact, after reading his profile, I’d say that Direct Marketing is not his area of expertise (although he has plenty of marketing expertise).

The second guy, Bob Bly, had 99-plus endorsements for Direct Marketing … (I know Bob and he deserves 99-plus endorsements). The third guy had 44 folks endorsing him, and the fourth guy has 58 endorsements, so the algorithm can’t use the number of endorsements as its only search criteria. In fact, after peering into the top 15 folks LinkedIn suggested as having direct marketing skills, I have to wonder about the usefulness of this search tool as the skill sets of these folks were all over the map.

So I have to ask LinkedIn: What’s the point of the endorsement tool? If it’s not being used to rank order skills for those who are searching for that kind of help/expertise, then why offer it? And, if any of your connections can endorse you for a skill, doesn’t that make the idea of endorsements disingenuous?

3 Social Media Musts to Grow Your Community

With 2011 holiday sales surpassing expectations, marketers entered 2012 with new customers and a renewed optimism. However, given the ups and downs of the past several years, now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. 

With 2011 holiday sales surpassing expectations, marketers entered 2012 with new customers and a renewed optimism. However, given the ups and downs of the past several years, now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. Building community will require a renewed dedication and attention across these three areas:

1. Innovation. Success and differentiation will require proactive planning and a lot of experimentation. Marketers serious about building community must be creative and unafraid of failure. Create an innovation budget is my No. 1 must. Dedicate a portion of your 2012 budget to test new ideas to support new social media programs, networks and technologies.

You’ll no doubt continue to see the emergence of new community players this year (e.g., the increasing influence of Google+ brand pages), as well as the continued expansion and maturity of others, making them viable community platforms. Set aside a portion of your budget to support the building of such platforms as well as the testing of new programs, including but not limited to location-based services, augmented reality efforts, retargeting programs and more.

2. Data analysis and measurement. Data is the holy grail. If you haven’t already integrated your social media communities into your CRM database, 2012 is the year to do so. Looking at behavior such as engagement across multiple channels (e.g., web, email and social) will be essential in indentifying key influencers and brand advocates. Build a social media measurement framework to better track and analyze the impact of your social media efforts on individual programs as well as your brand overall. Measurement frameworks should include the following:

  • awareness: reach and impressions;
  • interest: views;
  • excitement: “Likes,” comments, +1s, @mentions;
  • advocacy: shares, retweets, testimonials, endorsements;
  • conversion: attributable sales; and
  • economic value: upsell success, multiple product ownership, increase in satisfaction/likelihood to recommend, loyalty, multichannel engagement, lifetime value.

3. Splinternet expertise. With more than 37 million iPhones sold over the holidays, smartphones as well as apps have become an increasingly important part of all of our lives. The proliferation of smartphones, new technologies, and proprietary platforms and networks has given rise to what Forrester Research calls “the Splinternet.”

As a result, growing and increasing participation across your social communities via mobile platforms will need to be a key focus in 2012. Marketers and their agencies will increasingly need to hone their communication skills in order to reach and engage consumers. Creating positive user experiences will be paramount and content optimization expertise will become as important as program ideas in 2012 as consumers engage with your brand across platforms.

The key to building community in 2012 will require a bit of left and right brain thinking: A thorough analysis of who your customers are and what they want, mixed with some creative thinking and flawless execution across multiple proprietary plaforms.

Building and Executing a True Performance Marketing Campaign

Performance marketers are redefining the marketing landscape in real time, continually refining the blend of art and science needed to drive results. Achieving a true performance marketing campaign is complex, and it’s arguably the toughest challenge marketers have ever faced. Nevertheless, those who do build a true performance marketing capability will reap unmatched rewards.

In a recent article he wrote for ClickZ, There is More to Performance Marketing than Measuring Performance, Jonathan Shapiro, CEO of online performance marketing agency MediaWhiz, aptly noted that today’s best performance marketers “are not just measuring results, but actively improving them.” Shapiro describes a true performance marketing campaign as one in which the marketer forecasts return on investment, pays only for performance and continually optimizes while the campaign is live.

Shapiro then asks why more marketers, advertisers and agencies aren’t taking advantage of performance marketing tools and strategies. His answer? “The relative newness of the industry has not provided sufficient time for most marketing organizations to develop the expertise or technology to manage a true performance marketing campaign.” I agree that performance marketing is the future of our industry, and that the development of performance marketing expertise and technology is the key to success. What follows are some strategies to help you build and execute a true performance marketing campaign.

Finding Performance
True performance marketers must be visible wherever and whenever there’s an opportunity for performance. The increasingly splintered web requires brands to “get found” in more places and on more devices. Thus true performance marketers must be committed to being found across all paid, owned and earned media. This requires continually evaluating new channels, products, devices, processes, technologies and distribution partners. It also requires having a team with expertise in everything, from the latest trends in search to the hottest new mobile devices.

Cross-Channel Integration & Attribution
True performance marketers are business strategists who foster integration between search, display, social, mobile, affiliate, CRM, offline advertising, merchandising, inventory and more. Cross-channel insights inform overall marketing strategy, helping performance marketers determine the right channel to spend each and every marketing dollar.

Technology plays a major role in uncovering these insights. Performance marketers are currently perfecting tools to help them make cross-channel buying and optimization decisions in real-time. It’s an understatement to say that efficiently managing and passing data between cross-channel tracking systems is challenging. This combined with custom segmentation, advanced targeting techniques, unprecedented data volume growth and marketplace demand for immediate transparency makes it clear that legacy data processing cycles are inadequate to handle these terabytes of data.

Not to mention, performance marketers need additional headroom to handle peak demand (e.g., holiday). The good news is that access to on-demand cloud computing and data management solutions are now within the reach of every performance marketer.

Attribution is also a cornerstone of a true performance marketing campaign. However, determining how to best leverage and optimize paid/owned/earned media isn’t just about how much money you should spend in various channels. It’s an exercise in understanding people, the communities they form, how they communicate and how to engage them in conversation.

True performance marketers are focused on improving marketing economics by dedicating the ideal budget to each channel while concurrently optimizing the creative to best appeal to each channel’s audience. This is done through real-time message/creative testing, and requires more than just powerful technology. It requires art — i.e., performance marketing people with innovative ideas on how to best engage audiences.

Performance marketers are redefining the marketing landscape in real time, continually refining the blend of art and science needed to drive results. Achieving a true performance marketing campaign is complex, and it’s arguably the toughest challenge marketers have ever faced. Nevertheless, those who do build a true performance marketing capability will reap unmatched rewards.

How to Find the Right Mobile Marketing Vendor

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

Question 1: What type of vendor do you want?
Mobile marketing vendors come in all shapes and sizes. Some specialize in particular solutions, while others offer a wide range of capabilities. From application platforms to service providers, vendors may focus on any or many of eight basic pathways to mobile marketing: SMS, MMS, email, voice/IVR, proximity (Bluetooth, WiFi), mobile internet, apps and content.

Think about what type of mobile capabilities you need to create the user experience you’re seeking. Is it couponing, loyalty programs, customer care or something else? What about enabling services, like location or contactless payment? Finally, consider both short- and long-term factors surrounding the longevity of your campaign and future reinventions of it. These factors will certainly play into your decision to work with a multiservice or specialized vendor.

A resourceful place to start your search is the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) online directory of members who offer mobile marketing services. These vendors are certainly up-to-speed on mobile advertising guidelines and consumer best practices. For SMS campaigns, you should also check out the Common Short Codes Administration’s “Partners” page.

Question 2: How will you qualify your vendor?
Whether you’re searching for a full-service vendor or for support to help you build it in-house, be sure to consider the following:

  • Experience. How extensive is the vendor’s mobile experience and relationships within the industry? Ask for current references and review their past campaigns.
  • Industry leadership. Make sure the vendor is a member of MMA, or at least following the industry’s best practices and standards of care. Check if it belongs to related trade associations that are unique to your business. Membership in industry organizations demonstrates that the provider is continually learning and adapting to changes.
  • Expertise. Confirm that the vendor has expertise in your desired platform, along with analytics, strategy, creative and execution. If the provider says it’s an expert in “all of them,” drill down and find out who they work with or who they’ve recently acquired — no one firm can be an expert in everything!
  • Capabilities. Does the provider already have the capabilities to deliver on what you need, or will it have to develop something special for you? If it already has the capabilities, it can show you immediately.
  • Capacity. Consider the scope and reach of your campaign. How many text messages per second/per hour can the platform handle, for example? If you’re a national brand running a national SMS campaign and it’s really successful, you better make sure the platform can handle millions of messages an hour. Ask to see reports that prove it can support your messaging traffic. Beyond total/average volume alone, be sure to ask about peak spikes, meaning the maximum number of messages supported during a specific time.
  • Disaster recovery. Is the vendor prepared for a catastrophe? What will it do if its data center loses power or if a server fails? Ask how quickly it can get back into service. If they’re industry leaders, they’ll have a redundant data center and can be back up in minutes with no loss of data.
  • Pricing. As one of the last criteria considered, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you pay a little amount for your platform, don’t expect a lot of service or support.

To learn more, visit the MMA online, follow it on Twitter and don’t miss our upcoming MMA Forum series in New York, June 8-9.