Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

On July 10, 2013, Cyndie Shafstall (Founder and CEM of Spider Trainers) and I spoke at our second “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” webcast—this time we focused on the topic of Content Marketing. While you can still listen to the webcast, the event triggered many questions from participants, and I thought it might be helpful to address the most popular topics in this column.

On July 10, 2013, Cyndie Shafstall (Founder and CEM of Spider Trainers) and I spoke at our second “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” webcast—this time we focused on the topic of Content Marketing. While you can still listen to the webcast, the event triggered many questions from participants, and I thought it might be helpful to address the most popular topics in this column.

Q: How do you keep regularly scheduled content fresh (and keep me, the marketing director, from burning out)?

A: Commitment to regularly publishing content can be a daunting assignment for any business—large or small. To be perceived as an expert, you need to publish expert content.

Sit in a room with three or four others in your company (ideally the sales folks), and stand at the whiteboard and ask for ideas on any relevant topic to your industry. To get the conversation going, ask the sales folks the top 5 questions they each get asked during the sales process. While each question may not be fodder for content, you’ll quickly see a few themes emerging. I usually sit with clients and after a 30-minute discussion have over 100 topics on our whiteboard!

Then organize those topics into the most logical groupings: Topics that will have fairly short answers/discussion are probably most appropriate for a blog, while topics that require a lot of background, and supporting charts/graphs, are best used in a whitepaper. If your first meeting only yields 10 topics, hold the meeting every quarter and ask your team to keep their eye out on what topics interest them—and probe them for their areas of expertise. You’ll quickly discover that there are many possible topics available; you just have to use your journalistic instincts to ferret them out of staffers.

Q: What’s the difference (and how do you leverage) a blog vs. a whitepaper vs. other marketing content? And how should you decide which method to use when?

A: This is probably the question I get asked the most. So let me try to address each channel:

  • Blogs: Not every company needs (or should have) a blog; If you don’t have an industry thought leader in your organization (or somebody you can position as a thought leader who will let you put words in their mouth), you may want to hold off creating a blog in the first place. If you do, post blog topics that are timely and relative to your industry. Read trade publications and identify the “hot topic” du jour, and blog thoughts about that topic. Attend industry conferences, gather information from other speakers’ presentations and blog about what you liked and didn’t like about what they were saying. If you run a travel company, you can certainly blog about “hot” travel destinations—but even better, blog about “how to” at the destination … like “How to throw a wedding in Thailand” or “Best surfing vacations in Mexico.” You need to think like a journalist who is writing a story that others will want to read.
  • Whitepapers or Educational Primers: You can expand a blog topic into a more robust whitepaper or primer (a whitepaper provides a strategic point of view on a topic; a primer educates by taking the reader through the basics of a topic). Whitepapers should include quotes from outside sources to give it credibility and value. Primers can be simply “How to” guides that teach your audience the ABC’s. But be careful NOT to chest pound within your content. A whitepaper is supposed to be just that—a document, written by a 3rd party, on a particular topic of interest to readers in your space. It is NOT an advertorial for your product or service.

I carry around a notebook, and when I see/read/think about an idea for my blog, I jot it down so, when the time comes to sit down and write, I have a number of ideas to stimulate my thinking. Since I’m committed to Target Marketing to write this blog every 2 weeks, I’ve already got a notebook full of ideas!

Hashtags: #smartnewmarketingtool or #riskymarketingmove?

Call me out of touch, but I really don’t understand the fascination with hashtags. The hashtag gives Twitter the ability to collect all tweets about that topic into one collective location. That makes it easy for Twitter users to join the conversation by reading, retweeting and adding commentary. If enough people tweet and retweet about the hashtag word or group of words, it’s considered a topic that is “trending” (i.e. it’s popular).

Call me out of touch, but I really don’t understand the fascination with hashtags.

The hashtag gives Twitter the ability to collect all tweets about that topic into one collective location. That makes it easy for Twitter users to join the conversation by reading, retweeting and adding commentary. If enough people tweet and retweet about the hashtag word or group of words, it’s considered a topic that is “trending” (i.e. it’s popular).

Of course marketers have smelled an opportunity to leverage the hashtag because what could be better than having consumers talk about your brand—especially if the brands themselves sparks the conversation?

Within the last 20 years, there’s been a huge change in advertising CTA’s (Call-to-Action)—especially in television. First, many commercials ended by showing an 800 numbers, and that was quickly followed by the vanity 800 number. With the advent of the web, marketers substituted URL’s for 800 number. After it was discovered that the consumer didn’t know what to do once they landed on a website home page, the MURL was invented (www.nameofbrand/specificpage). When Facebook exploded on the scene, brands wanted you to visit and like them on their Facebook pages. But now, it seems, all of that is old school.

Many of the most recent Super Bowl commercials didn’t end with phone numbers, web addresses or any mention of Facebook. Instead, a hashtag was offered up in front of a pithy subject line as a way to get viewers engaged in a dialogue about the commercial itself (and, ultimately, the brand).

I find it interesting that during the Super Bowl this year, millions of dollars were spent on each 60-second spot, and yet several marketers risked it all by using a single CTA: a predetermined #groupofwords. I could understand if the hashtag was in addition to other CTA’s, but in most of the instances I observed, it was the standalone close on the spot.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have never even bothered to look to see what topics are trending on Twitter. Maybe I’m not cool enough to care. But I’m not 100 percent confident that throwing a hashtag in front of a topic will generate a POSITIVE conversation about my brand. So why would you place your brand at risk after you’ve spent hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Creating “brand evangelists” has always been a core goal of any brand—people who support your brand, talk about it, recommend it to others and basically act as your mouthpiece by providing personal endorsements. But does doling out a hashtag topic guarantee that a positive conversation will ensue? Not in my book. #marketinghashtag

Just Answer My Question, Dammit!

If you’ve ever spent two minutes perusing a LinkedIn Discussion Group topic, you’ll already know how quickly the conversation thread can get derailed. And, if I were the one posting the question, I’d conclude that these groups are a waste of time. So how can LinkedIn help improve the value of its app, given it’s really in the hands of its users?

If you’ve ever spent two minutes perusing a LinkedIn Discussion Group topic, you’ll already know how quickly the conversation thread can get derailed. And, if I were the one posting the question, I’d conclude that these groups are a waste of time. So how can LinkedIn help improve the value of its app, given it’s really in the hands of its users?

Here’s one idea: It would be fairly easy for LinkedIn to add a drop down menu of messages that the individual posting could select from to add to their post. These messages would be set up as triggers which would pop-up in front of the individual about to post a reply, for consideration BEFORE they hit the “post” button.

Some suggested message choices might be:

  • WARNING! The original post in this discussion was over X months ago. Your commentary may be irrelevant and you may be viewed by others as “out of touch.”
  • Before posting, please read all the other posts thus far. If you’re not repeating information that’s already been supplied, and your response is relevant to the discussion, then by all means proceed with posting.
  • I am not in the market to purchase any goods or services. I was simply interested in what others think about the topic I’ve posted, so please don’t contact me directly.
  • Are you really an expert on this topic? There’s a “no amateurs” rule in effect on this post.
  • If you really think you can help me with my problem, and it’s within X days of my post, please contact me directly.
  • No smart-ass comments, please.
  • Just answer my original question. No sales pitches, no links to your book/blog/white paper/web page, I really just want to get my question answered.

If LinkedIn were to make my idea a reality, I think the number of participants in the discussion would be reduced (which is not necessarily a bad thing), and experts would be more inclined to come forward and participate in a topic.

My very wise Dad once taught me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I do try to live by that rule, and now I’ll add to it with, “If you don’t have anything relevant to say…”

4 Hot Topics From eTail

Here are four hot topics in cross-channel retailing that are being discussed at eTail 2011 in Palm Desert, Calif. this week:

Here are four hot topics in cross-channel retailing that are being discussed at eTail 2011 in Palm Desert, Calif. this week:

1. Customer acquisition is back in vogue. OK, customer acquisition is nothing new for retailers. But after a few sluggish quarters, retailers are back to spending money on ways to find more customers. Both traditional and innovative acquisition trends were discussed in the following session: Developing a Long-Term Sustainable Mix of Acquisition and Retention Channels.

Traditional channels work best for Musicnotes.com, according to Bill Aicher, the e-tailer’s web director, as well as a panelist at the session. Paid and natural search, affiliate channels, and word-of mouth are the acquisition marketing techniques his company relies on. Testing is important too. “We test a lot of programs, and if we can get a 2 percent or higher response rate, we consider it successful and put more money into it,” Aicher said.

Search engine optimization is a leading acquisition tool for Motorcycle Superstore, said Erick Barney, vice president of marketing for the online retailer and another speaker at the session. “While search has been around for such a long time, I still think of it as a channel that’s progressing,” he said. “There’s so much more we as an industry need to learn about it.”

An innovative customer acquisition technique was raised by panelist Sara Ezrin, senior director of strategic services at Experian CheetahMail. It focuses on the growing use of iPads in retail stores. “Salespeople in retail establishments are using iPads more and more in-store to collect email addresses and other contact information from customers,” she said.

2. Social commerce getting mixed reviews. The concept of social commerce — i.e., using social networks in the context of e-commerce — has also been a hot topic at the show. Some e-tailers were on the hunt for Facebook developers who could help them create Facebook stores. Payvment, a Facebook shopping platform, seemed to have a crowd at its booth consistently. In general, however, retailers are approaching this concept cautiously.

Consider Tony Bartel, president of video game retailer GameStop, who spoke at a session titled Navigating the Retail Rapids. Bartel said that while GameStop does have a Facebook store, most of the company’s e-commerce transactions take place on Gamestop.com. “We have a lot of interaction with our 1.8 million Facebook followers,” he said, “but we’ve found that when they want to buy something they go to our website.”

Bartel wasn’t quite sure why that’s the case. “Maybe it’s because there are only a few items for sale in our Facebook store, and we don’t have all the bells and whistles there,” he said. “But we’ve been testing the concept for two months now, and will continue to do so.”

3. Retargeting marketing programs are picking up speed. Retargeting, a marketing technique that enables retailers to reach consumers who have visited their sites by serving ads to them post-visit on other content sites across the web, was a heavily discussed subject at the show. Most retailers here believe the tactic is effective because enabling consumers to receive multiple marketing messages from them means their brand can be top of mind.

4. E-commerce media is on the rise.
E-commerce media, a form of online media that allows retailers to target shoppers with product-specifc ads on their sites, was another popular theme. HookLogic, a company that creates product and media placements on e-commerce sites, announced that Shoebuy.com will be using its services to offer premium brand and product placements from its partners within its online store.

DiJiPOP, a company that offers “digital shelf space solutions,” announced that Wal-Mart Canada has selected it to power the digital shelf space monetization efforts of its Walmart.ca online property. The solution will allow Wal-Mart Canada to offer premium placement to its vendor partners, creating a new high-margin revenue stream. Just as a vendor pays a retailer for prime shelf space in-store to stimulate sales, the acquisition of optimal digital shelf space achieves the same goal.