Content Marketing’s Soft But Firm Push to Sales

Recently I got into an online discussion on LinkedIn about content marketing and it revolved around, what IS content marketing?  It’s a pretty simple concept and haven’t we been doing it forever?  And it’s a legitimate question so for clarity’s sake I wanted to give you my definition of content marketing:  

Content marketing is offering customer-focused, value-add content (whitepapers, articles, webinars, videos, services) that introduces a potential customer to your organization, your expertise and indirectly, your product line.  

Content marketing is not about a direct product pitch and serves to engage and warm up a prospect before they even start down the buy cycle. It’s also a indirect form of brand marketing because the prospect establishes a relationship and understanding of your organization without necessarily, a specific product or even brand pitch. 

Where I think content marketing can be most effective is for purchase cycles that are long and infrequent.  You know a marketing professional may be evaluating marketing automation technology but it’s not that frequent.  So you keep them engaged with value-add content that indirectly tells your story and establishes your expertise.  Here’s an example of a content marketing email I received from marketing automation specialist, Teradata!   With a 2015 marketer survey as their content bait, they are establishing digital marketing expertise without pitching the marketing automation solution.  

When I marketed Microsoft and Red Hat training it’s often not enough to tell prospects that you offer great training and expertise.  It’s even better to SHOW them you offer great training and expertise.  I offered up whitepapers, blog posts and webinars from industry experts to help them learn technology.  So of course when you’re ready to take a more formal training class, I would expect to be top of mind.  Content marketing is a strategy and tactic that takes some patience but it does pay off.  The periodic chart of content marketing (from eConsultancy below) is a great way to visualize the breadth and spectrum of potential content marketing and how it can drive your business!  And noticed how I shared out their valuable content creating a viral, marketing pitch?!  

The Periodic Table of Content Marketing, by Chris Lake.

The Periodic Table of Content Marketing

It all goes back to my adage: do what’s right for the customer in all phases of your business: operations, marketing and sales.  All your usual product marketing (product sheets, FAQ’s, customer success stories) assets are still crucial but your overall story gets enhanced and extended with content marketing.  Content marketing fits neatly into that expectation by giving customers what they want to hear and know, not just what you want to tell them.  Establish a trusted relationship first, then the sale will follow…  

Ron Wen

www.linkedin.com/in/ronwen

Marketing Zen: When Marketing Doesn’t Even Feel Like Marketing

When does marketing not even feel like marketing?  When it’s really well-done content marketing!  Have you ever looked at content marketing strategy from the prospect perspective? I’m talking about companies that do an exemplary job of content marketing to you or me, the professional marketer! And when I think of really effective content marketing, two companies immediately leap to mind:  Business Insider and Hubspot… 

If you’re not familiar with Business Insider, think business website with marketing services and advertising as their revenue stream. In addition to their business news website, Business Insider runs extremely effective email newsletters and campaigns around their internal content and curated content. My Business Insider emails are a welcome reprieve in my daily activities and I’d say I open 90% of their emails. Business Insider emails are usually a mix of news and entertainment for both business and personal growth.  

And what Business Insider does so effectively is every now and then, they slip in a sponsor message and/or offer.  Given how much value they’ve given me, I usually open up those emails too! They’re clearly marked as sponsored emails but they still get extra attention from me. Business Insider is clearly aware of effective content marketing and agrees with my content marketing mantra: educate, entertain and inform. And it doesn’t have to just be your core topic area, you can get a bit off-topic but still keep your audience engaged. The content stream from Business Insider is SO valuable, you’d nearly pay for it which is an impressive marketing accomplishment. In the end, when you’ve got a targeted and engaged audience, you can try all sorts of different content but still get the desired results. 

Another effective example of content marketing is by no surprise, an inbound content marketing company- Hubspot! While their audience is much more targeted to professional marketers, they are a content engine and marketing machine. From webinars to templates, articles, infographics and more, Hubspot is one of my favorite resources for B2B marketing ideas and inspiration. Turn over your email address, download that .zip file, and voila, instant lead.  

And while I’m not currently a customer, I guarantee that the next time I’m in a decision-maker or influencer role for inbound or content marketing in a future organization, Hubspot will be evaluated as a possible option. Again, given how much value they’ve provided me over the years, I’m curious to see how great a company is with their customers given what they’ve done for a non-customer, me! Their content stream establishes authority and expertise, it also shows their high service levels and raises expectations for their audience.  

Think about the purchase cycle for a marketing automation solution. It’s probably at least a 3 month evaluation process that comes maybe every five years or so. Unless you’re a marketing consultant you are not likely evaluating marketing automation solutions regularly. So how and why does Hubspot want to stay in your mental mind map? Lots of high-value content marketing with an eye towards a potential pay-off years from now. Now that is some SERIOUS and committed content marketing, eh? 

If you look at your own life from both a professional and personal perspective, I’m sure you’ll recognize other effective examples of content marketing and the same feelings and perspective that I have about Business Insider and Hubspot may ring true for you. So if you ever doubted the value of content marketing, think about the companies that are currently engaging you and how they do it. I think you’ll find that great content marketing barely feels like marketing. It feels like doing business with an old friend that you trust and believe in…  

Ron Wen

www.linkedin.com/in/ronwen

Buyer Personas by Adele Revella- Book Review

(Re-posted from my LinkedIn page)  Buyer Personas continue to be a hot topic for marketing professionals and Adele Revella’s new book on Buyer Personas sheds a light for those of us looking for clarity.  While discussions with your sales reps and internet searches are a good start, a truly effective buyer persona hinges on one key action: getting in front of your customer and interviewing them.  

Having just finished reading Adele’s Buyer Personas book, it breaks down this crucial and insightful marketing research into four very digestible sections for the busy professional.  

  1. Buyer Persona project launch- Getting organizational buy-in and recruiting individuals who have considered and/or purchased products and services in your area of interest for interviews. Who to recruit and why to recruit them is also covered.  
  2. Buyer Person interviews- The hands-on qualitative interviews that are key to developing buying insights. The goal is to have an unscripted conversation that allows customers to tell their buying journey with no judgement or bias.
  3. Buyer Persona interview mining- This key phase is all about recording the words and buyer focal points into categories and developing the key insights that your organization will act on. You will also identify how many buyer personas you will support.  
  4. Execution on Buyer Persona Insights- This final phase is all about prioritizing key buying insights, getting buy-in and acceptance through your organization on these insights and injecting them into your sales and marketing operations.  

End goal?  Develop 5 Rings of Buying Insight for your potential customers.  These insights revolve around: Priority Initiatives, Success Factors, Perceived Barriers, the Buyers Journey and Decision Criteria.  To summarize these 5 rings, we are talking about what motivates an organization to start looking for a solution, the personal or organizational benefits of the solution, why they may not consider your solution, how and who was involved in the purchase of a solution and finally, what specific attributes moved them to that decision. 

Adele also covers developing Buyer Personas for global organizations, new product launches and supporting product development.  All of the guidance in this Buyer Persona book has enough flexibility to accommodate the reality of your marketing organization.  

Over the course of reading Adele’s book and re-reading it, several key themes come through clearly. The need for product marketers to listen carefully, providing valuable information and assets to customers on their buying journeys and  developing trusted relationships. In the end, it’s all about a shift for marketers to truly represent their customers at your organization’s table and in the conference room.It all just reminds me of a quote from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: ‘If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.’ And that customer focus is key throughout all phases of your customer interactions, from product to marketing to sales.

If you’re interested in taking a serious dive into Buyer Personas, you’d be remiss not to check out the book written by the woman who developed buyer persona curriculum for Pragmatic Marketing. Read, learn and enjoy this new take on modern marketing for the 21st century…  

Buyer Personas by Adele Revella on Amazon.com

www.linkedin.com/in/ronwen

Managing Your Marketing Mix

You know the old marketing discussions you hear at the watercooler and online: SEO is dead, social media is absolutely critical, you have to build an app for your company, and so on.  Oftentimes when we look at tactical marketing decisions, we approach them in a binary fashion.  Yes or no, good or bad, right or wrong.  But the reality of marketing today is that you’re one person, communicating and influencing thousands of prospects and potential customers.  And that means there are thousands of “right answers” to marketing.  

What’s just as important is that your marketing strategy and tactics are right for you and your organization!  I know that I’ve blogged about being customer-centric and that is absolutely crucial in terms of your strategy and marketing voice.  But the reality is that any marketing strategy or philosophy is only as good as the execution behind it.  Trying to follow a marketing framework or plan without the necessary people, expertise and resources behind it becomes an ineffective, academic exercise.  

And as marketers shift from one philosophy to another, what was old becomes new again.  Advertising and direct mail which is very difficult to measure and expensive, can be a useful tool when used in the right context.  Email, while still effective, typically only has a 20+% open rate which means you’re missing out on influencing 3 out of 4 of your prospects in that cycle.  Which is why I truly believe in quality AND quantity for your outbound marketing.  And choosing a good mix of marketing channels is a way to repeat your message without being overly redundant.  

So as you move your higher-level marketing strategy into a more tactical marketing plan you need to bring some organizational intuition to the planning.  Product marketing is steeped in communications and influence, and your prospect will require multiple touches to absorb your message. It’s not a binary decision, think shades of gray and guide your marketing mix based upon the time, expertise, money and resources you have at hand.  

The bottom line is that until a prospect opens up your email, views your video online, visits your website or chats with your sales rep, you’ve still got work to do Mr./Ms. Professional Marketer!  There’s no easy answers to the marketing discipline and only you can help define what the proper marketing mix for your campaigns and organization will be.  But if you keep your marketing customer-focused and valuable, you may start to find your customers beating a path to YOUR door.  And that’s where buyer personas and effective content marketing come into play.  More to come…   

Ron Wen

www.linkedin.com/in/ronwen