We’re in a different marketing era. Those who don’t get that are struggling to keep up. The New Rules of Marketing mean customers are empowered to research and evaluate companies on their own. They are resistant - sometimes even downright hostile - to receiving unsolicited promotional content.
Even the trusty email inbox has become treacherous ground for the marketer, as prospects weed out non-essential queries. Priority inboxes filter all but white-listed content. If the prospect doesn’t invite you in, you’re not sticking around. And if you go after them with tone deaf pitches, they're opting out.
For enterprisey types like you and me, the driver behind this change is the so-called informed buyer. Armed with a solid steel BS detector and a deep network of contacts, the informed buyer is causing a crisis in tech differentation. The informed buyer is even ruining the content party, putting vendors on their heels to move beyond branded content and establish industry authority.
- engage influencers and other experts who impact the purchasing process
- build out an effective community, which some now call a management imperative
- invest in customer advocate and employee advocate programs
- create content that maps to the so-called sales cycle, meeting different needs and levels of engagement
We've covered all these on diginomica, hashing pros and cons. Many can be integrated into a digital marketing plan. But it's been a long time since I shared content tips that work. So without further ado, here are five field-tested favorites.
1. Sales teams are an essential source of editorial topics. Before sinking budgets into content marketing, make sure existing leads and prospects are not being lost due to inefficiencies. Content marketing takes time to bear fruit; sales optimization can bridge the gap. Bridging the sales-marketing divide has a big impact on content:
- Does your sales team have adequate input into your content marketing strategy?
- Are you using marketing automation and lead weighting tools to make sure your best salespeople get only get the most pre-qualified leads, rather than wasting their time “fishing”?
- Has your sales director provided the marketing team with a profile of your ideal customer, as well as the biggest sales objections they encounter? Has that been integrated into your editorial plan?
- Is there a transparent way for sales and marketing to share and collaborate on lead information?
- Does your marketing team have skin in the game to incent proper lead qualification, rather than throwing webinar sign up lists over the wall?
2. Get your sales team the pre-sales content they need to nurture prospects into sales. Once prospects are interested in kicking tires, the whole mentality behind content changes. Inside the sales funnel, prospects expect content that will help them evaluate a product and make a purchasing decision.
I've heard disruption gurus insist that sales funnels are dead. Yes and no. In some B2C scenarios, buyers pull out on a dime. And yeah, some content must speak to audiences with no current interest in your products.
Potent content needs for prospects are often ignored. Even if prospects are interested in your solutions, that doesn't mean they want to read brochureware. Content that fuels pre-sales includes:
- How-to videos and instructional courses that include product tutorials
- Easy, one-click product trials
- Frequently ansked questions, detailed help and support documentation that doesn't require a log-in
- Multi-media content should be repurposed onto informational web pages in text form
- Case studies are vitally important to this segment – the more, the better, in every region and industry you are targeting. It’s easy to screw up a case study by not including hard numbers (see my guide)
3. Existing customers need better content than they usually get. Companies in the slow lane retweet happy feedback. Those in the fast lane don't scour for praise; they build customer advocacy programs. Content plays a key role in turning customers into advocates:
- Address glaring needs in customer support that would aid in retention and cross-selling opportunities
- Examples: Creating help videos for tricky software areas, conducting satisfaction surveys and - very important - implementing the feedback as transparently as possible
- Create a public ideation page/site that solicits product improvement ideas
- Create virtual customer events and live help sessions via Google Hangouts
- Even if your customer base is modest, build towards an on-the-ground user conference
Facilitating peer-to-peer interaction between customers is a core tactic in the new marketing. That means: step out of the way and let customers learn from each other. Have the confidence to let customers speak openly to each other, and to the media, without meddling moderation.
A formal customer advocacy program takes this one step further. Move from a case study library to vocal references that impact buyer trust. In my customer advocacy series, Influitive's Mark Organ spoke to the guts of it:
I don’t think anyone’s waiting around for a newsletter from a marketing department. They actually don’t want to hear from marketing departments... Advocate marketing is the practice of being able to systematically mobilize advocates – meaning happy customers and other stakeholders – to generate social proof for buyers. The idea is to systematically mobilize these people, to generate the kind of messages that make buyers want to move through their process faster – because they’re more confident.
4. Craft a three-year strategy that centers on content marketing, but also incorporates classic marketing tactics such as pay-per-click, trade show booths, event participation, and sponsorships. Re-organize your marketing department based on this plan and the new content imperative.
In Hashing the CMO dilemma – is content eating the org chart? I debated Michael Brenner of Newscred on who should be in charge of marketing departments: journalists/editorial, stats/quants, or the classic CMO. Make the call based on your culture/experience. Here's one thing I said to Brenner:
One reason I advocate putting the marketing people underneath an experienced journalist/editor is because so many marketing tech people measure the wrong things. They’re wasting time on things like, “Oh no! My sentiment analysis tells me my brand is trending negative today. Who put out that horrible blog?"
My rant extended into the long-term interaction metrics I find compelling, which involve engaging with critics, tracking their feedback into product service and development, and measuring customer satisfaction over time. To me, those measurements are far more interesting, yet all I hear about is, “Oh, our hashtag trended on Twitter today."
5. Your content marketing plan should prioritize thought leadership and community involvement. Community involvement is how your content gets embedded into the conversations that matter most. That's customers, partners, influencers - all the experts and stakeholders who make things happen in your industry. Your content helps to win their trust - assuming that content doesn't suck. But at some point, they pick up the conversation and run with it.
There is now a mature body of work on doing enterprise communities right. I recommend Community Roundtable as an essential resource, as well as the Geek Whisperers podcast series, where experienced community managers air their highs and lows.
"Thought leadership" is a different matter entirely. I continue to struggle with the phrase. Let's face it, it sounds kind of snotty. If you have a better one, let me hear about it. I've already written about how critical this type of content is to extending your audience and winning the trust of buyers and influencers. To pull this off, brands must simultaneously get over themselves and abstract their field lessons a level beyond branded solutions.
I once used a client's security product as an example:
Instead of pushing a product that makes security easier to administer, focus on a thought leadership goal: become a recognized leader in governance, risk, and compliance. This could include sharing presentations, blogs, conference keynotes, and contributing to community projects such as wikis, educational programs, and open source initiatives.
Developing a genuine passion around the core topic underneath your product can become a rallying cry for the internal team, while pushing them to become experts in their field and share impactful content themselves.
Once thought leadership is sorted, the logical steps suddenly emerge. Example: Don’t create a LinkedIn group about your company, create (or participate in) a LinkedIn group around your firm’s areas of expertise.
Final thoughts - the power of narrative
That's an incomplete list, but a good gut check. If you're looking for more, my entire diginomica content strategy series is waiting for your next tall cup of java. Looking ahead, here are two points to steep your content tea in: customer relevance and the power of narrative. Once you have what I call a "rootable story," all your content becomes more appealing.
Customer relevance means avoiding the pitfalls of obnoxious messaging around “disruptive, game-changing technology” in favor of an immediate question: what pain point does my solution solve? In a simple, buzzword-free sentence, how do you make a customer’s life easier? Firms that can’t explain how they help customers save money or grow markets end up lagging – an ironic fate. They were going to conquer markets with their supposedly transformative solutions. Oh well.
The power of narrative means framing everything your company does within a distinct story. Example: “Our product began with a consultant in his garage trying to solve a tricky problem that always befuddled his [retail] clients. He lived on coffee and Captain Crunch for six months while building his solution. His nephew helped out on the coding. The same month he got his eviction notice, his first customer signed on. She loved it, and shared it with her peers. He soon became overwhelmed by the demand, but he had already drained his bank accounts..." The narrative builds from there.
It’s hard to tell a good corporate story if your company can't put a human, imperfect face on what you do. If you offer a far better value (see: Starbucks) , and if you share your successes and your struggles (see: Starbucks again), then you are creating a rootable story. That's a terrific framework for the content that follows.
Image credit: Bewertung 5 Sterne © Coloures-pic - Fotolia.com