Content Marketing Archives

All I want to do is paste my logo in this email...

Chapter Three: Upon trying to create my first email campaign (one of my regular editorial calendar newsletters to tell my PR friends of upcoming assignments) I ran into a snag: LoopFuse lacks the type of drag and drop email design tool I had become used to in Constant Contact. While it supposedly has tools for designing and formatting newsletters, I couldn’t find them despite multiple good faith attempts by their tech support folks.

I spent several hours trying to export the HTML code for my existing newsletter from Constant Contact into LoopFuse. No go. I next tried downloading various HTML templates from the Web to LoopFuse and customizing them. Still too clumsy to edit. So I tried several editors to customize the templates. Close, but too much of a learning curve with so much else to do. As a stop-gap, I created emails using my existing template in Constant Contact, trusting LoopFuse will track readership through the tracking codes on my WordPress site even though I didn’t create the email in LoopFuse.

(LoopFuse tells me they have no plans to upgrade their email editing capabilities. They did, however, quickly link me up with one of their partners who is looking for a workaround. If anyone can tell me what obvious steps I’m missing, or how they tackle this, I’m all ears.)

In the meantime, after finishing several stories on my content map, I tried to post them only to run into sudden problems with formatting and preserving links in WordPress, and realized that on my Web site sub-pages weren’t showing up properly on the page menus. This meant several quasi-panicked emails to my on-call WordPress guru, and several hours explaining my needs and evaluating how several plug-ins would, and wouldn’t work.

Meanwhile, helpful emails about how to do SEO continued to cross my email, leading me to wonder just how important SEO is for someone like me selling niche services largely through word of mouth. For now, I’m doing the minimum (trying to optimize URLs and adding relevant keywords into my text) and focusing primarily on developing and implementing my content marketing plan.

Speaking of which, one expert commentary I just saw recommended 8-12 contacts with prospects over a four-week period to maximum effectiveness. That’s a good reminder to focus and refine my plan for delivering this content. Which means I need to get back to creating content for my first campaign, not to mention delivering some white papers whose deadlines have snuck up while I’ve been doing all this troubleshooting.

This week’s lesson: While you’re thinking Big Thoughts about personas, scoring metrics and lead flows, keep your tecchie troubleshooters close at hand. Good thing it’s only 12 degrees in Boston so I’m not tempted to venture outside and away from the computer.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

When Gated Content Works

Say Please and You Can Read Our White Paper

My recent blog on when to gate content (which requires a prospect to provide their contact info) vs. providing it for “free” on landing pages stirred a lot of back and forth in content marketing circles. Some said IT and other B2B buyers don’t want to encourage follow-up calls from clueless salespeople, while others said readers should suck it up and register. Nothing is free, you know, and we need those names to prove our marketing is paying off through lead generation.

Sure, people shouldn’t expect something for nothing, but they’ve been trained to expect it on the Web. But they will fork over their precious identity info (and, implicitly, agree to a sales call) if the content on a blog or Web site is really good, or if they’re at a point in the sales cycle when they wouldn’t be horrified to get a call from a quality sales rep.

When crafting this part of your Web marketing strategy, think of how you for example, research contract-free smartphones (as I recently did). This may not be a big ticket purchase, but it matches IT purchasing in the sheer complexity and variety of offers. If you want general information about how such a plan works, you shouldn’t have to give your name and information. If you’re comparing the costs and benefits of various plans, you still don’t want or need to talk to a salesperson. Each carrier should provide that information on their ecommerce site as a “price of entry” for being considered.

But when I’m ready I do need help figuring out which of the ten quadrillion combinations of phones and service would save me money, while providing equal service based on my specific voice and data usage. I found such a site, and would have been willing to provide my contact information (they already have my phone number, after all) and would have been willing to talk to smart, reasonably honest salesperson.

The same is true when optimizing a B2B site for IT buyers as part of your marketing strategy. Stephanie Tilton cited a Tech Target report   (registration required!) that showed 53% of IT buyers, too, were somewhat willing to provide personal information in exchange for “expert or editorial information,” but only 19% are very willing. When they’re moved to the point they’re ready to make a purchase, the number who are very willing jumped to 42%. But, the report showed, a full 83% don’t expect or want to be contacted as a result of filling out the registration form – “they want the vendor to leave it up to them as to when the outreach happens,” she said, with 18% of those 83% said they’d be annoyed if the vendor contacted them.

Most of the respondents are using such a two-pronged approach. “If a prospect is interested enough to request product literature, we make it available without gating,” says Dale Wolf. “Only “high value” content is gated when we are running push campaigns. Obviously, no registration if we are in a pull campaign where we want to create social sharing and Web traffic.”

One option was to provide the content for free, but include in it the option to receive further communications or ask a question – both of which I think should be part of every piece of content.

Ms. Tilton made the excellent point that you shouldn’t decide what to “gate” based on the time and money you put into producing it. “That’s hardly the same gauge used by prospective buyers,” she said. “Rather, they are more willing to hand over information as they move further along in the research and decision process.”

That’s why she, like me, favors what some call “progressive profiling” and others call account- based management or content segmentation – tailoring not only your gating policy, but the content itself, to where each prospect is in the sales cycle. Tracking who read what with some kind of marketing automation tool lets you give your prospects only what they need, when they need it, and saves expensive sales calls for those who want them and just make buy something.

That kind of tracking can also help you decide when it’s OK to ask them for their personal information.

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Riding the range in search of leads...

Chapter Two: After finding what looks like a good marketing automation tool and developing the personas (fictional representatives of each of my target prospects) I spent last week in a dive into the deep end of the pool: Creating a strategy to define what content I need for each of my target audiences.

I expected this would be hard work, which is why I kept avoiding it and why it felt so rewarding when I did it. This required thinking very, very hard about the key segments of my target audience is (and, just as importantly, who is NOT a target segment) and about exactly how I think I can add value to each. This refining and zeroing in is always one of the hardest things for my clients to do when outlining a white paper or response to an RFP, and the same was true for me.

A little background on who I’m trying to reach and why: After about a dozen years in the IT trade press, most recently as technology editor at Computerworld, I’ve spent the last decade creating high-quality B2B marketing collateral for everyone from Microsoft to BMC and AT&T to EMC and Cognizant. I now want to use these editorial skills, and my understanding of what customers need from information technology, to help craft content marketing campaigns that produce high quality leads.

I had to keep remembering this as I refined the personas (which you can also think of as customer profiles, or customer segmentations) the questions I think these individuals would have, and the content I would produce to answer those questions. Whenever I found myself repeating general observations about content marketing or trends in the IT industry, the more I felt I was spinning my wheels. What felt much more useful in creating my plan was when I focused very specifically on my specialty – understanding IT and the IT buying cycle – and explaining how I would use that to help B2B marketers  create more leads.

When I couldn’t do direct research through conversations with experts in areas such as PR, scanning LinkedIn groups and Twitter for blogs in which my other target customers (marketing types inside and outside of vendors) discussed content marketing and related areas. Following their Twitter feeds about their off-hour activities helped me “flesh out” the personas and keep a fully-formed person in mind as I write.

I originally doubted the value of personas, but now see it helped keep me focused on the specific value I hoped to bring to a specific, even if imaginary, person. That kept my mind focused because I care about what an individual thinks about me, but not a generic customer category. In the case of my PR persona, for example, this narrowed my writing from a generic description of the benefits of content marketing to thinking about the needs and pressures facing real PR people I knew. I then, for example, included suggestions for how they could build off their current PR practices to include content marketing. The more focused the story, the better the information the reader gets – and the more I learn about them from their interest or lack of interest in each story.

Once I had my questions, and the list of content required to answer them for my prospects, I needed to track them. After toying with the idea of a spreadsheet, I settled on a more graphical Word diagram that helps me visualize where each story fits in the flow, and where the gaps are. Creating a hyperlink to each piece as it is written also gives me a quick view of where I stand in content creation.

Speaking of which: On to a content audit, and then to writing!

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Back when I was a kid, a consumer electronics giant named Zenith had a tag line “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” The message was, of course, that quality was designed in from the ground up, not an after-thought.

I got to thinking about that during, of all things, a conversation a PR veteran with an innovative East Coast agency about how they offer content marketing (the use of tailored content to move prospects towards a sale) to clients who come to them seeking more traditional PR services. Rather than try to sell and educate them on “content marketing,” this PR firm explains the benefits (increased Web traffic, more prospects filling out forms for gated content, higher quality leads) to their clients and uses content marketing to deliver them.

“Content marketing tactics are ingrained in our day-to-day PR work,” he said. This ranges from search-engine optimization of press releases and bylined articles written by their clients for trade publications to make sure they get the most attention. When a client asks for a “thought leadership” white paper or Webinar that’s designed to lead prospects to the vendor’s site, “we make sure we have something on (their) Web site that would nurture that prospect, and potentially turn them into a lead.”

He acknowledges this falls short of a full-fledged content marketing program, which would include the creation of personas for various target customers, content geared to their needs and tracking software to score them based on readership. However, it lets his firm deliver the “immediate gratification” of the boost in Web traffic and leads that comes from story placement in a trade pub (one traditional role of PR) with the longer-term benefits (which he says can take six months or more to appear) of content marketing.

This approach has value because:

It helps prove how content marketing works before asking a client to make a bigger investment in it.

It avoids the confusion around buzzwords such as content marketing vs. marketing automation, demand generation, account-based marketing, Web-based marketing, digital marketing, etc. to focus on the benefits.

It builds on, rather than try to replace, the agency’s traditional strengths and culture.

Perhaps best of all, it makes what could be “only” a PR agency a more integral part of the client’s overall marketing effort, and thus more valuable and harder to replace.

“We have seen increasing appreciation from our prospective clients, and ultimately our customers, that we understand content marketing, that we know it is important,” and that it trains its staff in everything from SEO optimization to the proper use of Web forms to not only drive visibility, but to “close the loop” with action that will help the client’s bottom line.

Zenith has long since faded, a victim of lower-cost foreign manufacturers. But this PR firm is building new services to offer when (and if) its more traditional revenue sources fall. I wonder how many others in PR are finding that “traditional” story placement is still important, and that content marketing is best sold as “built in” rather than a separate service.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Lone Ranger Content Marketing

Chapter 1: Tools for Mere Mortals

Riding the range in search of leads...

Content marketing – tailoring stories, blogs, case studies, videos, etc. to move prospects toward a purchase – is exploding as business buyers do more research on-line. But how do the marketing automation (MA) tools that automate this process really work, and can a small – even one-person – marketing department use them effectively? Follow my exploits as I add marketing automation to my core skills of creating marketing collateral for leading IT vendors. This week: Finding an affordable and usable MA platform.

With some spare time over the 2011 holidays, I sent out some emails and used my blog to find a genuinely easy-to-use and low-cost marketing automation platforms. Manticore, ActOn and LoopFuse responded. (Thank you Terry Hew of ActOn for the fast and professional follow-up.) ActOn and LoopFuse both seemed to be good fits, with pricing of $500 or under for several thousand contacts, and the ability to score readers based on their readership histories, at least rudimentary Web traffic analysis, links to CRM systems and the ability to create email marketing campaigns.

Of the two, LoopFuse won me over because their customer list included VMware, ET ETC. – just the type of clients that are a good fit for my more than 20 years experience covering IT vendors and customers. Their plug-ins for WordPress (my current CMS) were a big draw, (no need to rehost my Web site with them, as with HubSpot) and their integration with social media platforms. Besides, they offered a free trial for up to 500 prospects, which gives me the time to do a proof of concept without any financial pressure. While 500 names might be too small for some companies, it fits my high-quality list of PR and marketing pros who have opted in to receive my email newsletter (click here to subscribe).

The on-line tutorials seemed exceptionally well thought-through, and my first support experience was impressive indeed: A phone call 30 minutes after I had Tweeted a question about how to port existing contacts and content from Constant Contact (my incumbent email platform) to LoopFuse. LoopFuse tech support seems to be hanging out on Twitter a lot, and the quality of support for a free version bodes well for their commitment to customers.

The first step in Loop Fuse’s Web-based setup wizard (another nice touch) was to install their “tracking beacon” on my Web site so it could begin tracking visitors. Despite their (again) excellent instructions and video I couldn’t find the right location on my pages to install the code. The WordPress plug-in also failed, possibly because it was incompatible the current version of the theme I’m using. But I finally found, after a Google search, the proper place to install the tracking beacon: In the “footer” section of my WordPress dashboard. (Yet another of the non-intuitive wild goose chases that makes me hate WordPress.)

While LoopFuse wants me to move right into importing contacts and setting up an email campaign, with the holiday lull ending I’m instead diving into the heavy lifting of thinking through a content strategy for selling my own B2B, IT content creation services. With the help of some excellent templates from Barbra Gaga I’m creating personas and identifying which questions each type of buyer asks at each stage in the buying cycle. After that, I’ll do a content audit to map what content I have (and what I still need) to answer those questions.

More on all that next week. In the meantime let me knowwhat challenges I haven’t covered, any short-cuts I’ve missed or how you’re doing if you’re on a similar quest.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Use an Audit To Jump-Start Your Content Marketing

Content marketers generally approach content audits with all the enthusiasm that attends any audit. The very word conjures up stern-looking authority figures thumbing through your records to see where you’ve fallen short.

I’ve been through several content audits myself, mapping the collateral I have against the types of buyers I want to reach, and the stages they’re at in the buying cycle. The good news is that I found a lot more good, and timeless, content than I thought I would. If  you’ve been doing any blogging, white papers, case studies or email newsletters (and who hasn’t?) with any degree of care you must have stumbled on some insights, presented with some degree of style. It’s likely you’ve forgotten half of what you’ve done in the crunch of daily work, another reason the audit might be cause for relief, not grief.

In a recent Webinar with marketing automation firm Manticore, Mike Vannoy, COO of sales and marketing services firm Sales Engine International said this good news can help move you (or your boss) off square one with content marketing by giving you a concrete starting point. Just doing the content audit helped, he said.. “It made is less daunting. We knew where to focus and we found we were in much better shape than we thought we were.” In some cases, less was more, as with case studies. He found readers wanted “a one page case study, short and sweet, to take into their boss” to prove another customer had been successful with Manticore’s platform. Even quick, one to three minute videos were useful as well, he found.

Yet another piece of good news from Manticore’s audit was how much content could be reused, “with with a little bit of freshening up.” One five-year-old white paper, for example, turned out to be “still pretty current” once some minor language changes were made. It also built a promotable blog post around several paragraphs taken from a case study, and in turn used some blog posts as the basis for lead nurturing emails. (A recent guest column on my site explains how to take this even further, essentially creating a book for free out of a carefully planned series of white papers and other collateral.)

But lest you think the whole process was painless, I have found myself in trouble when I found overlaps in some of the categories, and the content, in my audit spreadsheet. If the same article or Webinar or white paper could apply both to “early evaluators” and “financial decision makers,” it showed I hadn’t defined each group and their needs carefully enough. As in so many marketing activities, defining your prospect’s very, very carefully and knowing their needs really, really well at the outset is critical.

Would love to hear your thoughts on how to make content audits less painful and more useful.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Gated Content: Maybe Not So Bad?

During a recent Webinar on content marketing, a speaker blasted “teases” that force the reader to provide their personal information to get to the white paper or other collateral they want. If the prospect can’t immediately get what they want from your site, the speaker said, they’ll just “go to your competitor’s Web site and see if they can get it from there. The more you can give them the better.”

I, too, used to hate registration pages as a waste of time that just lead to clumsy “Hi, I was following up on your recent request for information…” phone calls. The presence of a form makes it much more likely readers will abandon your site or give false information to avoid a follow-up sales call, and less likely they’ll share your information with others.

But as time goes on, I find myself actually more likely than in the past to fill out these forms, if the content looks good enough and the form is reasonably short. As I try to show quick returns for clients looking for leads from Web sites, a registration page is actually a quick way to generate some names, even if those names haven’t been qualified or scored as leads. And a registration page is certainly easier than selling the client on even a low-end marketing automation system, much less implementing it.

So what is better: Free or gated? The folks over at the Inbound Marketing University Blog earlier this year concluded that forms are OK when (for example) you want leads more than sheer traffic, are filling your sales funnel, have already built a reputation and now want to develop relationships, have a complex sales cycle and are offering content for later stages of the buying cycle. If you just want to spread the word and make your reputation, or are selling a simple product or service, keep it free.

They’re on the right track but their neat distinctions don’t go far enough. A registration page won’t filter out the curious journalist or graduate student, or distinguish between the early-stage tire kicker and the late stage decision maker. (I’ve filled out registration pages for far too many products I don’t need or can’t afford.)

Ideally, I’d create content designed to attract prospects at different stages of the buying cycle. Using a marketing automation platform, I’d track their readership of free content early in the cycle and use a registration page only for those whose digital body language – their reading behavior — showed they were more ready to buy and thus more willing to be called.

What I need for my clients is a marketing automation platform that’s easy enough to use and low-cost enough to let me prove the concept without a huge time and money investment up front. Any ideas?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

By Larry Marion, Editorial Director, Triangle Publishing Services Co. Inc.

In this era of iPads and short attention spans, is it worth writing a book to establish your (or your client’s) thought leadership?

Yes, but only if you plan from the start how to reuse parts of the book in other forms (such as white papers, Webinars and case studies) in lead generation campaigns, insist on top quality research and writing, and ride herd on all concerned to meet their deadlines.  Done right, you can produce a book (with all the associated prestige, lead generation and other benefits) for little more than the cost of the standalone content elements that make it up.

Here’s how it worked  with the recent publication by McGraw-Hill Professional of The Customer Experience Edge, by Reza Soudagar, Vinay Iyer and Dr. Volker Hildebrand. The three authors, executives at enterprise software company SAP, approached me in the summer of 2010 with a book idea and a vision of how to economically and efficiently produce it. Together we created four white papers, four case studies, two surveys, two mini books and other assets in addition to the book. Essentially, the total investment for the variety of assets produced a book for free—the normal spend on the co-branded white papers and case studies covered the cost developing the book, including a massive order of copies to be distributed by SAP.

The reasons for doing a book are not what you may think (ego and self-aggrandizement.)  Seeing a great idea take shape in a way that drives sales of the book is what drives the publisher.  For the authors and their corporate sponsor, a commercially published book is more than just a door opener for sales people.  Properly leveraged through webinars, industry events, white papers, case studies and other venues, a book becomes a clear lead generator.

In addition, many authors view a book as a critical component of their C.V., establishing their credibility in an industry in addition to the internal recognition.

Here are some other benefits we’ve seen from helping our clients produce books:

If the book includes leading edge customers, the corporate sponsor ends up with a much tighter bond with them.  The process energizes the customer base in ways you can’t imagine. For example, one of the users/customers cited in the Customer Experience book agreed to write the foreword.  In addition, customers quoted in your book enjoyed increased status as visionaries.

Besides the obvious leadgen, distributing a free copy to select customers instantly establishes your vision for a credible and compelling approach to a business problem or opportunity. Think of it as presales tool for your target market.

Here’s how SAP, Triangle Publishing Services and McGraw Hill delivered a book in October 2011, 12 months after the project began. Yes, you read that right: we delivered all of these assets in a year.

  1. Plan in advance.  We created a content development strategy knowing the goal is repurposing content, yet preserving enough unique content for the book to maintain the sanctity of the publisher’s copyright. McGraw Hill would not bother publishing a book that had already appeared as a series of free reports. The strategy also included recruiting the right team of researchers and editors—extensive prior experience required.
  2. Research. Our goal was to approach every leading edge user and consultant/analyst.  Together we identified 40 potential sources and approached them all. Most agreed to discuss their views and experiences, as well as alert us to other qualified sources.  Working with Bloomberg Businessweek Research Services, we conducted two surveys to identify the current state of customer experience goals and challenges among a global audience of senior executives. The surveys, and polls by others, enable us to deliver an evidence based narrative.
  3.   Writing and editing. We supported the authors with a style guide, to make sure the book would read as if it were written by one person.  This guide also established the tone, the target audience, our goals and other details in the beginning, with examples.  Repurposing the huge amount of information and survey data required two experienced editors who knew the customer experience domain as well as packaging content. They were intimately involved with every word and sentence, before the files were sent to McGraw Hill. We knew its standards and how to meet them.
  4. Project management—this program could only succeed in delivering the key assets within 12 months if publishing industry discipline was enforced. The bureaucratic delay cycle typical of corporate content development would not only stifle creativity, but would doom the book to a forbidden multiyear schedule.  The presses rolled on time due to a huge effort by all of those involved.

Lessons learned:

  • It is possible to do a book in one year, from start to finish.
  • It is possible to derive white papers, case studies and other collateral/assets from book research, but you must have a plan.
  • And you must be flexible—your original plan may be no more than a series of informed hunches.
  • Non writers are not familiar and typically uncomfortable with publishing industry style, work cadence and deadlines. In publishing, deadlines are not a wish list item.  It takes continued vigilance to maintaining the schedule.
  • Of course, while you stick  to the schedule, you don’t sacrifice quality or content.
  • Credibility is everything—the book should not be used to overtly sell a product. The book can sell ideas and techniques and capabilities.
  • Partners. Pick a publisher who is flexible, creative and focused on delivering great books. Avoid those  who just want your client’s money and don’t  care that the book would be replete with errors.
  • Insist on evidence for the points you’re making. No data, no credibility.

Take as much time to market the book as to write the book. Promotion is not just the publisher’s job—the authors must take the lead.

Bottom line: For most  nonfiction authors, and especially IT vendors, the financial rewards  come from leveraging the book as  the ultimate marketing tool, not as a direct revenue generator.

Want to hear more? Contact me at  lmarion@triangle-publishing.com. And to learn what NOT to do, read on…

One day last year I had an urgent telephone call from a vice president at a major public relations agency.  The Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a software company client had paid a ghostwriter to spend six months interviewing the CIO and doing other “research.” The PR team didn’t think the resulting 40,000 words  was a real book. Would I review and make recommendations, given my 20+ years of media experience (including the writing or ghostwriting/editing of four nonfiction books)?

It turns out the CIO and the ghostwriter together made a series of serious errors. The  manuscript  was devoid of examples or enough proof points for a white paper, let alone a book.  It turns out that the CIO had hired a writer who knew nothing about the topic area and had never written a book before.

Only about 20% of the manuscript was good enough for a book, so the CIO’s idea needed a lot of research to develop enough proof points to make it credible.  The client didn’t want to fund the additional work, legitimately complaining that it had already spent a lot of money and didn’t have much to show for the investment.

 So a great book idea died, even though I knew a publisher that would be interested in the idea. The lesson: Choose your author carefully, set your goals for the book and above all, plan for where you want to end up before you begin. 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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