It's Spring! Time to Content-scape

Only a few weeks ago I sat looking out my window at a yard covered with several feet of snow. The white blanket has finally melted away but it's revealed a lawn beaten by a long, hard winter. It's not very appealing right now, but after a few weekends of cleaning, raking, and feeding, it'll be back to its familiar, green self. Unfortunately, you won't get a similar stark wake-up call when it comes to your content. But if you take a close enough look, you'll likely find things aren't quite as lush there either. Time to get to work on that too. 

Spring is a time for growth - an appropriate time to re-evaluate your business and make some positive changes. While you're getting ready to landscape your yard, plan to do some content-scaping as well. Both tasks can seem overwhelming, but they don't have to be. Take small steps now to make a big impact later.

Here are three things you can do to get started.

1. Evaluate your tools - Start with your basic tools. Thankfully I found my rake buried behind the snow blower. Good start.

How about your content marketing tools? Determine what you have for eBooks, white papers, case studies, and other engaging content that can attract leads and new clients. Begin with a simple inventory of what you have and what you think still works. 

2. Do a cleanup - The next step is a good cleanup. I need to pick up the leaves I missed last November and rake the dead grass that's stifling new growth. No worries. I'll just get the leaves this first weekend.

Same thing for your content. When was the last time you did a thorough clean up on your web site? Are you still showing that case study from four years ago for a product you don't carry anymore? Is your most recent blog post dated last August? None of that will help promote growth or be of interest to visitors to your site. Start small. Get rid of anything that's out of date, irrelevant, or would lead a visitor to think you haven't been paying attention.

3. Start planting - You reap what you sow and this is the season to seed and feed that lawn. That'll be the biggest payoff when it comes back to life in a few weeks.

Time to plant some new content as well. The cleanup was good, but if you don't replenish your site with fresh material, it's going to look pretty barren. Generate new content by posting a recent customer success story, a white paper on a hot topic in your industry, or an eBook that provides valuable information that your prospects can use in their businesses.

Landscaping and content marketing can be hard work, but the rewards are well worth it. I'll be enjoying my lush, green lawn this summer and hopefully you'll be proud of a healthy crop of new prospects and customers.

So what are you doing to promote your growth? Could your content use a good spring cleaning?



Don't Drop the Ball on Your Content: 3 Simple Questions to Ring in 2014

Happy New Year! Are you already sick and tired of the avalanche of advice on reevaluating the state of your business and things you should be doing to succeed in 2014? The barrage of ideas can be overwhelming and confusing.

I'm offering only one suggestion. Clear out the clutter and keep it simple.

A project I did with one of my technology clients a few months ago illustrates the point. The process we went through was basic but effective. The result is three simple questions that you should ask before starting every content project in 2014.

1. Who are your prospects/customers?

My client was producing a ton of good content as part of the company's marketing program. That put them in the majority since according to the 2014 benchmarking report from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, nine out of 10 B2B marketers use content marketing to help drive their business. But my client wasn't satisfied with the download traffic or lead generation activity generated by her content. So the first question we asked was: "Who is the target for all this content?"

After some discussion, we determined that the hands-on IT staff would be the ones most likely to research the problems my client's product solved. They would be the ones googling for additional material, visiting relevant sites, and downloading content that would address their problems. These operators would be the ones generating traffic and leads for my client.

In reviewing the existing content we realized that it was aimed primarily at the more strategic IT operations people - folks at the higher levels of management. My client's company was not going to show up in searches aimed at detailed problem analysis and solutions with that type of information.

I suggested we shift the content focus to the IT folks in the trenches.

2. What's important to them?

Once we identified our target, the next step was to create appropriate content. What was relevant to them? What challenges did they face and what possible solutions existed to overcome them? What kind of information did they need to help them do their jobs better?

Looking at the current content we discovered that much of it centered on the business benefits of the products. That was obviously important to the more senior level IT managers who were concerned with ROI and strategic edge.

However we realized that while the IT staff running the data centers surely appreciated the financial benefits of the product, they were more focused on the functionality and productivity improvements it could bring.What products would solve their problems? How could they free up resources that could be used to allow staff to tend to other urgent daily tasks? What would help get the business owners the information they needed in a more timely fashion? Those were the issues IT staff faced every day and the ones for which they needed answers.

3. How do you reach them?

Once we nailed down the target audience and what was relevant to them, we needed to determine the best way to get to them - to attract them to our site and our content. My client had been producing blogs and eBooks which provided a higher level, strategic view of their product.  We realized that the folks we were trying to reach would not likely be downloading those pieces of content. We needed something that would appeal more directly to their needs.

We ultimately determined that our tactical audience was more likely looking for in depth information that addressed their issues and discussed possible solutions. I ended up expanding on some of their existing content, developing several detailed white papers and case studies. These pieces effectively framed the challenges IT staff faced and outlined potential solutions available in the marketplace. This new content also outlined how my client's product was a particularly effective solution and one they should consider. I followed that up with a series of blog posts that linked back to the various white papers. The result was a dramatic uptick in traffic, downloads, and overall lead generation activity.

This exercise shows that your content marketing plan doesn't have to be overly complicated. Outline your goal, determine your target audience, find out what's important to them, and use a content vehicle that will best reach them. Use this simple process as you begin work on any piece of content and your chances of success will increase significantly.

How do you determine what content you're going to produce and the best way to reach your prospects?


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A Content Christmas Carol

"Uncle, have you finalized your Content Marketing plan for the new year?" "Bah, humbug!" Ebenezer Scrooge replied to his nephew Fred, an independent marketing consultant. "Haven't I got a website?"

"Well yes Uncle, but that's not nearly enough any more," Fred replied.

"I pay to support that site," said Scrooge angrily. "It costs enough. If customers and prospects want to find me, they must go there."

"But Uncle, they need to have a reason to visit your site," Fred persisted. "You need to provide compelling content that will attract them."

"Bah, humbug!" Scrooge roared. "If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with "compelling content" on his lips should be beaten with his own blog and buried with a keyword stuck through his heart!"

The conversation obviously over, Fred turned and left.

Later that night, Scrooge sat eating his gruel when suddenly, the door flew open and a vision passed into the room. With that, Scrooge was facing his long dead partner Jacob Marley.

"Your business is dying Ebenezer. I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of saving it," the vision said. "You will be haunted by Three Spirits. Mark well what they reveal."

Marley then flew out the window.

Scrooge went off to bed and fell fast asleep. Soon after the curtains of his bed were drawn aside and a childlike figure stood before him.

"Who are you?" Scrooge demanded.

"I am the Ghost of Content Past," said the Spirit."Rise and walk with me. Bear but a touch of my hand there and you shall be upheld."

The Ghost and Scrooge flew out the window then stopped at a certain warehouse door and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

"Why it's old Fezziwig's establishment! Bless his heart. It's Fezziwig alive again."

Scrooge's former self, along with Dick Wilkins and Fezziwig were gathered around a table with papers scattered all over it.

"This tri-fold brochure will sure to draw in much business," Fezziwig bellowed. "Look at all the facts and features about our company."

"What about this Yellow Pages ad," cried Wilkins. "Chock full of details. This will surely attract our prospects!"

"Small matters," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so excited about their marketing program."

Scrooge thought about that. Though seemingly small, these marketing pieces did indeed help Fezziwig's business thrive in those days.

Abruptly, the Ghost was gone and Scrooge found himself back in bed in a heavy sleep.

Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, Scrooge was startled to see a jolly Giant sitting before him.

"I am the Ghost of Content Present," said the Spirit. "Look upon me."

"Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, "conduct me where you will. If you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."

"Touch my robe." the Spirit said. Scrooge did as he was told and held it fast as they flew through the window.

Scrooge was surprised when they landed at his own nephew's office. There in a bright, gleaming conference room, Fred addressed his colleagues.

"He said that Content Marketing was a humbug, as I live," cried Scrooge's nephew. "He believed it too. I have nothing to say against him. I am sorry for him. He and his business will suffer for it. I told him he needed to provide his prospects and customers with valuable information that would show him as an expert and attract new business."

Scrooge  suddenly looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. Lifting up his eyes, he instead beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming towards him.

"Am I in the presence of the Ghost of Content Yet To Come?" asked Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.

"Lead on," said Scrooge.

The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.

"No," said a great fat man with a monstrous chin. "I don't know much about it either way. I only know they padlocked the doors. Likely no one will much care about it. Upon my life I don't know of many customers he had left."

"Spirit," Scrooge said. "Tell me who they are talking about."

The Spirit instead silently led him down a dark street and stood before a building that looked familiar to Scrooge. The Spirit pointed to the building.

"Are these shadows of things that WILL be or are they shadows of things that MAY be only?" Scrooge asked.

Still the Ghost only pointed.

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went and following the finger, then read the sign upon the door of the abandoned building: Scrooge and Marley, Out of Business.

"No, Spirit! Oh no, no!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe. "Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life. I will honor Content Marketing in my heart and try to keep it all the year. Oh tell me I may sponge away the writing on this sign!"

Scrooge suddenly saw the Phantom shrink, collapse, and dwindle down into a bedpost.

Yes! And the bedpost was his own and the room was his own. Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head.

"What's today?" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a disheveled looking man in the street.

"Today?" replied the man. "Why it's Monday. The first day of a new work week."

"It's Monday!," said Scrooge to himself. "The Spirits have done it all in one weekend!"

"Hallo my fine fellow," Scrooge continued to the man. "What do you do for a living?"

"Me?" replied the man. "I'm just a poor freelance copywriter out here begging for work."

"Well beg no longer," Scrooge replied. "Come with me to my office. You are now in charge of my Content Marketing program. We have a great deal to do. domain owner . We need white papers, case studies, and blogs! Can you write blogs? We'll do eBooks, newsletters, and email campaigns. We'll become the kings of Content Marketing I'll say!"

On his way to the office he stopped by to see his nephew Fred.

"I wanted to thank you for your advice," Scrooge said to Fred, "and to tell you I am embarking on a complete Content Marketing program beginning today."

He then grabbed his new trusty scrivener by the scruff of the neck and held him up to Fred.

"See, I already hired a copywriter!" Scrooge cried. "Can you stop by today and help me with the details!"

"Of course I will uncle!" exclaimed Fred.

From that day forward, Scrooge was true to his word. Under Fred's direction, Scrooge and Marley became a Content Marketing machine, driving enormous amounts of traffic to their site and growing revenues manyfold. Scrooge had no further interaction with Spirits. It was always said of him that he knew how to drive Content Marketing well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

As for the scrivener, sitting in his corner cubicle he spoke for all copywriters when he said quietly, "God bless us, every one. And Happy Holidays."

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The Customer Journey: Does Your Content Match Up?

Content, content, content. If you have any responsibility for the marketing function in your organization, you're well aware of the steady shift to Inbound from Outbound Marketing. You're also no doubt being badgered by every blog, article, and webinar about the need to continually feed the content monster. More content. Relevant content. More frequent content.

All that pestering is valid. For your Inbound Marketing program to be successful, you need to be providing content on a regular basis so your prospects can find you and eventually become customers. But it's more than just pouring content into the top of the funnel and waiting for the revenue to flow out of the spout. To be really effective, you need to be providing the right content at the right time.

You know by now that prospects don't want to be sold. But they do want help to buy. The information they need differs at each stage in the buying cycle. That's the key point. A successful Content Marketing plan matches the appropriate content to the needs of the prospect at each step of the Customer Journey.

From your prospect's perspective, the Customer Journey can be separated into three steps: Discovery, Research, Purchase. From your point of view, the corresponding stages are: Awareness, Credibility, Sale. To get to the final stage and close the deal, you need to be aligned with your prospect by providing compelling content at every step.

Here's how to approach each phase from a content perspective.

1. Discovery/Awareness

Your prospects have a need to be fulfilled. At the beginning of the journey, they're casting a wide net looking for possible solutions. Your goal at this stage is to provide content that makes you part of the catch. Introduce yourself to prospects in order to advance to the next stage.

There are numerous ways to present your organization to potential customers. Blogs promoted on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube), infographics, and video are among the most effective content pieces to help you get noticed. Your website, logo, and ad campaigns all contribute to your visibility. plan a route . You have to be out there with content that people can find and share so when they have that need, they think of you.

2. Research/Credibility

Once you make the cut and become a potential source to fulfill the prospects' requirement, the validation stage begins. Prospects will be conducting more in depth research at this point to determine who is best suited to meet their need. You must prove that you can provide a credible solution. You can best do this by providing content that illustrates your knowledge, expertise, and ability to help them. Content pieces that establish your credibility include ebooks, white papers, articles, and webinars.

3. Purchase/Sale

If you've done a good job establishing your viability, you'll hopefully get a chance to close the deal. The prospect has invested a lot of time and energy getting to the final candidates. Your goal now is to differentiate yourself from the other contenders. Why should the prospect choose you? What makes you the best solution to solve their problem? Content that can nail down the sale includes vendor comparisons, case studies, company presentations, and proposals.

Don't cut corners when it comes to the final proposal. If you've been fortunate enough to be selected as a finalist, your last chance to seal the deal is with your proposal. Take advantage and make sure you use this final opportunity to convince your prospect that you can provide the best solution for their need.

Yes content is crucial. Your content plan is much more effective, however, when you have a strategy that puts the right content in front of your prospect at the time it will do the most good.

Do you have a comprehensive content strategy? If not, why not?



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The Case Study: Close Deals With a Story

Mommy, can you PLEASE tell me a story? Didn't we all wail that out from the time we learned to speak? Story telling, or more importantly, story listening is ingrained in us. As we grew older, that attraction didn't go away. We still love stories. Tap into that deep-rooted experience when reaching out with your marketing program.

Gather your prospects around and tell them a story.

The business version of a story is a case study. These popular, effective pieces of content prove we can all still be engaged and influenced by a good story.

Recent benchmark studies show that 7 out of 10 marketers include case studies as part of their marketing program. That makes it a top five content marketing tactic up there with social media, article posting, eNewsletters, and blogs. Better still, marketing executives believe case studies work. Two-thirds say case studies are effective, surpassing even webinars/webcasts on the perceived confidence scale. In Person Events is the only tactic that rates higher.

Interestingly, marketers use Social Media - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn - more than any other tactic, but less than half believe they're effective.

Which brings us back to case studies. Why do they work so well?

It's pretty basic, actually. The first rule in any Writing 101 class is: to create compelling content, show don't tell. That's the secret to the case study. It's the ultimate in showing. Brochures, data sheets, and badly written web sites all tell. Your prospects don't want to be told anything. They want to be shown how your product or service will solve their problem.

A well written case study delivers a compelling story with a beginning (Our hero and his company had this problem), a middle (Our hero and his team tried everything to solve this problem but couldn't) and an end (YOUR PRODUCT came along and made everything all better). And then they all lived happily ever after.

The case study projects your prospects into a situation with which they are unfortunately familiar, and shows them how you will solve their problem.

No hard sell. No shouting from the rooftops. No chest beating.

The moral of the story? It works. The End.

When was the last time you used a case study to promote your business? Was it effective?



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The Online Customer: 3 Issues To Consider

Consumers continue to use technology to grab more power in their buying experience. For a recent report on the online customer experience, LivePerson conducted nearly 6,000 interviews in six countries. Their findings reveal:

  • A wide diversity of sophistication in the online buyer
  • Empowered customers that want to leverage in-store and online channels to maximize their buying power
  • A consumer that is demanding fast, easy help tools to solve their online buying issues

Here are three things from the report you should consider.

  1.  Diverse Customer Sophistication. Only one in six online customer are considered "experienced" defined as "rarely needing help when purchasing online." More than half are "semi-dependent" and sometimes need help. A third are "dependent" with limited online buying experience and often need assistance.
  2. Channel Blur. The lines between online and in-store shopping are being erased as customers now use both in the purchasing process. Almost 80% of shoppers often or sometime conduct online research before shopping in a store. One in four shoppers conduct research on their mobile device while in the store. Although impulse buying is most associated with in-store purchases, half of the respondents say they often or sometimes end up spending more than they planned while shopping online.
  3. Demand for Help. Online shoppers are demanding speed and simplicity in response to their questions and issues. More than two-thirds want help within five minutes and a third want it IMMEDIATELY. Half will abandon the site if help doesn't arrive within their expected time frame. Half give up immediately when they are looking for help prior to an online purchase. They want multiple choices to get help for sales and customer service, but they won't use them all.

One of the answers to this growing issue is Live Chat. According to the report, this interactive customer service channel:

  • Meets the needs of speed and simplicity
  • Garners high marks for customer satisfaction
  • Increases the likelihood of a completed purchase
  • Engenders customer loyalty
  • Enhances brand trust

The study shows that although the online buying began as a self service model, it has now changed to a more interactive, collaborative experience. Customers want information and engagement. If you're a brand with both an online and physical store presence, that means you need to ramp up customer service to ensure you capture your share of the spend of this newly empowered customer.

What are you seeing from your online customers? How are you engaging them in meaningful and helpful ways?

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