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Ridding the world of marketing crap

Thursday February 14, 2013

And good riddance

It’s not often that you sit through a webinar and come away with some real insights.  Fortunately, today’s webinar conducted by Mintigo on improved lead generation through “Content Intelligence” delivered — and hit on some important truisms facing marketers.

As a company that espouses the “power of relevant marketing”, Mintigo struck a chord.  Zeroing in on the content marketing deluge – i.e. “crap” – that is drowning customers and prospects, the Mintigo folks got to the heart of the matter: effective content cannot just entertain and inform, it must contain material that “authentically matters to the people you’re trying to reach”.

So how do you make this determination? It boils down to segmenting your content based on your prospects’ identifiable traits and self-proclaimed areas of interest.   “Content Intelligence” uses more personalized and relevant communication to clusters of targeted prospects based on big data analysis of multiple sources (think websites visited, news preferences, blogs read, social postings and more).  By extracting the needs and interests of prospects, you can segment them into interest groups, clusters and personas.

Make no mistake, this is hard work.  And Mintigo is the first to say so despite the fact they offer up what they declare to be the world’s first Customer Search Engine that automates a lot of the heavy lifting involved.

One of the key challenges of content marketing boils down to producing enough fresh content – and figuring out what topics to communicate – to continually engage targeted prospects with information that is highly relevant in order to trigger more click-throughs.  And this means that engaging the right content development shop to help fulfill this need is becoming one of the most strategic decisions facing marketing departments today.  The days of “spray and pray” marketing are history.  Welcome to the era of content intelligence.

The only things you need to know about writing for websites

Tuesday February 12, 2013

Humming Bird Royalty Free Stock Images - Image: 3345519

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You’ll notice that there’s no shortage of “best practices” tips online today. And the guidelines for how to write/create content for websites that real people (as opposed to web-crawlers) actually read is no exception: today on Google there were nearly 78 million results. So, why are we weighing-in?  To briefly enunciate our philosophy: when it comes to what should go up your site, there is a deceptively simple tried-and-true golden rule. Less is More.

“Deceptively simple” because anyone charged with web content knows the burden on the gatekeepers who do the vetting.

The point is, whatever makes your cut must be better than ever. More compelling, more readable, more useful and stickier. Because your visitors insist. The most recent studies reveal a sharp decrease in the amount of time spent by website visitors.  It’s now less than half a minute. Not a lot of time to drone on about your product-as-hero. Or wax eloquent about your leadership and heritage. With this kind of attention deficit, everything a visiting skim-reader sees must be ultra high-return. It must instantly attract, impress and hook.

With this in mind and with so much recycled stuff out there, here is our condensed list of must-do’s as commonly practiced by the best-seller vendors:

1.  Know your reader. Exactly the same as the ancient marketing tenet of “knowing your customer” to the greatest extent possible. What do your buyers want to know about your value proposition? What were they really buying when they cut a check? Why do they turn away from one thing and lean toward another? What are those things? We are constantly amazed at how many marketers are still in the dark when it comes to reader familiarity.  It all begins right here.

2.  Put yourself where they are.
See #1 above. Chances are you lean toward video and everything visual when it comes to learning and gathering information. Ditto your prospects. The national and regional news sites figured this out long ago.  Try to find one today worth its pixels that has no video or streaming on their home page, or every section  That intriguing screen capture with the arrow inviting the click is irresistible.  Use video to showcase brief product descriptions, short clips of your people sharing insights, and/or a customer or two (or five) endorsing you with a brief problem/solution testimonial. Caveat:  ALL video has the shortest shelf life of anything on your site. You have to be committed to this. Which reminds us to tell you to…

3.  Think like a baker. It’s all about freshness.  You don’t see the same, stale stuff in the pastry case while your barrista is putting the cap on your low-fat mocha every morning.  Maybe not exactly the same thing but the underlying principle is, absolutely. You make your site a destination for a larger audience when you respect the value those folks put on fresh (AKA new) information, tidbits, tips, and news they can use: precisely what people are looking for and the best way for you to rise through the rankings. Last but not least: give something away, like a free sample at a bakery.

4.  Write in chunks.  There’s a bit of controversy today about “linear” writing styles vs. the “chunky” approaches.  Linear = feature stories, magazine articles, novels.  Chunky = headline news, wire-service dispatches and police blotters.  Which category do you think a stressed-out, short-attention span customer falls into?  Chunking does three things to improve your site content: more efficient conveyance of information, helps readers speed things up to find what they’re looking for, and it presents page-to-page information more consistently which makes your site easier to navigate

5.  Ask for the order.  More honored in the breach than in the observance. What do you want your reader to do, think, say to peers, or act upon? Your call to action is right up there with your contact page as the key element(s) of your site.  Make it clear, compelling and memorable.  Above all, make it brief.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Content Creators

Monday July 30, 2012

 


 

In tribute to the late Steven Covey (above), author of the wildly successful “Seven Habits” franchise, Write Angle offers the following tips to writers and developers of all marketing content, especially those in technology categories:

1.  Start all projects with your customer in mind. All marketing begins with a customer, not a product.  This simple but often forgotten principle is the soul of the content that gets the most reads, clicks and conversions.  Who are the people you’re trying to reach?  What are the first and foremost concerns of the user?  How does your material address these issues?

2.  Stay true to one, clear objective. Begin all projects by asking the question “Why are we initiating this effort?  How will it educate our user and further our business agenda at this moment?

3.  Keep your main thing the MAIN THING. If you’re describing the way a manufacturer uses your product analytics to get a better read on how their customers are using specific products, stick to that topic. Don’t wander off talking about your other offerings’ cool features that deliver unrelated benefits.

4.  Avoid hyper-competitiveness. Don’t emulate the attitude of the big vendors who’ve never encountered a competitor they didn’t want to vaporize.  Keep your content focused on what you do for your users, not what your competitors don’t do for theirs.  There’s a broader lesson here for marketing.  Silicon Valley is strewn with the remains of failed brands that took their eye off the marketplace because they were so obsessed with their competition. Remember Auspex?  It died of NetApp envy.

5.  Remember that in a short-attention-span world, brevity is the soul of readability.  Nobody reads PDFs longer than six pages, max.  And this number is shrinking.  In the name of brevity, we’ll leave it at that.

6.  Remain a student of your business . And your technology. It’s a cliche, but the fact is that the pace of change today is blinding fast. Ensure that all marketing content reflects the freshness, relevancy and currency of today’s marketplace issues.

7. Don’t go off half-cocked. Jerry Della Femina, legendary ad executive from the “Mad Men” era, insisted his copywriters gather seven times the amount of source information needed on any subject prior to writing a single sentence.  While some may balk at this kind of preparation as overkill, the point is to become as prepped and familiar with the subject matter as the deadline allows. To our way of thinking, more is better.

Why Outdated Web Site Content Leads to Desert Islands With No Visitors

Thursday May 24, 2012


Desert Vegetation On Incahuasi Island (bolivia)))


We love this description of outdated web-site content
: “Archipelagos”. This should resonate with a lot of B2B marketing people.  Islands disconnected from larger land masses. If you’re like everybody else, you probably have some of your own. Call them orphans, legacies, or whatever, they amount to low-return assets begging to be re-purposed, updated, and/or overhauled. Or just trashed. They are not working as hard as they should — certainly not as hard as you. They need tending.

The operative phrase here is “low-return”. Content, after all, is an asset of value.  You want your visitors exposed to valuable, useful, high-return stuff on your web site. Everything should scream out to customers that you’re a hot company worthy of their attention and interest.  And nothing says “ordinary” faster than dated material. Or, worse, irrelevant content.  Ironically, very often a lot of these vintage pieces — case studies, podcasts, videos, white papers, et. al, — lend themselves quite well to spiffing up. The bones of a once-hot case study may well inspire a whole new generation of them. Same for videos or white papers. The key here is to stay current.  And to remember the three categories of B2B visitors: those who are in basic research mode, those who are narrowing the vendor selection and those who are on the verge of awarding a contract. Have relevant content at the ready for each stage and each state of mind.  And never forget that by the time people call you for a meeting, they’re probably 80% down the selection road already.  Something to think about.

How often do you clear the cobwebs on your site? What’s your process for ensuring your stuff is relevant to what your visitors are search for right now?

How to make your content as smart as your phone

Wednesday March 21, 2012

People Holding Smart Phones

We live in an era of screen extremes. Our TVs have never been so gargantuan while we’re consuming more content than ever on screens we hold in one hand.

“If I had more time I’d have written a shorter letter” is an apt description of the quandary in which many content generators find themselves today.  Smaller screens, smaller form factors and resistance to scrolling has made the creation of content that compels reader action a thornier challenge.  You have to grab attention faster, hold it tighter and compel action more irresistibly today in the at-a-glance state of mind that characterizes your busy, distracted target audience.

Making fewer words say more is the order of the day. This calls for instincts and aptitude long associated with creators of billboard copy and “transit ads” — what you see on (and in) buses and the roofs of some taxis.  This is where messages have always had the toughest job.  They had to say it all in a very few words, almost instantaneously.  The lesson here is to pay attention to the really great billboards out there.  The ones that convey so much in so little verbiage.  They’re useful models not only for informing your mobile web pages but inspiring all your marketing content.  No matter where it lives.  To get your content consumed, you have to hook the consumer.  And there’s never been so much bait in the water.  Exercise: go through your web site and try reducing it by half.

Were you able to do it? What did you delete?  Is it more readable, more informative, more compelling?  What can you do to stay short(er) and sweet(er) online today?

Customer trends are the best ones to follow

Friday February 24, 2012

Nothing But Wool 6

Follow customers, not trends

There’s an old saying that nobody’s as gullible as a salesman afraid of missing out on a trend. We would put some marketing people into this category today.

Consider two astute observations that came our way recently. One is that you shouldn’t believe all the hype about “in-bound” (as opposed to outbound) marketing; the other says quality content on a web site always trumps search-engine optimization (SEO). You’d think that both contentions would be self-evident truths.  In practice, too many marketers seem only too eager to err on the side of excess when it comes to perceived trends affecting their craft.

The dramatic rise of social marketing is the “trend” here that so many marketers seem afraid of missing out on.  Don’t get us wrong. We’re avid practitioners of all things digital but we’re in solid concurrence with Seattle-based PR exec Howie Barokas. To his way of thinking, the advent of social media has given too many marketing types, particularly when it comes to PR, a bad case of myopia about potential customers and the content aimed at them. While social media has changed the way people consume information and buy things, at the end of the day it’s just another channel. However important, it’s just another element in the mix of advertising, direct marketing, tradeshows, webinars and all the other means by which marketing content is made available.

As for the plight of the SEO-obsessed, we commend the sentiments of our colleague Efi Rodik: “People are sifting through the garbage online to find the good stuff—information that is informative, engaging, and above all, relevant. If your site is so keyword-optimized that it barely passes as English, then you’ve got a problem.”

Having responsibility for marketing content, you can never lose your focus on your end-user. We share Rodik’s view that customers looking for information or resources on the web will always want content that’s easy to read and understand. “If you’re pounding your keyword,” he says, “rather than focusing on providing useful, compelling information, then you’ll lose a conversion, your bounce rate will go up, and your ranking on your search-engine results page will suffer”.

 

How to know if your company is ready to launch a blog

Friday February 3, 2012

Launching Ceremony Of A Ship

Marketing people in early-stage companies have daily to-do lists that would, per head, choke many of their counterpart departments in larger enterprises.  Still, as we continually preach, the need for ever-fresh content on web sites is a primary to-do for companies of any size.  The fact that business blogs are typically the fastest, simplest means of keep content topical and fresh is the biggest reason why they’re so prevalent.

But a recent Inc 500 survey revealed a sharp decline in corporate blogging last year compared to 2010 (37% vs. 50%). In the same survey, however, 56% of the non-blogging companies said they planned to start or re-start a blog in 2012.  We suspect the reasons for the drop-off may have to do with the realities of blogging and the resulting disillusionment of bloggers who failed to recognize benefits.

To those companies intending to blog for the first time and to those willing to jump back in the game we send best wishes –  and a caveat.  We counsel a variation on the advice proferred recently by Reputation Capitalization’s Mary Slayter.  We have our own checklist we offer our clients.

You know you’re ready to publish a blog if:

1. You are not a control freak. You trust the employees tapped for content generation to represent your brand without an onerous review process that takes a half-dozen people and untold hours of deliberation.

2. Your goal is to establish a reputation as a trusted source of industry information as a means of eventual revenue.  The operative word here is “eventual”.  You’re OK with the long-term-prospect nature of actual revenue coming directly from leads your blog will create.  Of course, results will vary company to company, industry to industry. Quality leads generated by effective keywords on the rest of your site is a different matter. The payoff is swifter than publishing a blog, but the time and effort to maintain efficacy is more labor intensive.

3. You have no problems linking your content to a competitor’s site
. We especially like Slayter’s counsel here: “A robust industry blog will require you to have civilized, public conversation with your competitors. A generous spirit in this regard  is what will make you a thought leader in your industry; it also has some powerful SEO advantages”. Hey, your customers know they have choices. Earn their confidence by showing confidence in yourself.

4. You understand the utility and the value of any content having nothing to with pitching your wares.  You write the blog to gain and keep readers.  Period.  You understand them well enough to know instinctively what compels their interest and what they find interesting enough to warrant their time.  Your whitepapers and case studies reflect this exact same insight.

5. You know there is no free lunch. And no free blog. For this reason, you’ve set aside the sufficient resources for design, content and promotion.  Why? Because to measure content marketing’s contribution against the other elements in your mix (traditional advertising, PR, etc.) you need to examine actual  costs.

So, did you or a company you know discontinue blogging recently?  Why?  How did you respond to the checklist items above?

What Sumo Logic’s splashy debut reminds us about creating great content

Tuesday January 31, 2012

The Big Black Microphone

 

Jerry Della Femina, legendary ad executive from the “Mad Men” era, insisted his copywriters gather seven times the amount of source information needed on any subject prior to penning one word of marketing material.  A half-century later, we can’t argue.

The time-honored approach paid off again this week in the splashy debut of our client Sumo Logic, a next-generation log management and analytics service competing in the red hot Big Data revolution.  What we generated on their behalf, starting from scratch, amounted to a full menu of short- and long-form content, from web copy to FAQs, datasheets, use cases, case studies and whitepapers.

Sumo Logic made its directive crystal clear: develop compelling content that drives web traffic and craft a story that positions the company as highly differentiated, innovative and above all else, relevant and believable.   To the client’s credit, they demanded high-value content that stands up to the pushing, shoving and “prove it” probes from devil’s advocates: customers, media and analysts alike.

So what’s the key lesson learned? It begins with gathering as much relevant secondary and background material as possible.  Then comes a layer of deep sourcing sessions or interviews with all the key people. Kudos to our client for their enthusiastic collaboration providing direct and extensive access to the CEO, CTO, co-founder and director of biz dev, and the executive sales liaison. It’s here where we extract the primary material.  In these sessions we want to come away with the “ore” that can be processed into high-grade ingots:  the specific, real-world examples of customer struggles and challenges.  We probe for as many viable use-cases as possible.

What we’ve learned over the years is that the stronger the reader identification with these use cases, the deeper the impression and the more compelling the read. Only when we’ve extracted all relevant details do we prepare a tight outline as the storyboard or blueprint of the final product. Each piece — web pages, case studies, whitepapers and more — is a specific chapter in the company story.

The Sumo Logic intro reminded us, again, how perspiration trumps inspiration when it comes to crafting really great marketing content. Content drives marketing and sales today as in no other time.  And somewhere, Jerry D. is smiling.

What’s your content-development process?  How do your mobilize for intros and product launches?

Is blogging really dead?

Friday January 13, 2012

Mark Twain/samuel Clemens/eps

 

 

Declaring the death of a trend can get attention but it doesn’t make it true.  Take “blogging is dead”, or “dying”, as a prime example.

We recently came across a Mark Twain-like death”of blogs and the Web. ‪The supposition is based on the belief that blogs simply get drowned out by the avalanche of data choking would-be readers’ mailboxes, browsers, and social-media pages.  There is truth to the claim of data overload, of course, but it doesn’t nullify the positive impact of well-conceived blog content that serves the interests of readers and grows the number of the visitors you want coming to your site.

There’s certainly no data we’re aware of to suggest a declining number of blogs published on corporate web sites.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  It was projected last year that 43% of U.S. companies would be utilizing blogs for marketing in 2012 – compared to 16% in 2007.  So, yes, reports of the death of blogging are exaggerated.

The reason for its good health is easy to understand. Keeping web sites and blog content fresh and relevant to customer readership continues to be the simplest and quickest means of sustaining and enhancing your web presence.

It’s also a simple, quick way to build and substantiate thought leadership in your category whenever you can hold forth on topics of educational interest to your marketplace of customers, prospects and industry followers.

Branded blogs that thrive are those that evolve right along with the web itself. Just as corporate web sites are far more interactive today than their passive ancestors, today’s business blogs and market-savvy bloggers strive for two-way conversational engagement with readers.  They invite give and take.  This is in sharp contrast to their one-way communication soapbox predecessors.

Empirical evidence ties sales productivity, in the form of lower-cost lead generation, to a vendor’s blog activity.  Another reason why intelligently out-sourced blog content development to domain experts can represent such an intelligent (and measurable) investment in business development.  As long as they remain so useful, blogs won’t be disappearing any time soon.

Did your blog generate quality leads last year? What’s your process for coming up with new ideas to write about?  Do you solicit subject matter from customers? What’s your plan?

The measurable way to make marketing contribute to sales

Friday January 6, 2012

Website Sales Funnel

The good folks over at Marketo published some stunning numbers this week that should be a wake-up call for anybody running marketing today.  Boiled down, the findings revealed that most marketing leaders have little or no confidence in their ability to drive revenue. Nine out of ten senior marketers surveyed “do not feel confident in their ability to impact the sales forecast of their programs”.  And 20 percent of them don’t measure what they do at all.

Isn’t driving sales one of the fundamental purposes of the marketing function? There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for closing deals and making the quarterly numbers.  But this much is known for certain about today’s in-bound marketing world: those companies who keep their web site content fresher and publish it more frequently draw the most sales-validated leads.  They consistently realize the highest conversion rates and apply measurement tools to clearly demonstrate the results of programs that contribute to bottom line revenue.  Can’t blame them.

Yes, Marketo is in the business of measurement software, but the connection of quality traffic volume to SEO rankings is driven by nothing more or less than the content sought by customers constantly on the lookout for fresh information relative to their specific needs.  Recognizing these needs and publishing relevant and engaging content is what separates the “10-percenters” who are successfully driving revenue generation from the other 90 percent who aren’t.  Those in the tip-of-the-pyramid ten percent club have figured out the correlation between publishing engaging content with regularity and making it count on the bottom line.

Are you in the 10-percent? What are you doing to stay there, or get there?  How do you keep your marketing content fresh and relevant?