Getting Started with Content Marketing

b3rmsmqi4qk-kate-serbinWhile content marketing may be the current buzz phrase, make no mistake, it’s far from new. If you have any doubt, check out this great video from the Content Marketing Institute. One of my favorite examples is the history of the Michelin Guide.

If you are a foodie like me, you’re quite familiar with the Michelin star that is awarded to the best restaurants in the world. This system was invented by a tire company. Let that sink in for a moment. Their ultimate goal was to get people on the road travelling to new places – and as such – increasing their need for new tires.

Unlike traditional direct marketing, the revenue stream isn’t as simple as “send an offer, measure results.” Content marketing is a long-term strategy that takes dedication and commitment from the upper levels of your organization. There’s little doubt the Michelin Guide has been a home run for a tire company. It took some serious gumption to create this strategy and stick with it for the long term.

Those of you in smaller companies or leaner marketing departments may be getting pressure to start developing content or posting to social media without having spent a substantial amount of time preparing to launch. I caution you to resist that urge.

In today’s digital world, content has the same goals as Michelin had when it got started. However, it’s also become a complex beast. There’s a lot of bad content out there and much like in the direct mail days, it’s necessary to find a way to cut through the clutter. Finding that path takes research and planning. Search engine optimization and distribution strategies are absolutely key.

So, how do you get started the right way? Particularly if you have a small staff and/or budget?

Keyword Analysis

1.      Do an in-depth analysis of your current traffic through Google Analytics. What keywords are people using to find you today?

2.      How much overall volume does Google estimate those keywords bring in monthly for all searches? Use Google Adwords Keywords Planner to find out.

3.      How much competition is there for those keywords?

4.      What is your competition doing? Use a tool like SpyFu to find out.

5.      Are there any long-tail keywords you can own?

6.      Is your business based on a certain location? Use a tool like GoBabl to find out what people are talking about near that location. Identify influencers for future use.

Brand Documentation

1.      Gather up any branding guidelines you have today. If you don’t have them, get started now. You should have your logo available in different formats (for instance: vertical, horizontal, full color, black and white) and identify any rules surrounding that logo. Is it acceptable to do a “knock out” of your logo to a color not in your logo?

2.      Identify your color palette (down to at least 6 colors) and document them in PMS colors, hex and RGB formats.

3.      Document what your “brand voice” is going to be. This is the way in which you will talk to your customers and prospects. Keep in mind that this needs to be viewed from the standpoint of your audience. While you might want to have a young, casual tone – is that how your customers want to be spoken to?

Many people find it helpful to create a persona for their brand. Create a picture and profile for your voice like it was an actual person. It’s easier for marketing departments and freelancers to quickly step into this voice if it’s relatable. What would your brand watch on tv? What kind of music does it like? Really have fun with this and spend a lot of time developing your persona. Even give it a name. It’s easier to ask the question, “what would Sarah say” when you’re creating content than it is to consult a dull, bulleted list.

Customer Analysis

1.      The ultimate goal of this step is to come out with an equally in-depth persona (or personas) for your customers and prospects. In many instances, you will end up with several. Most businesses sell to multiple vertical markets or have a couple of levels of approvals to get through to seal a deal (for instance: the marketing manager might be your first contact, but you need to get the CMO on board to get the sale approved).

2.      Survey your current customers. Ideally, you will segment these customers into groups – such as A, B and C customers. I firmly believe that when it comes to marketing, you are what you eat. You may have been catering to a certain segment, so that’s what you’ll find when you look at your customers. In your analysis, you may find that what you thought were your “C” customers actually have more potential. Be sure to ask what they search for to find you. You’ll want to tie this back to keyword volumes. Your “A” customers may be wonderful, but if you already own 80% of that market share, there isn’t much growth potential.

I recommend doing the surveying on two levels. Use a tool like Survey Monkey to develop a survey that you can send electronically to your customers and prospects. However, it’s vital to pick a few customers in each of your segments to actually call on the phone. Unless you are an experienced surveyor who is skilled in both linguistics and statistics, odds are, you’re going to skew your digital survey. By picking up the phone, you will get stories (and stories lead to future case studies) and learn what their pain points really are. You may find out information that helps you stem some attrition. Getting new customers is the main goal of your content strategy, but goal 1B should be to create loyal brand fans who love your product and company.

3.      Round out your customer and prospect personas based on the information you gathered. This is another place that GoBabl is helpful. Plug in some keywords you heard or read during surveying. Search on their companies too. Search some hashtags they might follow. You can get very in-depth during this research. The more you can step into your audience’s shoes, the better.

4.      Identify customer and prospect pain points and how you solve each of them.

Budget Allocation

1.      Get a number upfront. There is a misnomer that content marketing and social media are free because the platforms don’t generally cost money to join. You will find along the way that you need access to the premium version of certain online tools as you get more sophisticated. You will, more than likely, need to explore marketing automation options as well. Content sent directly onto a blog platform with no distribution mechanism is unlikely to produce the results you want. No matter who small your budget is, it’s best to know it right up front.

As you can see, preparing to start content marketing and social media marketing takes a lot of upfront research and planning. It’s tempting to sit down in front of a blank page and just start typing what comes to you. However, once that train leaves the station, you’ll find yourself unable to go back and lay the foundation properly. Set yourself up for success and do that groundwork now.

Social Media is Not a Strategy

Let’s go back to grade school. You’re there in gym class, likely feeling inadequate as it is, when a game of dodgeball begins. After several minutes, the gym teacher states that everyone wearing blue can’t be hit with the ball. WHAM! Five minutes later, the teacher says that those same people wearing blue are all automatically out of the game – whether they have been hit or not.

Have you ever played a game where someone decided to make up the rules as they went along? It’s no fun and you’re not likely to win. And yet, this is exactly what happens in the world of social media. To be clear, I’m not talking about paid advertising on these platforms. There is definitely a time and place for that and it is a successful channel. I’m speaking of all of the efforts made to grow your audience on these platforms – only to find that the rules have been changed right in the middle of the game.

Many businesses were excited to learn that Facebook pages allowed them to communicate with their audiences in a place where they already lived. Best of all, this could be done completely at no cost to them. WHAM! Facebook decided that they actually wanted to make a profit and changed the rules. Suddenly, only 1% of these audiences were seeing posts and it was necessary to “sponsor” a post (read: pay for it) if they wanted to communicate with their hard-earned audience.

How about the big publishing companies and media outlets who were suffering because people were consuming their news on Facebook? When Facebook Instant Articles were announced, these companies were skeptical, but optimistic. WHAM! Facebook decided to prioritize video and publishers weren’t seeing the results they wanted. Recently, The Verge posted an article stating that publishers are now running away quickly from the Instant Article model.

Lest we just pick on Facebook, the same experience has taken place here on LinkedIn. I have to admit that I was sucked into the ability to write long-form articles such as this one. Initially, I was seeing remarkable results. You know what’s coming, don’t you? WHAM! LinkedIn shifted course and de-prioritized The Pulse and those of us who spent time building up our audiences were left in the dust. (For the record, LinkedIn recently stated that they are re-dedicating themselves to non-Influencer publishing, so all may not be lost).

If there’s nothing else you take from this article, let it be this:

Social media is a distribution channel, not a strategy.

If there is one marketing strategy you are pursuing, I hope that it is list-building. You can’t communicate with an audience you do not have. Resist the urge to put all of your eggs in the social media basket. Yes, you need to be there. Yes, it has value. But as I’ve demonstrated, the rules change quickly and without regard to your hard work and business needs. These platforms are in business, as most of us are, to make money. Never forget that.

4 Marketing Tactics to Leave in 2016


A lot has changed in the marketing world in the past 365 days. Marketing Automation has gone from a fairly unknown tool to a must-have. Small to mid-size businesses are starting to develop strategies and tactic plans for Content Marketing. Customer Experience is so common a topic that we now just refer to it as CX.

I’m completely optimistic about the future of marketing, and yet, there are some very bad tactics getting employed out there. Let’s take a look at some that you should leave in 2016’s dust.

1. Obnoxious Pop-Ups – Let me get this out there. I am not opposed to pop-ups. I use them and they are exceptionally effective. Obnoxious pop-ups are another matter completely. You know the ones I’m talking about. They either appear every two seconds or you have to spend a full minute trying to figure out where the heck the “X” resides to close it out. The worst of the worst are the ones that obscure most of the page. This tactic is often combined with the “where is the X” game.

If we go back to CX, I think we can all agree that this is an awful customer experience. If this isn’t enough motivation for you, world on the street is that Google will be punishing for mobile pop-ups that are obtrusive. This is a clear sign that Google cares about CX and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that they will not be done with punishing this type of bad marketing behavior.

2. Auto-Play Videos and Pre-Rolls – Is there anything worse than going to a site (this is even more “awesome” when you’re in public or at work) and videos start blaring from no where? Bonus obnoxious points if you can’t figure out where they are or how to get rid of them. Ditto for when you are looking for how-to content and have to deal with the several seconds of video before you can click on the “skip” button. We hate these things as consumers and we need to stop doing them as marketers. Sure, you’re getting views and clicks, but at what cost?

3. Slideshows – Oh, how I hate thee. You find some juicy content and are all excited – only to realize you’re going to receive bite-size tidbits and have to hit the “next” button 30 times to get through this article. What should have taken 3 minutes to read has now eaten up 10 minutes of your life. If you’re hell bent on using slideshows (and I don’t mean decks, I mean parsing up an article inappropriately), at least provide the “view on one page option.”

The three items in this post really boil down to one big marketing black eye…

4. Using Metrics to Justify Bad Behavior – I began my career as a direct marketer. I will forever care about producing ROI and justifying continued funding. I fully believe that content marketing, though a long-term strategy – should be measured. That said, measure the right things.

Time on page and views are great and in most cases, should absolutely be a part of your metrics. However, twisting them to sell advertising or to send up the corporate chain is irresponsible at best. The metrics are going to look good, but you’re going to suffer in the long-term because the customer experience is so poor.

Looking  Ahead – In 2017, never forget what you think as a consumer. If you find a tactic annoying as one, try to find another solution as a marketer. Have CX at the forefront of your mind at all times.

What bad marketing behaviors would you like to see stay in 2016?

Let’s Get Real, Marketers

stocksnap_rhcve50ejrContent Marketing World laid down some serious knowledge bombs that I’m putting to use immediately. I promise a full wrap-up soon, but one particular such bomb hit me hard. Mathew Sweezey (of “Marketing Automation for Dummies” fame) was, by far, my favorite session.

In the middle of a million tasty bits of advice, Mathew asked the question, “How many of you send an email to a friend or co-worker that is beautifully designed HTML?” Needless to say, no one raised their hand to that little query. So, why do we marketers send these things expecting responses?

Mathew explained that when we all look at our inbox, we don’t preview each one and decide if we’re going to read it. We scan our subject lines, delete with a fury, and then process from there. I work in financial services (insurance to be exact, try not to be jealous) and we are quite guilty of this gaffe.

When trying to retain customers, what will be more effective…a templated, branded email with perfect Shutterstock models or one that simply says, in plain text, “Joe, I noticed your policy is about to renew. There are some other options that are available since you purchased that might be a better fit and more economical. My contact information is below in case you’d like to have a chat.” Which is more real and authentic?

I noticed this principle in action in a very different environment last night. I have a confession to make. I’m a resale junkie. I can’t help myself. There’s nothing better than getting a great deal on things people barely used.

I belong to a Facebook garage sale group (okay, FINE, I belong to several of them). Most posts show pictures and explain details, including pricing. Last night, the following was posted: “I have a bakers rack, entertainment center, 3black and Decker weedeaters(need spokes and the piece to hold spools on), 6ft ladder, 20ft ladder, rakes, shovels, 2 folding camp chairs, doll crib, ride along alphabet train, step 2 kitchen, men’s northface coat, men’s under armour coat, ski masks, patio table and 2chairs and a pressure washer(needs a new wand). For sale. Let me know what everyone is interested in.”

The marketer in me was horrified. In my mind, I said, “You idiot! Nothing about pricing. No pictures. Who the heck is going to respond to you?” Yeah. So, 35 people have so far. As it turns out, curiosity took over and people wanted to find out more. And isn’t that exactly the difference between that fully-formed, beautifully designed email and the plain text version?

I hope this knowledge bomb smacks you in the face like it did for me. Let’s all go out there and get real.

Let’s Talk Trade Show Booths

Startup Stock PhotosThe last two conferences I attended were directed at marketers. You would expect the bar to be a little higher for the trade show floor booths, but one thing really struck me (pardon my bluntness)…they mostly sucked.

People are going through the trade show floor for mostly the following reasons:

1)     To get your swag. These people will mostly likely never convert to buyers.

2)     They are already your customers and want to spend some time with you.

3)     They are killing time between sessions.

4)     They are new to this conference and are looking for vendors who can legitimately help them.

During the last two shows, I fell into the last category. I wasn’t looking for swag (okay, maybe if your stuff was really, really good). I was looking for information (note: not a sales pitch). I wanted to quickly learn what each company did, could I afford it and was it worth pursuing.

Now, we all know that when you walk a show floor, you have a finite amount of time before you’re being accosted by someone at the booth, armed with a scanner. Job one is to try to avoid the unnecessary scan – because we all know the expensive consequence we’ll pay in our inbox when we get back into the office.

How do you get the attention of someone like me as I’m trying to bob and weave between scans? It’s simple.

Be clear on your trade booth. Say what you do and maybe include a unique value proposition or two.

Instead, what is often see is a booth trying to be cute. They build a theme around the show with their swag and booth design – which is great if you’re Google or a company everyone knows.

The second thing I see is marketing-speak.

The unprecedented leader in synergistic, multichannel keyword optimization!

Five bazillion brownie points if you can tell me what that mess even means.

When you’re designing your next booth, my recommendation would be to run it by some folks who have no idea what you do and ask them if they can figure it out from your design. Stop thinking of your space as a branding tool or a place to showcase great design. It is a mean, lean, lead-generation tool.