When six experienced marketers spell out the content marketing mistakes to avoid, you don’t want to miss it. Use just one or two of these six tips and your B2B content marketing will improve.
Have you published a white paper that’s easy to read on smartphones? If not, that’s what I expected because there’s a “best practice” in B2B marketing that goes something like this:
Step 1: Put your best content in a downloadable file designed for PC-based viewing or hard copy printing.
Step 2: Put it behind a gated registration page.
Step 3: Promote the registration page.
Due to this “best practice,” the traditional B2B white paper is failing smartphone users.
You see, when a downloadable file is optimized for PC-based viewing, it’s going to be hard to read on a smartphone. The fonts and images will all look too small. For example, the following image is a screenshot of a traditional, downloadable white paper on a smartphone. It’s much too difficult to read. And, it’s just one of hundreds of thousands of downloadable white papers.
I predict that a new best practice will emerge where white papers are published as long-form, web-based, mobile-optimized content.
It’s difficult to find good examples of this, but I’ve managed to find six. And my top two are not even from marketers, they’re from mobile-savvy publishers: The Verge and Baekdal.com. However, the other four are from marketers: Buffer, feedly, Google, and Adobe.
When you have a chance, look at some of these examples on a smartphone. I think you’ll find that they provide a far better experience for smartphone users in comparison to the traditional, downloadable white paper.
My six examples include:
1. “The State of Virtual Reality” by Matthew Schnipper @ The Verge
This long-form article looks great on mobile, has easy transitions from one section to the next, and is easy to share.
2. “The Future of VR and 360 Video” by Thomas Baekdal @ Baekdal.com
This article delivers 44 pages of premium content to users on one scrolling page. It keeps readers interested with images and embedded videos that are easy to view from a smartphone. You might think it’d be slow to load, but in my experience, it loads extremely fast.
3. “The Biggest Social Media Science Study” by Kevan Lee @ Buffer
This is a research-backed, long-form blog post about when to schedule tweets. It’s as meaty as a traditional downloadable white paper. Yet, unlike the traditional white paper, it can easily be read and shared by mobile users.
4. “Meet Shared Collections” by feedly
This is a product announcement blog post that links to an online tutorial. Together, these two pieces of content deliver about as much information as an average white paper. But, like the others above, it’s mobile friendly and therefore has a better chance of getting read and shared as compared to a traditional, downloadable white paper.
5. “Win Every Micro-Moment with a Better Mobile Strategy” by Matt Lawson @ Think with Google
It would have been hypocritical for Google to publish this three-part mobile marketing guide without optimizing it for smartphone viewing. Sure enough, the guide works fantastically on smartphones and even has a neat sharing feature where the individual charts scattered throughout the piece can be shared with just a few taps.
6. “Measuring TV Audiences with Science” by Jennifer Cooper @ Adobe’s Digital Marketing Blog
Here’s another example of content that’s meaty enough to fill a traditional, downloadable white paper, but is published on a blog where everything is mobile-optimized by default.
As a reader and writer of B2B white papers, I hope to see more of them published as long-form, web-based, mobile-optimized content.
Great content marketers manage distribution processes that ensure their content gets exposed to and consumed by their intended audience.
Among B2B marketers, I typically see two levels of content distribution plans. There are free distribution plans that leverage SEO and social media. Then, there are paid distribution plans that add in paid media.
With a free distribution plan, B2B marketers will typically do some combination of the following:
- SEO optimize their content
- Publish a post or share an update about their content on LinkedIn
- Tweet a link to their content on Twitter
- Post a link to their content on Facebook
- Share a link to their content on Google+
- Pin their content to Pinterest (if the piece has a least one good supporting visual)
With a paid distribution plan, B2B marketers may also use the following:
- Paid search ads to reach audiences by keyword
- A LinkedIn Text Ad to reach a specific target audience
- A hashtag-targeted Promoted Tweet or Lead Generation Card on Twitter to reach audiences interested in specific tags
- Remarketing Lists for Search Ads via AdWords to reach audiences again who have visited their website in the past
- Display ads leveraging targeting data from a data management platform (DMP) and activation via a demand-side platform (DSP). Or, display ads leveraging a partner such as DemandBase for account-based display advertising, LinkedIn for targeting display ads onsite or across exchanges within a professional context, or do-it-yourself display advertising via AdWord’s Display Ad Builder.
- Paid promotion in industry publications
With this list and a little bit of budget, any B2B content marketer with good content should be able to attract the audience they desire.
Let’s say you’ve just taken editorial responsibilities for an existing website or blog. You know from my article, “What it takes to be a great content marketer,” that you’re going to need an editorial process for planning, reviewing, and publishing content on an ongoing basis. And you know that an editorial calendar will be central to your process.
As you begin to manage an editorial calendar and plan what comes next, it helps to evaluate the content that’s already been published.
Import.io makes it easy to scrape article meta data from your website into a spreadsheet. It can scrape article titles, authors, dates, and categories. It can also scrape stats about the articles (if the stats are displayed on the article), such as the number of comments, Facebook shares, tweets, etc. Once a data set has been generated, I like to clean it up in Excel. Special care should be taken to correctly format dates for easy import into Tableau.
Once imported into Tableau, I visually analyze the website data that’s been scraped. For the purpose of illustration, I scraped article meta data from a content marketing blog that I really enjoy by Express Writers. For each article on the site, I was able to pull the title, author, publish date, and category. I was also able to pull the number of comments, Facebook shares, tweets, Google Plus shares, and LinkedIn shares. Here’s a small sample of things that I can visualize with this data:
- Posting activity by author
The site added authors in 2015. 2013 and 2014 had only one author. In contrast, 2015 has had 8 different authors produce content.
- Cadence of posts by category
There’s a very consistent cadence of articles in categories including content marketing and copywriting. Other categories like website content and press releases started out strong in 2014, but haven’t been used at all in 2015.
- Category virality
Using calculated fields in Tableau, I’ve summed up the total number of social shares by category across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google Plus. Then, within each category, I’ve divided the total shares by the number of articles. This produces an average number of shares per article by category. It looks like infographics, articles about social media, and articles about content marketing are the most viral content produced on the site.
- Author virality
Tableau also allows me to study author virality, which shows the average number of shares per article for each author on the site.
Tableau lets you go as deep as your data allows. For example, I can continue on to analyze things at the article level, too. In general, looking at this data should give the person responsible for editorial strategy enough information about the site’s history to chart its way forward.
Now, you can answer questions about how to maintain the site’s existing editorial strategy. You can answer questions like:
- How frequently do I need to publish?
- Which authors should I continue to promote?
- What categories of content should I focus on?
From here, the day-to-day publishing plans can go into a simple editorial calendar in a shared spreadsheet. For example, here’s an editorial calendar template for Google Docs that can be used as a starting point. For every article you intend to publish, this document captures the topic, the author, and the target publish date. The first tab sorts the editorial schedule by week. The second tab is for sites that publish less frequently. It sorts the editorial schedule by month. As content goes live, you can track progress over time by linking each planned piece of content to the actual published piece it becomes.
Overall, the editorial calendar will get you focused on publishing what you want, when you want, by the authors you want. The effort you put into analysis before you populate your editorial calendar will pay off in the long run because it will ensure that you’re charting your site’s future with an understanding of its past.
I’ve been writing about the six most important areas of content marketing. Number four on my list is content ownership, which involves publishing content to an owned website.
At a strategic level, the purpose of publishing content to an owned website should be to help your audience understand something more deeply, gain tools to solve problems that they’re struggling with, and help them reach goals that they’ve committed to. In short, the content should fit the content marketing mission statement.
At a tactical level, publishing has to happen on an owned website so that you have full control to keep it current and keep it online. There are lots of opportunities to publish content elsewhere, but it’s only on your own site where you can update something at any time without asking for someone else’s permission, where you can ensure that your content won’t be taken down or buried, and where you can optimize engagement.
Here are a few ideas to try when optimizing engagement on your owned website:
- Use website analytics to learn what gets the most visits and make more content like that.
- Study public sharing with BuzzSumo to see what has the biggest viral success. Use these insights to try for more viral hits.
- Capture Dark Social sharing with Po.st to see what content is being shared the most via tools like email and IM. Look for insights in this data that will help you improve the share worthiness of your content.
- Put a prominent email signup form near your best content to convert visitors into email subscribers. Research shows that multiple touchpoints are better than one.
I’m working on implementing some of these ideas for this site. The ideas are even more relevant to bigger sites with larger audiences.
A good content marketing mission statement will include within it the answer to why you’re developing content in the first place. In this article, I’ll share with you how to include the why.
Allow me to summarize two sources of information that inform my understanding of how to capture a content marketing mission statement on paper.
First, Joe Pulizzi has a great article about content marketing mission statements that’s full of examples. It includes a basic template for the mission statement, which includes three things:
1) The core audience target
2) What will be delivered to the audience
3) The outcome for the audience
I like Pulizzi’s outline for its focus on the audience.
Second, Simon Sinek has an amazing TED Talk about a concept he calls the Golden Circle whereby he discusses how a company’s mission statement should start with why the business does what it does. Sinek says, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”
The template for a mission statement modeled after Sinek’s Golden Circle is:
1) Why do you do what you do? What’s your purpose or cause? What do you believe?
2) How do you do what you do? What’s your process or the actions you take to realize your purpose?
3) What do you do? How does what you actually do prove that you are realizing your purpose?
If you merge the contents of both these mission statement templates, you can develop a very meaningful content marketing mission statement.
To illustrate, I’ll create a draft for a project I’m working on now…
First, I’ll answer Sinek’s Golden Circle questions for an online course I’m working on that’s aimed at teaching adults how to introduce Spanish to English-speaking children.
1) Q: Why do you do what you do? A: We believe that two languages are better than one. Our purpose is to give the gift of a second language to children.
2) Q: How do you do what you do? A: We fulfill this purpose by teaching adults, even those who only speak English, how to introduce Spanish to the children they spend time with.
3) Q: What do you do? A: We provide a step-by-step online class that teaches adults how to share the Spanish language with children through songs, books and activities. Each lesson for the adult takes no more than 10 minutes and gives them something they can directly share with children in fun and engaging ways. By the end of the course, adults will know how to read and sing in Spanish and how to share Spanish books, music and activities with children.
That’s starting to sound pretty good, but it’s not specific enough to serve as a content marketing mission statement. That’s where Pulizzi’s template comes in. I’ll use it for the online course’s two primary audiences.
1) The core audience target – Parents in English-only households
2) What will be delivered to the audience – Content will encourage and motivate parents to give the gift of a second language to their children early in life.
3) The outcome for the audience – The parents and children will share a journey together to learn Spanish.
1) The core audience target – Spanish-speaking nannies in primarily English-speaking households
2) What will be delivered to the audience – Content will encourage and motivate Spanish-speaking nannies to use their Spanish language skills to give the gift of a second language to the children they care for.
3) The outcome for the audience – The Spanish-speaking nannies will increase their value to the families they work for by adding the role of educator to their duties. The children the nannies work with will learn more Spanish, faster.
As a final step, all I need to do is combine the content marketing needs for both audiences into one public facing mission statement:
Join us, together with other parents and caretakers, to get the encouragement and motivation that will help you give the gift of a second language to children. We strive to inspire you to teach Spanish to children, even if you’ve never taught it before or are just beginning to learn the language yourself.
I like how this mission statement gives content marketing the role of encouragement, motivation and inspiration. The actual how-to part of teaching Spanish to children is reserved as part of the online course, for a reasonable fee. As Chris Garrett at Copyblogger recently pointed out, it can be difficult for content marketers to decide what to charge for and what to give away for free. I like that this mission statement makes it clear.
If you’re struggling to define the path-to-purchase for your company or product, try looking at it as a composite story that captures all the commonalities of the real stories people have about buying what you offer. Make your buyer the main character in each story and include all the major elements of a good plot. Look for:
- Exposition – The background details necessary to understand the story
- Inciting Incident – The thing that happens when your buyer recognizes he/she has a problem to solve (which your product or service solves)
- Rising Action – The buyer’s struggle to find a solution
- Climax – The emotional high point of the story where the buyer may fail
- Turning Point – The buyer makes a decision (to buy from you)
- Falling Action – The unravelling of complications as a result of the decision
- Resolution – The removal of all conflict from the story where the buyer’s solution works
- Denouement – The ending where the buyer is better off than at the outset
Once you have enough individual stories to see a pattern, you should be able to answer questions like:
- What triggers your target audience to recognize that they need a product in your category?
- What influences them as they create a consideration set?
- What influences them as they narrow the consideration set?
- What makes them choose your product over others? Or, what makes them choose a competing product over yours?
That should get you pretty close to understanding the path-to-purchase for your target customers. Plus, you’ll know your customer really well after recording their stories.
Content marketing experts often stress the importance of developing buyer personas. When you’re responsible for content marketing strategy, it’s tempting to find the fastest way to check off the buyer personas box. However, I recommend taking a research-based approach, even if it means slowing down. Buyer personas done right can influence every aspect of the way a company goes to market. Buyer personas done wrong can hinder success and stymie the careers of marketers that advocate for them.
Next time you’re tasked with developing buyer personas, consider the following:
1. Successful efforts have executive sponsorship
If you’re a mid-level manager and need buyer personas to do your job well, get an executive sponsor on board. Ideally, the marketing VP or CMO of your company has an ongoing personas initiative that gets refreshed quarterly and reported out to the entire organization. Content marketing becomes much easier when you share an understanding of the buyer with the rest of your organization.
2. Persona research requires interviewing and observing the right people
The two pitfalls to avoid in persona research are 1) a failure to observe and 2) recruiting the wrong research subjects. To avoid the first pitfall, be sure to set up observation time with your research subjects where you shadow them in their own environment. Observation may uncover unspoken needs and lead to a deeper understanding of your buyer. To avoid the second pitfall, consider the advice of persona expert Tony Zambito who suggests recruiting research subjects with a clear problem statement in mind and to recruit from customer types such as early adopters, defectors, non-retention groups, users of customer support, prospects and loyalists. Zambito shares the pros and cons of each of these groups here. Zambito also discusses the pitfalls of persona research here where he says, “Most failed initiatives took an easy way out by resorting to win/loss interviews or relying on sales only for contacts. Meaning, the buyer interviews could be the wrong set of buyers for the problems trying to be solved and the insight answers needed.”
3. A good buyer interview is a purposeful conversation
An interview is more than questions and answers, it’s a conversation that needs to uncover how and why your target buyers make the buying decisions for, or against, what you offer. A good interview will include questions that uncover what the buyers goals are and what may be preventing them from reaching their goals. Zambito calls this The Gap. According to Jeff Ogden in the video here, research should also uncover the product/service connection, which is “why the buyer would or would not buy your company’s product or service.”
The Buyer Persona Institute recommends in the blog post here to “capture how buyers arrived at their conclusions, and why the buyer ranked that issue so highly.” In this blog post about coaching a client, the Buyer Persona Institute writes about looking for, “the insights that would help me see his [the client’s] solution from his persona’s perspective. Focusing on the problem that his solution addressed, could he tell me what approaches she had already tried? Or what obstacles she thought his solution would need to overcome to deliver the benefit we were claiming? What did he know about her positive and negative attitudes towards his company’s current version of this solution?”
For more ideas on how to direct a conversation with a research subject, check out Tamara Graves article here titled, “The Importance of Knowing Buyer Personas Inside and Out.” Keep in mind that it’s okay to go off-script and follow up on conversational clues that can lead to big insights.
4. Goal-based personas are better than role-based personas
For B2B marketers, buyer personas often focus on the role of the buyer. In the blog post here, Zambito shares how equating a buyer persona to a role creates confusion in persona development. He says, “Some of the best buyer personas researched and created have been role agnostic. They became significant game changers to business strategy.”
So, try grouping buyers by their shared goals instead. For every group of customers that share a distinct set of goals, create a buyer persona for that group. Zambito recommends, “If the archetype of business and personal goals related to one buying group is distinctly different from that of another buying groups, it requires a unique buyer persona.”
5. Team up with an expert
If you’ve been tasked with persona development, I’d recommend shopping around for some help. This post links to several of what I’m sure are many options including Buyer Persona Institute, Tony Zambito and Find New Customers. I’m not affiliated with these groups in any way, I just found their content useful and think they would be a good place to start if you’re looking for a persona expert.
Last week, I showed you the growing popularity of content marketing. Over the next couple months, I’ll be exploring what makes a great content marketer. I’ll take a deep dive into six areas of content marketing that can make the difference between mediocrity and greatness.
1. Buyer Personas – Have buyer personas that benefit the whole organization, not just the content marketing team, and that are based on research.
2. Path-to-Purchase – Understand the range of possibilities across today’s buyer-directed, highly customized path-to-purchase for each buyer persona.
3. Mission Statement – Have a mission statement that defines how content will help each buyer persona at each stage in the organization’s ideal path-to-purchase.
4. Content Ownership – Publish content to an owned domain whereby the organization and community features align with the mission statement.
5. Editorial Process – Use an editorial process for planning, reviewing and publishing content on an ongoing basis.
6. Distribution Process – Manage distribution processes that ensure your content is exposed to and consumed by the intended audience.
I look forward to diving more deeply into each of these critical areas of content marketing.
Google Trends data shows that search volume for the term “content marketing” has more than doubled between December 2012 and December 2013.
I find it interesting to compare this trend to other marketing trends. For example, when compared to the term “display advertising,” the “content marketing” term lagged in search volume every month until October 2011 when it first surpassed “display advertising” in search volume and started on its upward spike.
It looks as though the term “native advertising” is on a similar trajectory as “content marketing” was a year ago. The term “native advertising” has also surpassed “display advertising” in search volume for the first time ever this month.
These trends will make 2014 a very exciting year for marketers.