Principles of Great Content Marketing

August 10, 2011

Whether creating a Whitepaper, an eBook, a new Email Marketing campaign, a web page, or any other type of marketing content there are a few basic principles you should follow:

  1. Is it simple?
  2. Is it timely?
  3. Will it solve a problem?

If you can answer “yes” to all three questions above, you’re on the right path to coming up with great content.

Three Key Questions for Creating Quality Content

Simple content wins all the time. It doesn’t matter how many pages, nice graphics, or famous quotes it has, simplicity is key. Making it simple, though, doesn’t mean dumbing down the message. It also doesn’t mean forgoing colors, trying to fit it in one page, or even chopping it up so that people get it in chapters instead of a full book. Simple content means creating something devoid of distractions that don’t contribute to having a better understanding of the message.

Here are three key questions you should ask for each content you create:

  • Is it worded in a way that anyone will understand the message we are trying to convey? Are we using too many technical terms, acronyms?
  • What part of our message do we want to have the most impact? Is it clear and prominent? As journalists usually say, “don’t bury the lead”.
  • Are we providing action points for the reader? Is there a “call to action” clearly defined that is immediately obvious and enticing?

Want a good way to test your assumptions? Get someone in your office outside the marketing department to read the content you just created. It doesn’t have to be finalized, formatted, and nicely designed. Just a draft or mockup would do. Get a few different people (i.e. the accountant, the receptionist, the IT guy) to read it and tell you what they think. You may get some interesting reactions and questions that can help further fine tune the message.

The Message Behind the Content

Want to make sure the content you and your team just created is really the best you could have done? A good practice is to let the content alone for a while (hours or days). Then, go back to it and read it as if you were reading it for the first time. Then, think about the following:

  • What is the core message?
  • Why is this message important?
  • What does the message mean for the reader?
  • If you were to summarize the core message in one sentence (5 to 10 words max) what would it be?

Write it down (for greater impact, ask another team member to do the same so you can compare notes). Then review it and see if the content you had created still looks like the best you can do.

Sure, in most situations content you create today was due yesterday. We’ve all been there… if we only had more resources! But I challenge you to say that the content you created can’t wait 1 more hour before being sent out (or published, or uploaded). Whether you have 1 hour or 1 day, let it rest. Then come back refreshed to it and honestly assess if there’s a better way of crafting the message.

How Simple Content Will Win Always

A principle of simple design (designing interfaces or products that are simple to use) is to always think of what features can you remove from the product that will make for a better user experience. Think of the iPod, for instance. Steve Jobs removed buttons instead of adding new ones (the iPod never had different “stop” and “pause” buttons, only a “pause” button that was the same as the “play” button).

So think of your content and ask yourself what can you remove? What images, what copy? What content, if removed, will make the remaining content stronger and more appealing? It comes down to asking “what can I remove in order to make the main message stronger?”.

No, is not easy. But it is worth trying.

Next up I’ll talk about the two remaining points, creating timely content and focusing on solving problems.


Selecting the Right Email Marketing Provider

April 6, 2011

You either have or will have to evaluate and select an email marketing software provider at some point in your marketing career. And there’s a good reason most people dread this project, after all with so many ESP (email service providers) out there, is really a daunting task.

That’s why I wrote a comprehensive guide to help you in your email selection process. Published in a 3-part series by Email Vendor Selection website, it shows a proven approach to quantitatively help you narrow down your choices and select the solution that will be the best fit for your organization.

Check out part 1 of the “Taking control of the email vendor selection process” article and let me know what you think!


WordPress Plugins for Marketers

February 22, 2011

A recent question on the Marketing Over Coffee LinkedIn group about WordPress plugins generated a really great list of tools marketing professionals should consider when running a personal or company blog. To make it easier for everyone I’ve compiled the suggestions from the group into an easy-to-read list (sorted alphabetically). An Excel file is available at the end of the post with all this info.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress Plugins for Marketers (click to zoom)

Note: Only WordPress.org (the free, host-it-yourself version of WordPress) allows for plugins.

The list is not all inclusive and depending on the focus of your blog you may have to search for that specific plugin elsewhere, but it seems there is an agreement that at minimum you need some kind of SEO and Analytics plugin, and if your blog has enough traffic, a cache plugin is justified. For corporate blogs using a backup plugin is probably a good investment as well and the editorial calendar plugin is a great help for planning content especially coordinating among different team members.

Click to download the WordPress Plugins for Marketers in Excel (XLS) format.

Is there a plugin you simply “must have” or recommend that I have not listed? Let us know!


The Science of Email Marketing

February 10, 2011

I just attended “The Science of Email Marketing” online webinar, hosted by HubSpot and presented by social media scientist Dan Zarrella.

Slides should be available for download soon here.

Key takeaways:

  1. Businesses are consumers (the boundaries between B2C and B2B are blurred when it comes to reading email)
  2. Try sending emails on weekends
  3. Send very early in the morning
  4. Optimize for mobile
  5. Use lots of links
  6. Include reference information in your emails
  7. Serialize and label your emails
  8. Give your subscribers special access
  9. Send email from someone they’ve heard of
  10. Don’t be afraid to send too much email
  11. Your newest subscribers are your best
  12. Make them want to get your emails
  13. Ask people to follow you

The presentation was based on data collected via focus groups and from MailChimp’s email database of over 9.5 billion emails sent.

I like Dan’s presentation for its brevity and focus on key action items based on solid data. What I wish he had shared is how the data from focus groups and MailChimp is broken down. How many B2B vs. B2C companies, industries, and even job titles. It’s easy to say that B2B and B2C email patterns are similar, but without seeing the data underlying that assumption I’m very skeptic. Also, MailChimp is now known to be used by large corporations (they focus on SMB market) therefore the data may not take into account larger organizations.

As with all analysis and reports out there, you have to take all of the recommendations with a grain of salt. Test them, see if they work, then be the judge. No one knows your industry and customers better than you.


Making the Most of Your Webinars

February 7, 2011

A recent report from On24, “Webcast Benchmarks and Best Practices for Lead Generation“,  has some interesting numbers when it comes to how webinars are being used and their effectiveness at lead generation. Take for instance the following:

  • The average webcasts captures 441 registrants
  • Attendee participation is usually 50-60% of registrations
  • 15-30% of registrants are sales-qualified opportunities

The numbers above should be enough for you to go back to your own metrics and see how you compare. Sure, depending on your industry the numbers might be skewed but at least you have a benchmark and something to show (or not!) senior management when your results are being questioned.

The report goes a bit further and also tells us that 52% of all registrations occur within 10 days before a scheduled webinar and 15% registering on the day of the webcast. In my experience this is accurate, and sometimes during the day (or the day before) of the event tends to bring an increasing number of new registrations. We are all procrastinators it seems when it comes to registering for online events.

What’s the ROI of webcasting?

According to the survey webcasts have a $22.60 cost per registrant for those with an average of 441 registrants and $39 per participant if the average is 256 participants. I personally think these numbers are high, but it depends heavily on the webinar platform you’re using. On24 is not the lowest priced one on the market (Adobe Connect, WebEx, and GoToWebinar all charge less for webinars), but this should be easy enough for you to calculate for your specific situation. Oh, but note that the cost involves “audience generation programs, to produce and promote a webcast”, so you have to add your email marketing costs (again, different platforms will charge differently) and any additional method you typically use to get people to register and attend.

I encourage you to download the FREE report from On24 and check out some additional nuggets that can help you evaluation your own webcasting program.


Marketing Automation Monday is Here!

December 8, 2010

On Monday I attended a Marketing Automation Monday event, put together by the Marketing Automation Association, a newly formed group of marketing professionals that discusses all things related to marketing automation and best practices. It was really fun and if you are interested in learning how other marketers are tackling their marketing, CRM, and even sales challenges this is the place to go.

Some of the issues discussed were:

  • Who manages and who owns the CRM system in your organization?
  • How do you setup your scoring system for inbound leads?
  • What is the hand-off process with sales?
  • How do you get a feedback loop established with sales so that you can get better at scoring your leads?
  • Buyer personas and content creation

The interaction was great and the fact that we had people from both SMB and large companies was great, we could hear both sides of the story and how different size companies work with marketing automation.

One of the interesting points raised during the discussion was about content creation. Sure, you can setup all the triggers, scores and processes in your MA system but nothing will matter if you don’t have the content to support it. Most companies start off with one track for their automation and nurturing programs and expand with time. Ideally, you want to match your content with the buyer persona and the nurturing/sales stage. I.E. one type of content is sent to the IT Manager who is evaluating vendors while another is sent to the Programmer who is trying to learn more about your product.

A recent chart from MarketingSherpa touches a bit upon the content creation challenge for email marketing (see below). In it they show how automatically sending email based on triggers is more effective than allowing subscribers to specify email preferences. Interesting also that according to their research the segmentation of email campaigns based on behavior (which is a big part of a Marketing Automation program) is also less effective than the sending of emails based on triggers.

Three dimensions of relevancy tactics

As always, you have to take all of this with a grain of salt. An important point raised during the Marketing Automation Monday meeting was that you should really analyze your company’s history and understand based on your historical data (i.e. which leads turned into closed deals, where did they come from, what programs generated more closed deals, etc.) what is working best for you and what patterns can you see in your history that will help you fine tune your automation programs.

Interested in learning more about Marketing Automation and how to take advantage of it? Join the LinkedIn group and attend the next event!


B2B Marketing Summit Shows Old Problems Persist

October 14, 2010

So it seems MarketingSherpa’s B2B Summit 2010 is over and from what I read in their wrap up post, the same old problems plaguing marketers for the last 5 years are still here today. First of all, what is this summit? According to their post:

“Last week in San Francisco, 211 business-to-business marketers spent two days sharing insights, case studies and advice on social media marketing, lead generation, Sales and Marketing alignment, and other hot-button issues on the West Coast swing of MarketingSherpa’s seventh annual B2B Marketing Summit.”

MarketingSherpa is known for quality content and I have attended a couple conferences (I was a speaker at the Email Marketing Summit 2008) and have always thought that the best you get from attending an event like this is more in the form of networking than in content itself. The other good thing about going to such a conference for me, is that I get dedicated time to really think through all the topics being discussed, without being interrupted for meetings, phone ringing and people walking in the office.

The many takeaways from this year’s B2B Marketing Summit (West Coast) according to MarketingSherpa, were:

  1. Begin with the end in mind
  2. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes
  3. Getting a lead is just the beginning…
  4. For successful lead generation and nurturing, you need quality content
  5. Use measurements that matter
  6. It all happens on the landing page
  7. Be strategic about presenting your campaigns and your vision to the C-level

None of the takeaways above strike me as particularly new or groundbreaking, but that’s how it always goes. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of the obvious so that we can focus on the essential.


Making Website Reviews Easy

October 5, 2010

64/365 - mapping by Jenn Vargas @ Flickr

The website is a few years old, there are some inconsistencies in font and the colors don’t match all that well. On top of that, now you have videos you want to showcase and the home page was not designed with that in mind. In sum, the website needs a complete makeover. Sounds familiar?

When reviewing websites and discussing design elements, you invariably end up drawing all over the whiteboard, asking your designer to come up with some mockups and then annotating those and sending them back. How about using some technology to make things easier? I’ve already discussed the use of PowerPoint for website reviews and if you’re starting from scratch it not only provides you with a grate starting point but is a low cost solutions.

For reviewing existing websites, I have used my tablet PC to make screen annotations and save them as images to the team, but what if you have people remote or if you want them to review and add their own comments about the site on their own time?

Below are a few useful tools out there for this problem.

Website Review and Annotation Tools

ShiftSpace.org is an interesting app that gives you the ability to comment on any website using your browser, but others have to have ShiftSpace installed to see them.

Google Sidewiki is an extension for Google Chrome that lets you comment on any website, but falls short on the drawing options (arrows and circles and such).

Diigo allows you to add sticky notes and highlights to websites and share with other people, and they do not have to have diigo installed. Problem is, you can’t draw circles or squares on the site to illustrate changes in the design.

Sharedcopy.com takes a screenshot of a site, let’s you annotate, send to other people, where they can add their own comments to it. Requires users to have the sharecopy bookmark app on their browsers, but works nicely.

Notable is a paid app that gives you great tools for annotations and commenting on any site.

Bounce is my favorite so far, because not only is a free version of Notable, but is the easiest to use. No registrations, no downloads required. Simply go to the Bounce site, enter a URL and start annotating. Then save the comments and share the unique link with your team. If there’s one thing missing is the ability to draw on the page.

Any other tools I have missed?





Marketing Content That Sells

August 30, 2010

When talking with lead nurturing and marketing automation vendors they all make it seem very easy.

You setup a campaign, define the nurturing stages, and even add some points to different interactions to score the lead and customize the nurturing experience. Then with all the triggers in place, sit back and watch the software do the job of sending the right message to the right prospect at the right time. Wow, it’s magical!

Yes, except for one little detail. Who’s going to write all that new content? Do you have the staff to do it? Will you have to outsource? Do you even know what kind of content you need for each nurturing stage? Yup, it is more complicated when you get to the implementation phase of the program, and that’s where most companies fail.

But why the focus on content? David Meerman Scott, in his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR points out that creating quality content is the new imperative:

“The tools of the marketing and PR trade have changed. The skills that worked offline to help you buy or beg or bug your way in are the skills of interruption and coercion. Online success comes from thinking like a journalist and a thought leader”.

You’d think that everyone would be doing it by now, but that’s not the case.

I recently finished reading Trust Agents, by @chrisbrogan and @julien, who approach this subject by saying:

“The difficulty in creating content that will get a recommendation, the one that most companies tend to get wrong, is that they don’t think creatively about how their content can be exciting to the average population”.

Ha! That reminds me of what I see when I visit most B2B companies’ websites.

We have all been there. You are researching a new product or service and Google points you to a website, one of the key vendors in that space, and you have to read the page twice to really get it what they are trying to say. How is it that your product or service will benefit me? What is that acronym you keep using? How do I get in touch with someone who can explain all of this? In the B2B marketing space this is notorious. Go to a trade show and the situation gets really bad. Trade show booths with slogans and taglines that don’t mean anything and sales brochures that are full of “features” and screenshots but lack detail of how they solve a problem.

While I still struggle to write good content, I did find some useful resources online that I hope will also help you out.

The resources above are a great start. The key ideas that seem to be present across them all are:

  • Buyer persona is key for content generation
  • Guest writers (employees, competitors, etc.) can help tremendously especially if you can’t dedicate a resource full time for the content writing job
  • Lists seem to be a favorite item on the web and a great way to get more viewers, just figure out what topic should your list cover
  • Content reuse, multiple formats for the content is a nice way of creating lots of content without having to come up with new ideas all the time (formats include webinar, recording, eBook, blog post, etc.)
  • Time the content for the right stage in the buying cycle / lead nurturing process – this is the most difficult, because it requires you to really know your customers and prospects

What has been your main challenge with content marketing?


What Type of Marketer Are You?

May 18, 2010

After interviewing many marketers for different positions at my company and meeting marketing professionals regularly at events, I came to the conclusion that there are two types of marketers:

  • Passionate Marketers
  • Job Marketers

The first group is comprised of those that, as the name suggests, have a real passion for marketing. They read about marketing, they talk about marketing outside work, they go to events and try to educate themselves. They often participate in discussion forums and might even have a blog. Everyone in the family knows they do marketing, friends ask them for some advice and they often times talk to telemarketers trying to sell newspaper subscriptions at eight o’ clock at night because they think it’s fun. Telemarketers often regret the call because the passionate marketer keeps analyzing their sales pitch instead of buying something.

Job Marketers are, unfortunately, the majority out there. I’m not sure whether it starts in school, their first full time paying job or it’s just the way they are. This bunch sees marketing only as a job. If they were offered more money to create TPS reports they would switch to doing it in a heartbeat. Outside work they don’t want to check out a blogabout the newest lead nurturing technology, or fly out to attend a marketing conference. They see these activities as “work” and as such, shouldn’t be performed after 5:29pm.

Funny thing is, Passionate Marketers are not necessarily better at marketing than Job Marketers. Both can be very effective at what they do.However, from what I’ve seen, passion makes some rise quicker through the ranks and get accolades, while the simply “employed”stay for years at the same company and position because, hey, that’s just a job.

When hiring someone for a marketing position, it’s important to know these different types exist. Hiring marketing people is tough enough as it is, one has to understand the type of person they need for each specific position. If you want a marketing assistant that will be still with you 30 years from now, a Job Marketer may be just what you need. Who do I want to work with? Passionate Marketers. From interns to the VP. Not that the other group wouldn’t be fun (after all this is a characteristic about how they feel towards marketing in their careers, not their personalities), but when you have people who are passionate about what they do, it tends to rub off and the whole team benefits. We need more people who are passionate about what they do.

What type of marketer are you?


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