B2B content marketing: Be noticed in this attention economy.

A white paper I recently downloaded from Marketo, “From Creation to Conversion: Promoting Content to the Right Audience,” turned out to be one of the best guides I’ve read on B2B content marketing best practices. The paper provides all the step-by-step “must dos” for creating and using content properly in this “attention economy.”

They call it the “attention economy” even though demanding attention is not new. It has always been one of marketing and advertising’s most important concepts. The first principle we are taught in marketing and advertising is the AIDA acronym. That is, all marketing must be created to (in this order) grab Attention, generate Interest, build Desire, then call the reader to Action.

Today, however, thanks to the Internet, smart phones and more, demands for our attention has multiplied tenfold.

The secret to knowing how to get attention is, of course, for B2B marketers to get inside the heads of the people they are trying to reach. Who are they? Where do they work? What do they do? What do they care about? What do they know? What are they comfortable with? And, of course, what are their biggest pains?

There’s nothing new in B2B marketing about making subject lines, headlines, teasers, ads, emails, content, etc., relevant to the reader. The Marketo White Paper addresses this important point. The problem is that most B2B marketers go halfway in making their marketing relevant.

Next time a B2B marketer is out there trying to grab attention, they should look at this list and see how many of these important elements of relevance they can include in their content and the messaging they use to market the content. They should also consider how many versions they can create to be as relevant as possible to each individual prospect.

  • Industry or field
  • Type of business
  • Title or area of responsibility
  • Name of company or organization
  • Individual name of prospect
  • Number of employees, size of company
  • Current solution being used (for some companies this can be determined)
  • Partnerships and associations with other firms, where appropriate
  • Location, where appropriate

Getting attention isn’t as difficult when the message or the content offer relates directly to the person trying to be reached. It’s the surest way to get noticed in this attention economy.

Where B2B marketing personas meet the road.

Knowledgeable B2B marketers know that the better lead generation or nurturing content and messaging focuses on the needs and interests of targeted individuals, the more successful it will be. That understanding has produced the need to create prospect personas.

As defined on Wikipedia, “A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.”

Personas provide B2B marketers with a strong visual “target person” to keep in mind when creating marketing strategies and messaging.

Since personas are typically built through interviews (not real-world testing) they can be misleading. As respected marketing expert Ardath Albee asks in her recent blog post, Can B2B Marketers Become Content Whisperers?, “If one person says so, is it true? How about 10? Or 100?”

Interviews have value, but real-world response to various testing of content and messaging is far more reliable.

The unfortunate fact is that many B2B marketers don’t have a large enough prospect universe to conduct statistically valid testing. Many do not have the bandwidth to conduct extensive interviews or the budget to hire an outside firm to do it for them.

The solution is to trust your knowledge of human nature. Although there may be nuances discovered in the process of building personas, there are still a number of overriding human traits that are consistent within B2B titles, regardless of industry. Individual industries may drive some overarching goals. Healthcare may want to improve patient care. Service firms may want to satisfy customers and build loyalty. But when the rubber meets the road, most people’s motivation to act comes down to very personal needs and goals.

Therefore, B2B marketers won’t go wrong if they build their marketing strategy and messaging on these basic human needs and goals:

Owner of private company
* Make more money.
* Gain respect and recognition.
* Gain market share.

CEO/President of public company
* Increase share prices.
* Produce growth.
* Increase market share.
* Gain respect and recognition.

CFO/Controller
* Lower costs.
* Minimize risk.
* Get a high ROI on solutions purchased.

CIO/Department or Division Manager
* Increase department productivity.
* Reduce risk.
* Reduce costs.
* Get more done with less effort.
* Meet goals faster.

Workers
* Reduce effort involved in doing their job.
* Minimize mistakes.
* Gain respect and recognition.

Take your B2B trade show booth from boring to spectacular.

Guest Post by Daniel Frank

A while back in her post “Four quick B2B marketing ideas for a short week,” Susan reported on adding a photo opportunity at trade show booths to get prospects to interact with the booth sales staff and keep visitors around the booth longer.

As someone who works with an exhibition stand manufacturer, I was glad she wrote about it, as it is a marketing tactic I enthusiastically endorse.

Interactive elements can improve B2B trade show exhibiting results in several ways. The first and most obvious is that they are a great way to stand out on a crowded trade show floor. The example Susan highlighted was putting out a life-size cardboard cut-out of an industry expert that visitors can be photographed standing next to. This cut-out grabs attention and creates buzz.

Other interactive options include such things as games and surveys. These provide other benefits, including enhanced lead capture, visitor education and insight. A great example of this that I saw recently was in a booth run by Npower. This booth offered a free energy health check to anyone attending the booth. They used a touch-screen quiz that required booth visitors to enter some details before answering a series of questions. The participant would then get a personalized report telling them ways they could reduce their energy expenditure. Not only was this a great way for Npower to generate qualified leads, it also educated visitors and gave Npower some new insights into visitors’ energy usage and level of knowledge of industry topics.

When deciding how to integrate an interactive element into your booth, you should, at a minimum, consider these three things:

  1. Objectives: What do you want this element to achieve? The Npower example was great because it achieved several objectives, but may have been a bit of a compromise. Booth visitors looking at a screen is a fairly boring activity compared to the photo-opportunity mentioned above. However, it did generate interest and valuable information for Npower. Step one is to decide what you want to achieve and what image you want to project in the process.
  2. Relevance: Say you have an idea for great game that will bring loads of people to your booth. How relevant is it to your business? Having a lot of visitors is good, but it is far better to get fewer, more relevant visitors. This is another reason the health check was great for Npower: it attracted people who worried about energy expenditure and were therefore receptive to Npower’s solution.
  3. Cost: As with all B2B marketing decisions, cost is an issue. Providing a brilliant video game that is completely relevant to your company and can fulfil all your objectives may cost a fortune to create, not to mention providing the technology on which to run it. It’s a great interactive tool to use if it is cost-effective based on what you hope to gain from making a sale.

Making your booth activities more productive should be a priority when spending money on B2B trade show space. These are just a few ideas on how to make the most of it. If you have more, I’d love to hear about them.
————————
Daniel Frank is a writer and blogger who provides advice on trade show marketing on behalf of Nimlok Display Stands based in the UK.

Lift B2B marketing response by putting time on your side.

It’s never a good idea for B2B marketers to project our own personal opinions and practices on the B2B audience to which we market. How we like to receive information, our work patterns, and our preferences are not likely to mirror the people who buy our company’s B2B products or services.

But there is one area in which all of us in B2B marketing and in the B2B buying community are exactly alike — that is, we have too much to do and too little time in which to do it.

Not long ago I wrote a blog about “Four Rules for Communicating with the Crazy-Busy Prospect,” which focused on how to organize and present B2B marketing copy so the heart of the message could be comprehended with a quick scan.

Then, a few days ago, I learned another powerful way to use time to gain an advantage in B2B marketing. What I learned from one of my technology clients is that she’s cut back all of her Webinars to 30 minutes. Not only has this measurably boosted attendance, but it has generated emails from customers and prospects thanking her for this time-saving way to learn.

Like me, many people feel they can spare 30 minutes but not an hour. How often have I attended a one-hour event only to have to leave early because of a more pressing demand? In fact, I would attend more Webinars if they were only 30 minutes.

I hear push-back from many B2B marketers like, “Oh, we can’t cover the subject properly in 30 minutes.” I’d recommend they find a way to edit the presentation down to its core and make it work. One approach might be to create a Part I and Part II presentation of the materials for two separate events.

If this tactic would mean increasing attendance and getting attendees to stay for the entire presentation, it may be well worth testing.

One B2B social media expert who’s got it wrong.

I’m not a social marketing expert. I don’t pretend to be. My expertise and knowledge are in the outbound arena. I’ve written many times that I still believe in outbound marketing because I see it working cost-effectively for all my B2B clients. They use it to reliably fill their pipeline.

Yes, inbound marketing is cheaper. Yes, it works. But users of it cannot control the volume or the timing of the inbound inquiries it receives. Outbound marketers using proven B2B direct marketing practices can.

Here’s the reason for my rant. Perusing B2B Marketing Zone, I saw the reposting of the blog by Dragan Mestrovic on his inBlurbs site “How to save 62 percent of your budget with inbound marketing.”

He knows inbound marketing. His advice and the statistics he presents are all perfectly valid.

This rant concerns what he says about outbound marketing because, on that subject, he’s way off base.

Outbound marketing communication is one-way.
Initially, it is. A B2B marketer sends a message that reaches out to a targeted group. That message, however, is designed to generate a response. The minute there is a response, the communication instantly becomes two-way.

Outbound marketers’ customers are sought out.
Of course they are. But the customers being reached are not random. By accessing targeted databases of opt-in customers, members of groups, trade show attendees, carefully compiled databases and more, the B2B marketing firm is reaching out to those companies and individuals who match the profile of their customers.

Outbound direct marketing has been around for so many years that the level of database sophistication is staggering. Unlike what Mestrovic proposes — that marketers fill out a persona sheet to build a customer profile — an outbound B2B marketer uses data companies such as Acxiom, Accudata or one of many others to build a statistically sound customer CHAID or regression model. That model is then matched against rental lists to find prospects that match the customer profile. There’s no guesswork involved.

Outbound marketers provide little or no added value.
Do inbound marketers think they invented content? It’s been around as long as direct marketing has been around. It used to be called an “offer.” That’s how outbound marketers get a response — by offering educational information. The very subject of the content is designed to generate qualified leads. B2B marketers test various offers against each other to let the response from the market tell them which is the best.

Outbound marketers rarely seek to educate or entertain.
See above about education. Entertainment can be part of any marketing message — outbound or inbound. But it needs to be used carefully, as a poor use of “cleverness” or “humor” in marketing can backfire and negatively affect the brand.

Mestrovic says that outbound marketing is losing its efficacy. But in the real world, B2B companies calculate what they are willing to pay to get a qualified lead and, once they do, they’ll find that outbound marketing is still a bargain and that, unlike inbound marketing, it can predictably generate those leads.

B2B marketing lead generation dilemma: do it now or do it right.

One of my colleagues in the agency world was recently working with a B2B client who had requested help generating leads using targeted database marketing.

My colleague began to build a proposed outbound B2B marketing program for the client, which included testing various channels, audiences and offers to let the market determine which combination could provide the most cost-effective and qualified responses.

Midway through writing the proposal, the client shared the fact that he was under gun from the C-suite to produce X amount of incremental sales within six months or his marketing budget would be reallocated. That was disappointing to hear but not unexpected.

It’s one of a B2B marketing director’s biggest dilemmas — balancing the best practice of letting the market determine which are the best marketing approaches against demands from sales and C-level execs for instant performance.

Effective B2B direct marketing best practices require A/B split testing to determine which media, which content or other offers, and which approaches are the most effective ways to generate leads. Building a solid marketing database, measuring responses and conversions (or potential conversions) takes time. This avenue does produce leads and, in the long run, delivers the knowledge needed to maximize response rates and lower cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.

There’s hardly much time to test a full scope of channels and offers when the bottom-line results need to show up in six months or less. When faced with this dilemma, here are the two options open to a B2B CMO:

  1. Launch a quick lead generation program following industry best practices. B2B marketers with no track record of launching their own programs into their own market should follow the best practices determined by other marketers until they are able to discover their own metrics. One option is to tap the expertise of an agency or consultant with a long track record of solid lead generation. This lets the B2B company rely on the testing results the agency or consultant has accumulated over the years. The other option is to read the books and blogs of trusted, experienced B2B marketers to learn, then use, the practices they recommend.
  2. Conduct two programs at the same time. Run a test program in parallel with a lead generation program. That is, run a best practices campaign, then a small test of email, mailing lists and/or lead generation offers.

The problem with the first choice is that this approach provides no learning. If the program is successful, the marketer has no way of knowing which element, or combination of elements, created the success. If the program is a failure the marketer won’t know what to throw out and what to keep in the next campaign.

Despite the pressure from above, B2B marketers should fight strongly to conduct A/B split testing, even in smaller amounts, while trying to generate leads in the short run. It’s the only way to turn the average response rates available now into spectacular ones in the future.

Matching B2B marketing channels to buyer preferences.

With so much information appearing daily on the Internet, it becomes impossible to know which information to trust and which is just random opinion.

That’s why I was so happy when a colleague sent me a copy of a study from Epsilon Targeting, “The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust.” A division of Epsilon, a provider of consulting, marketing data, and marketing technology, they compiled responses from 2,226 U.S. and 2,574 Canadian age 18+ consumers to an online survey in August of 2011. Their statistical significance of the results is calculated at a 95% confidence level. This is their third study on the topic of marketing channel choices.

Readers may question why I would report on a consumer survey when the focus of this blog is B2B marketing. But I feel that the results of this survey translate very nicely into the B2B world, because business decision-makers are also consumers and naturally bring their personal preferences into the workplace.

Direct mail is the trust and attention-getting winner:

  • 26% of U.S. consumers and 30% of Canadians said direct mail is more trustworthy than email.
  • 50% of U.S. consumers and 48% of Canadians said they pay more attention to postal mail than email.
  • 60% of U.S. consumers and 64% of Canadians said they enjoy checking the mailbox for postal mail, highlighting an emotional connection.
  • 30% of U.S. consumers said they’re receiving more mail that interests them compared to a year ago, and just 50% (down from 63% in 2010) said more information is sent to them in the mail — indicating marketers are improving targeting efforts.
  • The perception that reading email is faster declined among U.S. email account holders to 45% in 2011 (from 47% in 2010), suggesting clogged inboxes are draining time.

Email still has many advantages:

  • 42% of U.S. respondents like that they can choose to receive or not receive email.
  • 41% like the fact that they can decide whether to print out the information or not.
  • 34% of U.S. consumers (up from 21% in 2010) like the ability to be green and save on the use of paper.
  • 23% like the easy ability to forward information (a very valuable tool in B2B marketing).

From the above portion of the study’s results, it’s clear that both direct mail and email still have a place in B2B marketing. It supports my long-held position that direct mail is still the best outbound marketing channel for generating leads, and email is still the best for nurturing those leads through the buy cycle.

A few early B2B marketing ideas from Santa.

Children writing lists to Santa aren’t the only ones making wishes this year. We B2B marketers are making many wishes for our marketing to be more effective, less costly, and less work. These are the same old wishes, but, in this volatile economy, the gifts are needed more than ever.

So I went searching for a few B2B marketing Santas that may have left a gift in a blog or magazine article here and there. Here’s what I unwrapped.

Be more effective

Deliver Magazine from the US Postal Service was celebrating its 40th issue with a recap of its greatest moments. One clip included this very sage advice from the “permission marketing” guru Seth Godin. He said, “Happy customers are a company’s worst enemy because they’re unlikely to push you to stay ahead of the competition. Talk with those who are dissatisfied with everything on the market.” Taking this approach is the best way to help B2B companies find out how to improve their products and the effectiveness of their marketing.

Save money

Doing more with less has always been important. These days it’s a survival necessity. Although there is danger in spending too little, the worst danger is not knowing how much you should be spending. Thank Santa for a recent post on the Inbound Sales Network. Their “How Much Should you Spend on Lead Generation?” takes B2B marketers through six calculations marketers can use to set the right spending limit for their organization.

Step 1: Set the Target
Say your company has the goal to do $1,000,000 in new sales during the next year. If you currently have a 10% growth rate in current accounts, this leaves $900,000 needed in new revenue generated in the next fiscal year.

Step 2: Pipeline Size
New Revenue Target / Closing Ratio

Step 3: Average Deal Size
Total Revenue / Number of Deals

Step 4: Total Number of New Opportunities Needed
Pipeline Size / Average Deal Size

Step 5: Lead to Opportunity Conversion Ratio
Number of Opportunities Won / Total Number of Opportunities

Step 6: Cost per Sales Qualified Lead
(Expected Revenue – Delivery Costs – Sales Costs – Acceptable Profit Margin) / Total Number of Leads Needed

Read their article to get all the details. This process helps ensure that every dollar spent on lead generation is justified based on the company’s sales goals. It’s the only way to go.

Lighten the workload

Follow the advice of Rachel Foster in the October 2011 Issue of Chief Content Officer (COO) Magazine. She suggests “Reimagining the Tried-and-True White Paper” by turning it into an interactive video. She says, “Unlike traditional videos, designed to play from start to finish, video white papers makes it easy to jump from section to section and focus in on high-interest topics.” Video white papers allow B2B marketers to track how long a viewer watched and what they watched. If some sections appear to be more popular than others, marketers can leverage that insight into a new piece of potentially effective content.

B2B marketing basics for filling the sales pipeline.

This morning I wrote copy to help promote the upcoming November event for the San Diego Direct Marketing Association. The presenter is a video blogger and social media evangelist for Sony Electronics, Sukhjit Ghan. At the event she will tell the story of a social media campaign for Sony that’s being recognized on The Next Web as the most successful social media campaign in history.

The B2C campaign involves the launch of a new Sony tablet and how the effort got customers talking about the tablet and going into retail outlets to see it. It also generated 10,000 contest entries. Marketing success stories always make great presentations and learning opportunities.

But what if the marketer is B2B and the company sells prototyping software to manufacturers of technology products? What if it sells outsourced IT services to a limited geographic area or technology solutions designed just for hospitals?

These marketers don’t have millions of potential buyers. Their marketing universes are as little as 2,000 to 20,000 prospects, which can be easily identified by industry, employee size, location and annual sales figures.

Social media may have some value to these companies in certain situations such as conferences and other industry settings. Unlike Sony, however, social media can’t be used to reliably and consistently fill their sales pipelines with qualified leads.

B2B email marketing is perfect for nurturing leads through the buying cycle until they are ready to buy. Despite its lower cost, however, it’s fairly dismal at generating fresh leads. Search has great value, but there’s no control over how many prospects might reach out looking for a solution at a particular time. Direct mail marketing, on the other hand, is still cost effective, even for B2B marketers with a small budget and small prospect universe.

Here are the basic numbers that support it. These numbers are very conservative and are based on averages using a small-quantity prospect universe. As the quantity grows, the results and the ROI both grow. This campaign uses a #10 business envelope containing a letter and a flat, branded gift item that makes the package slightly lumpy so it stands out in the mail and gets opened. Responders go to a PURL to download educational content being offered.

At first glance, these numbers may seem high. But what if the company doing the marketing sells a product or service that produces $20,000 in gross revenue per sale? That means three sales would generate $60,000. What if it’s $100,000 per sale? What if the value of a new customer generates $500,000 to $1,000,000 over its lifetime?

In that perspective, the costs are very much in line. Of course, to meet these projections requires that the campaigns follow best practices, use a quality mailing list, etc. There are direct mail strategies that can generate greater response rates of 2% to 5% or more. These strategies raise the campaign costs, but also raise the number of leads generated and the conversions at the same time.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, there are a number of respected technology and other B2B firms using direct mail marketing regularly and successfully. It provides B2B marketers with one of today’s most reliably effective strategies for generating qualified leads and filling the sales pipeline.

5 ways B2B companies can make millions from referrals.

How could I not attend the recent San Diego Direct Marketing Association (SDDMA) event entitled “How to make over a million dollars in referral business?”

Referrals are almost like free money. It may take some time, effort and even some travel to close the sale, but the marketing cost is zero. That makes the return on the marketing investment a whopper.

The SDDMA luncheon speaker, Suzanne Weinstein of InSync Consulting, helps leaders and others resolve conflict and achieve greater levels of effectiveness and satisfaction. For her one-person business, she has actually made a million dollars from referrals. For a B2B company selling high-ticket products with a long buy cycle, referrals can easily add up to multiple millions.

Much of what Suzanne related in her talk has to do with what to do when sitting face to face with customers. In my B2B business, like many today, I don’t have the opportunity to meet clients face to face, and communication is either by phone or email. However, she did share a few tips for encouraging referrals that don’t require being in the room with the customer. To her suggestions I have added a few of my own for a short list of what B2B marketing and sales can do to encourage more of this “free money.”

1. Create a “member-get-a-member” marketing campaign. Conduct a marketing campaign that invites customers to make one or more referrals to their peers. If the referred party becomes a new customer, the referring customer receives a reward of some kind. This reward can be a gift, a free service, a discount or any other time-saving or money-saving extra. Some referral campaigns also offer a reward or welcome gift to the new customer as well.

2. Make it easy for customers to share information with their colleagues. It’s important for B2B marketers to include an “invite your colleagues” button on Webinar and event invitations and a “share with colleagues” link when sending out product information.

3. Be a resource for customers outside of direct product support. Those in B2B marketing and sales can better cement their relationships with customers by being a willing resource of information. This can include being ready with recommendations of other vendors that could solve other challenges for the customer as well as forwarding any pertinent news or other information about the customer’s company or their industry.

4. Ask for referrals. There’s no reason to beat around the bush. If B2B marketers or sales people have a good relationship with customers and vendors, there is no harm in asking.

5. Give referrals to get referrals. As a vendor, sales people and marketers at B2B companies should know the value of the products and services of their customers and vendors. With the availability of today’s virtual networks, providing customers with referrals should be easier than ever. B2B marketers and sales people should make every effort to do this. The favor is often returned.