5 rock-bottom rules for effective B2B marketing content offers.

Content is one of today’s biggest topics of discussion in B2B marketing.

To some, it is educational information that positions their company as a thought leader. (Those in this group may want to review my recent post on what Eric Wittlake has to say about true thought leadership.)

To others, content is what is offered to prospects to keep them interacting with the company as they move through the buy cycle.

It is such a focus in B2B marketing these days that many larger companies now have a Chief Content Officer focused exclusively on managing its creation.

It’s important to know that one B2B marketer’s content does not have to compete with all that is out there. It only has to have value for the specific targeted universe the marketer is trying to reach. Effective content follows these rock-bottom rules:

1. Make sure the title is a grabber. The title alone is often what generates the download, so titles need to be strong and compelling. Michael Stelzner’s advice on this topic — “Why a Good Title Makes a White Paper” — is some of the best I’ve seen. You can also check out my contribution to the importance of names in “How to boost B2B content downloads.”

2. Target. To be most effective, what is written should be targeted not only to industry and topic but to individual titles. If decision-makers and influencers include CFOs, CIOs, Product Managers and others, there should be specific content relevant to each title. If marketers need to send a single offer to many titles at once, they can create a “kit” as a few of my clients have done successfully. The kit would be a collection of content pieces with at least one item for each pertinent title. The name of the kit must also be a grabber.

3. Make the content easy to read and digest. Don’t make prospects have to think. Write to the lowest common denominator — that is the person in a target group who might know the least about the topic being covered. Big words and inside lingo don’t make the company doing the marketing look smart, they just diminish the readability of the message.

4. Provide a few quality take-aways. What is offered must reflect well on the company offering it, but it doesn’t have to win Pulitzer Prizes. When creating content, make sure it delivers at least three bits of information that can show the reader that it was worth the effort to download and read it.

5. Don’t look stupid. Have it all proofed by a professional proofreader for grammar and spelling before it’s used.

The point is, if you follow these rules you’ll be creating respectable content that does the job it’s intented to do.  As James Pennington, one of my lead generation colleagues, is fond of saying, “Remember, once it has been downloaded, it’s already done 90% of its job.”

Effective B2B marketing requires budget AND brains.

Everyone needs a break from the daily stack of work. That’s why I took a moment to read a communication from the LinkedIn B2B Lead Generation & Content Marketing group entitled “20 Quotes To Inspire Your Marketing.”

Put together by Michael Brenner, Sr. Director, Global Marketing at SAP, many of them amused and inspired me. My favorites on his list are these:

 “What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.” David Ogilvy

 “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” Seth Godin

 “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” David Packard

 However, I found one quote to be a bit of an insult to B2B marketers:

 “If you have more money than brains you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.” Guy Kawasaki, author of Engage and founder of Alltop

 I was insulted because I spend much of my days writing messaging for outbound B2B marketing, including email and direct mail. Every one of my clients has first-hand experience with outbound marketing directly generating business. If done right — that means following best practices — outbound marketing consistently generates business at an acceptable cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.

If outbound marketing is a “brainless” task, as Kawasaki implies, then marketing automation providers would have failed long ago. Instead, these companies are booming. The fact is, SAP has been a frequent and successful practitioner of outbound B2B direct mail marketing.

If a B2B marketing company has a large sales staff and needs to drive thousands of leads per month, social and inbound marketing cannot consistently drive the number of leads required.

Also, inbound marketing often generates leads that are further down the buy cycle. Engaging with those prospects late in the process puts the seller at a disadvantage. Competitive companies who reached out to that prospective buyer earlier in the process have been nurturing and building a relationship with them. When it comes to making a buying decision, the competitor has the advantage.

Outbound marketing can reach prospective buyers early in the process when they are just realizing they have a pain to solve but before they take action to search for a solution to that pain.

So, to add to Michael’s list of inspiring B2B marketing quotes, here is this old-timer: “The early bird gets the worm.”

Hat’s off to the B2B marketer behind this effort.

I love marketing offers. In B2B marketing (or any kind, for that matter), offers are what you give someone for doing something you want them to do.

Content is an offer. Offering content in outbound B2B marketing is basically saying:

“By accepting this offer you are showing that you have interest in learning about this topic. Tell me who you are and how to reach you and, in exchange, I’ll give you this white paper or this assessment or this guide or these case studies, etc.”

How often should a B2B marketer make an offer in outbound marketing efforts? The answer is ALWAYS.

When we B2B marketers invite prospects and clients to a Webinar, we see the Webinar as the offer. It has value and is educational. That’s why I was surprised and delighted to get this email invite.

Not only do InformationWeek and the event sponsors Syncsort and NetApp invite me to a Webinar, but they offer me the opportunity to win something if I attend.

So I asked myself, “What is their strategy in doing this?

I’m not sure I’m correct, but when I read the “contest rules” I discovered two possible answers. Here is the section of the Contest Rules I found revealing:

“To enter, each potential entrant must become a registered user of the Web Site and truthfully and accurately provide all information required by the registration process and view the “Virtualize without Compromise: Understanding VM Backup and Recovery” Webcast in its entirety prior to 2 p.m. EDT on July 26, 2011. The eligible prize winner(s) will be selected at random from all eligible entrants who view the Webcast in its entirety.”

It’s possible that two of the reasons this offer is being made are:
1. To make sure the registration is complete and accurate, and
2. To ensure that attendees don’t leave the Webcast early.

This offer makes the invitation stand out from dozens passing through a typical inbox. The subject line of “Win [50] $10 Starbucks gift cards: Understanding VM Backup and Recovery” puts the offer up front.

In addition, this offer gives me a very positive perception of the publication and the event sponsors. They are making a $500 investment in the hope that this Webcast will generate X number of leads and X number of new customers and potential revenue that justifies the investment.

It’s a strategically and financially sound B2B marketing strategy.

B2B marketing “Advice from the Top.

This year’s Business Marketing Association’s (BMA) early June conference in Chicago was a big coup for the Colorado BMA Chapter. It was at this event that they proudly released their new collaborative book on B2B marketing Advice from the Top: The Expert Guide to B2B Marketing.

The Colorado organization’s Executive Director, Marilee Yorchak, describes this book as “a compilation of real-life case studies from 24 B2B marketing experts. It’s like having your own consultant right there with you.”

It was my pleasure to join with my colleague Dave Ariss of Ariss Marketing Group to co-author Chapter 23, which reports on the success (and insight) gained from a combination direct mail and email test campaign we created and managed for a technology publisher.

These success stories cover all the critical B2B marketing topics:

  • Strategy
  • Content Development
  • Implementation
  • Success Measurement

So what do the folks at the top have to say? This book is jam-packed with useful advice. It includes such valuable info as: how to make sure your research is accurate and actionable; a step-by-step guide to creating effective marketing plans; how to tell a compelling company story; how to get sales and marketing to support each other’s efforts — and a lot more.

If you’re serious about marketing success, having a copy of Advice from the Top within arm’s reach is a must.

It’s available directly from the Colorado BMA at BMA Top Advice or from Amazon.

Rock-Bottom Trade Show Tactics: Event Marketing on the Very Cheap

When a client — whose company develops vertical business software — asked me to help with the booth messaging for an upcoming trade show I was stumped.

Although I had done a ton of work over the years helping clients generate booth attendance for trade shows, I had little experience writing booth signage. So I turned to colleague Ruth Stevens and her book  Trade Show and Event Marketing: Plan, Promote and Profit. What a life-saver. After reading it I learned that the trade show booth should be treated like any marketing piece and, like a headline, the booth visitor should know what that company offers instantly from seeing the sign. Since then I’ve noticed how often trade show exhibitors don’t make their product or service clear in their signage.

In today’s down economy, several clients and associates have been bemoaning how they cannot justify the cost all of the trade shows where they should be exhibiting. So, once again, I turned to Ruth for guidance. Here’s the insight she shared:

“If you are a start-up, or you’ve burned through your marketing budget for the year, or you’re simply a cheapskate, there are still plenty of ways you can take advantage of a trade show. When you consider that a trade show offers a concentrated opportunity to interact with many potential buyers over a few days, you’ll recognize the need to be there, budget or no budget.

  • Register as an attendee and use the trade show as a networking opportunity. You can do plenty of business by wandering around.
  • If you’re really cheap, buy only an exhibit hall ticket. Make appointments with your current customers and prowl around the hall together.
  • Apply for a speaking opportunity on the trade show program, which will get you into the trade show for free.
  • Host an off-site breakfast. The cheapest — and possibly most productive — meal of the day. The event will give you concentrated face time and the chance to pitch your wares.
  • Crash parties. Ask your friends and colleagues what parties or business events they’ve heard about. Stop by those booths in advance and wrangle an invitation. As long as you’re polite and not a competitor, you’ll stand a good chance of making useful new contacts — and conserving your meal budget.
  • Treat your attendance at the show as a full-blown marketing campaign. Review all the possible target audiences — attendees, exhibitors, and speakers. Set up appointments in advance, qualify prospects as you meet them around the show, nurture leads on your return to the office, and track and report on business closed. This campaign has to demonstrate an ROI like any other.”

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Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention for B2B companies through her company eMarketing Strategy, and is the author of  Trade Show and Event Marketing: Plan, Promote and Profit.  She can be reached at ruth@ruthstevens.com.

 

B2B marketing content — 4 important rules.

While perusing my B2B marketing Google Alerts today I found that the first three articles highlighted were all about the same topic.

It seems that content is today’s hot B2B marketing topic.

As Lee Odden explains, it is being used to provide B2B buyers with reliable information for finding new resources, having something to promote through social channels, and to gain influence and promotional exposure for the company through syndication, blog mentions, links and more.

This focus has created the new corporate position of CCO, Chief Content Officer. BtoB Magazine is now publishing a supplement entitled CCO, Chief Content Officer. On the back of the April 2011 issue is the big announcement of the “Content Marketing World 2011” conference in Cleveland, September 6, 7 and 8, 2011.

As Rob Leavitt tells us, “B2B marketers in great numbers have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon and embraced the idea that marketing needs to be more like media.”

Bandwagons are fine, but it’s important that B2B marketers keep content in its proper place.

What is content exactly?

  • It is the “offer” used as an incentive for a prospective B2B buyer to interact with a company in some way — through social media, SEM ads, outbound B2B marketing emails or direct mail, handouts at trade shows, or items placed on syndication sites — and as devices (as Lee says) to generate buzz.
  • It is the device that positions the company as a thought leader in one or more areas of the industry(s) it serves.
  • It is the tool used in the B2B company’s Web site knowledge base to generate interaction with site visitors and encourage multiple site visits.

Ultimately, however, we B2B marketers must remember the main goal in the creation of this material is to help attract qualified leads, then move them through the buying cycle until they are ready to be closed by sales.

Even if the educational information is made available without requiring a sign-in or registration, it still serves that purpose. For that reason, B2B marketers need to remember these four rules:

  1. Make sure the title makes impact. See “How to boost B2B content downloads.”
  2. Avoid boredom by delivering content in a variety of forms and formats — some long, some short, some in-depth, some with quick tips, etc. See “Powerful lead generating alternatives to white papers.”
  3. Never put content ahead of the greatest driver of B2B marketing success — data. See “For B2B marketing success in 2011 — start with the data.”
  4. Always focus on B2B marketing best practices. See “If B2B marketers do nothing else, they should follow these 9 rules.”

Content is today’s hot topic. But B2B marketers should not get distracted by that and lose focus on content’s place in the B2B marketing big picture.

How often to send B2B lead acquisition efforts? Find your Uncle Harry.

Several months ago, a prospective B2B client called me for messaging help on her company’s sales-generation email program. Because her Web service is available for a low monthly fee, she doesn’t need to nurture leads but seeks, instead, to generate ready buyers.

On the call, she told me that she is sending emails out to the same list of 20,000 small-business prospects via Constant Contact every week. I let out a small gasp when I first heard this. Any B2B company emailing me weekly would have been opted-out a long time ago. Yet, she says her opt-out rate is low. It’s possible that many of her emails are going into spam folders and aren’t being seen at all; however, they do generate some business.

Then a recent blog post, “eMarketing – How Many Touches Produce Results?,” from Manticore Technology, a B2B marketing automation provider, addressed the email frequency issue. In their words, they had “set out to discover how many touches are optimal for multi-touch email marketing campaigns.”

They offered an educational eGuidebook to the same target list, sending one email per month for four months. Here is their result:

Email #1: 1235 downloads
Email #2: 585 downloads
Email #3: 52 downloads
Email #4: 17 downloads

In direct mail marketing, the predictive formula of results when sending the same message to the same audience is a 50% drop in response with each successive mailing. This example in emailing shows a greater decline that may or may not produce similar results if repeated in the future.

But the question remains, how often is too often? What’s the answer? The number is different for every company, every product, every target market. Only through testing can a B2B company determine which frequency is the most productive and cost-effective. Only through testing can each company find their Uncle Harry.

Who’s he? Uncle Harry is the guy that triggers how often a company should mail lead generation offers to the same group of prospects. Here’s the story:

Many years ago, an insurance company that sold primarily through direct mail was trying to determine how often it should mail offers to its base of prospective customers. Their marketing team broke the mailing list into groups and tested various mailing patterns. The one that performed the best for them was to re-mail every 90 days.

They found that mailing more often cost more and did not produce enough additional business to justify the additional mailing costs. On the reverse, they found that waiting longer than 90 days did not boost response significantly enough to justify the wait.

So why was 90 days the magic number for them? Because Uncle Harry died.

That’s right. Every 90 days, there are enough people in the country who have a relative die to trigger the awareness that maybe they need to get life insurance.

How does this consumer example apply to B2B marketing? Because, most of the time, the decision to move ahead with finding a solution to a particular business challenge relates to an event. Uncle Harry may not have died, but perhaps a big customer was lost, a competitor won the bid for a new customer, costs suddenly rose or one of hundreds of events happened that triggered a change in company priorities.

It’s then that a B2B company needs to be in front of its prospect with the right message. For some, like the prospective client who called me, every week may not be too much. For others like Manticore, once a month with the same offer may be too often. B2B marketers should test their lead generation marketing frequency to find their own Uncle Harry.

Non-stop tips and insights for the muddled B2B marketing mind.

Congrats and thanks to Denny Hatch, marketing guru, commentator and author, on the recent release of his wonderful book “Career Changing Takeaways!” As the book’s subtitle elaborates, it’s a collection of “Quotations, Rules, Aphorisms, Pithy Tips, Quips, Sage Advice, Secrets, Dictums and Truisms in 99 Categories of Marketing, Business and Life.”

These mighty statements from recognized leaders and experts can instantly clear a confused mind on topics such as Brands and Branding, Communications, Creativity, Data Management, Decision Making, eMarketing, Job Searches, Website design and so much more.

Because Denny’s background is in direct marketing, there’s tons of good guidance for those of us in B2B marketing.

It ranges from the fun . . .

“I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes.” Philip Dusenberry

To the insightful . . .

“What’s your brand? If you can’t answer that question about your own brand in two or three words, your brand’s in trouble.” Al Reis

To the live-or-die guidance . . .

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” Jack Welch

It’s a great read, a great guide and a nice break to take when one’s marketing or decision-making mind is muddled. What better refresher than to read a few guiding thoughts from the pros?

Ideas to help break the B2B automated marketing content barrier.

Recently I sat in on a great Webinar put on by Brian Carroll of MECLABS Applied Research. Brian is the organizer of the LinkedIn B2B Marketing Roundtable of which I am a member.

Instead of the speaker being a B2B marketing resource, this Webinar was a real-life case study presented by a true B2B marketer, Michelle Levy, Associate Vice President of Marketing Programs for ECI Telecom.

Her presentation was “Learn from Real-World Success: How ECI Telecom Developed a Content-Marketing Program from Concept to Completion and the Surprising Results.”

It was a great presentation, but I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised at all by the results, which included achieving a 79 percent email open rate and high conversion rates.

The reason I was not surprised is that she and her team did EVERYTHING according to best practices (which I passionately advocate) and they used excellent resources to help them:

Step one in the ECI campaign was to inventory all of its content assets — content being educational information that could be offered to acquire and nurture prospects through the buy cycle until they are “buyer ready.” After taking its inventory, ECI found 695 assets. Most assets were product brochures, of course, but nonetheless, that number is remarkably high. Many companies I deal with are lucky to find 10.

Here is a recap of how Michelle defined “valuable” content:

  • Quality: Does the content asset meet the same standards you set for your products and services?
  • Value: How thoroughly does it address a customer pain point?
  • Relevance: Does the content meet the information needs of the buyer’s place in the buy cycle? Is it relevant to the pains of that particular title?
  • Influence: Does the content influence the buyer’s perceptions in terms of issues, risks, or opportunities?

Indentifying and creating valuable content is one of the biggest barriers to effective automated marketing that establishes a B2B company as a thought leader. But it doesn’t have to be. By thinking outside of the white paper box and repurposing existing materials, many B2B marketers find that creating valuable content is not as overwhelming as it seems.

The following suggestions, organized by traditional buy cycles, have all been used successfully by other B2B marketers and should help stimulate ideas for building a content library that supports B2B marketing efforts throughout the entire buy cycle.

Interest Stage — Prospects have discovered they have a pain and are seeking education on how the pain can be fixed:
*Benchmark Reports
*Blog Reprints
* Case Studies (if organized into a collection of how peers are handling a specific pain)
* eBook of Blog Reprints
* Games
* How-to Guides
* Industry Category Surveys
* Live Seminars
* Podcasts
* Quick Self-Assessments/Checklists
* Survey Reports
* Third-Party Analysts’ Reports
* Video of Top-Level Exec or Product Category Expert
* White Papers — High-Level Industry-Focused

Consideration Stage — Prospects are beginning to look at specific types of solutions:
* Brochures
* Case Studies/Success Stories
* Interactive Games
* Live Seminars
* Podcasts
* Product Demos
* Quick Self-Assessments/Checklists
* Step-by-Step Guides
* Third-Party Analysts’ Reports
* Video of Top-Level Exec or Product Category Expert
* White Papers — Mid-Level Solution Focuses

Evaluation Stage — Prospects are comparing specific solutions:
* Brochures
* Case Studies/Success Stories
* Comparison Charts with Competition
* Product Demos
* Product or Company Press Releases
* Product Solution Briefs
* ROI Calculators
* White Papers — In-Depth Technical Product Focus

Purchase Stage — Prospects making buying decisions:
* In-depth Demos
* ROI Calculators

There are more options for creating content than ever before and I welcome suggestions for ideas I might have missed. Content does not have to be the big automated marketing barrier. For B2B marketers who don’t have the bandwidth to produce these items in-house, there are a number of excellent professional resources who can do it quickly and cost-effectively.

Two cool (and useful) services for B2B marketers

I’m not getting paid to endorse these services, but once I discovered them, they went on my “must have” list immediately. I have been recommending them ever since to all B2B marketers in need of the type of support they provide.

Each fills gaps in the B2B marketing process that enhance both marketing and sales. When you read what they provide below, I’m sure you’ll agree.

1. Enhance the power of B2B marketing campaigns.
In building relationships with customers or prospective customers, nothing beats a personal phone call.

But with today’s extensive voice mail systems, getting through to anyone by phone is virtually impossible. Boxpilot, a service I discovered over 10 years ago, takes this reality and turns it into a big communications advantage.

Their service is called “guided voice mail.” It combines the cost savings of automation with the human touch to help you make an effective phone contact with prospects or customers. Guided voice mail is a great option when B2B marketing or sales wants to . . .

  • Generate leads and close sales.
  • Boost attendance to seminars and conferences.
  • Upsell and manage relationships with valuable customers.
  • Communicate fast with customers, prospects, partners and the press.

Here’s how it works:
First, someone from the B2B company records the appropriate message via phone onto the Boxpilot system. The calling list is uploaded, and a day and time period is chosen for the calls to be made.

On that day and in that time period, Boxpilot uses live human agents to make the calls.

Live agents are used because they can get through reception and/or navigate the phone automated system to make sure the message reaches the right voice mailbox. Once the correct voice mail is reached, the agent then pushes a button and plays the recorded message.

If the targeted individual actually answers the phone, the agent will hang up. This is done because B2B marketers don’t want their recorded message played to a live listener, which would defeat the entire purpose of having a recorded message sound like a “real, personal” phone call.

When the recipient hears the B2B marketing/sales message, it sounds like a real message to them personally.

When I used this service, I sent a direct mail letter to prospects, then followed that mailing up a week later with Boxpilot guided voice mail calls. When one of the prospects responded to the marketing, she said, “I got your phone call,” having no idea it was a pre-recorded message.

A quick online search brought up other companies offering this service (Virtual Causeway, Aspyrion). I have no personal experience with these firms and their may be others.

A personal phone call can be the magic ingredient in boosting marketing and sales success and Boxpilot is a cost-effective, convenient way to get it done.

2. Make the most of trade show-generated leads.
Every company manages its trade show booths and lead capturing differently. But it’s likely that each booth is manned (off and on) with sales people, marketers and/or product specialists. Controlling how each of those people captures information from booth visitors can be a messy and inconsistent process.

Then along comes NewLeads. Their service helps B2B trade show exhibitors consistently capture quality info from each booth visitor, then seamlessly integrate that information into the company’s SFA, CRM or marketing database.

A business makes a huge investment when it contracts for a booth at a trade show or conference. Collecting a stack of business cards is virtually worthless. Printing paper cards to be filled out by each visitor is inconsistent, then requires time-consuming data entry. Only a computerized system, electronically capturing pertinent and consistent visitor information, can deliver what B2B marketing and sales need to make sure the show generates a return.

That’s what NewLeads provides — trade show lead retrieval systems, lead management and lead capture solutions users can purchase or rent. B2B marketers can also get customizable visitor surveys and have the generated lead records imported into their CRM or other system overnight.

Justifying the cost of exhibiting at a trade show requires making the most of every contact made at that show. I think this solution is a great way to make the most of that cost.

I encourage B2B marketers to add these services to their marketing bag of tricks and keep them ready to pull out when the need arises.