B2B marketing that talks “Outside-In” not “Inside-Out”

A few weeks ago, a colleague forwarded a post — “Better SEO through Integrated Content Marketing,” by Scott Fasser — that was on the Optify blog in 2012.

In the post, Scott recognizes that SEO is no longer a separate tactic but an integral part of B2B marketing strategy. He discusses four essentials to maximizing SEO. These include effectively using personas, which I discussed recently in “Personas: They’re not just for B2B marketing anymore.” He covers the importance of addressing all B2B marketing buy cycles, as well as the long list of the social media elements that are now part of any successful SEO initiative.

One point, however, was something I knew but had never seen presented in such a clear and definable way. That was his advice to “Talk Outside-In vs. Inside-Out.”

Here are the highlights of his important point:

“How you talk about yourself and market yourself dramatically impacts how well you are found via organic channels — especially SEO. If your website is driven by a brand perspective that creates new phrases to describe what you do that is unique to your communication, you are not creating a true differentiation in your product, but new words to describe something that prospects don’t understand.

Marketing AutomationA major marketing automation company has positioned themselves as a provider of ‘Revenue Performance Management’ software. This term could mean many different things to different functional perspectives, but the core term for this category of service is marketing automation. ‘Revenue performance management’ has about 590 searches in Google in North America per month while ‘marketing automation’ has 14,800. This tells us that marketing automation is a better known term and more people are looking for this type of solution than ‘revenue performance management.’

The lesson here is to review your current and future messaging from the point of view of a persona that does not know about your brand, focus on true differentiation/value proposition and create content that they will understand without needing an explanation. Finding that balance between pushing new concepts and terms vs. serving the market where it exists today is an important input into your content marketing planning.”

This point was strongly supported in an SEO copywriting training session I attended. It presented the background on Google’s SEO algorithms and why it’s important for top positions in Google to use the terms that customers are using. This is the same in all B2B marketing copy and messaging.

To truly connect with customers, it’s essential to use the words and phrases that they know and to always speak from their point of view.

Why anyone can use video in B2B marketing & why they should.

With all the things we do to make B2B marketing interesting, attention-getting and memorable, it’s a fact that there’s nothing like video. Video personalizes and humanizes communication in a way that words and even still pictures cannot do. It adds a human touch to marketing messaging that can be beat only by a face-to-face meeting. I’m not diminishing words and pictures, but, living in a world raised on television and movies, we’ve all been trained to respond to moving and talking pictures.

The arrival of YouTube in 2005 has made it remarkably easy for anyone to put video on the Internet, even a small B2B business like mine. In fact, I did just that in 2012 when my SEO resource, SharpNet Solutions, recommended that I could boost my Website’s SEO performance by adding video. Which it did.

I was so pleased with the result and with the company I chose to do the work that I recommended to the San Diego Direct Marketing Association (SDDMA) that they invite Greg McKinney, Founder and President of Webstorytellers, to be a speaker at one of their luncheon events. So, on Tuesday, I joined my fellow SDDMA members to hear what he had to say. Here are some of the highlights:

Why use video — the stats.*
If B2B marketers are not yet convinced about using video, these powerful stats may convince them. These numbers are based on reality today and don’t even include the projections on the huge future of video:

  • The average user’s visit to a text-and-image-based Website lasts only 43 seconds. For a Website with video, the average lasts 5 minutes and 50 seconds.
  • Customers who watch videos of products or services are 85% more likely to make a purchase.
  • 75% of executives surveyed say they watch work-related videos on business-related Websites at least weekly. More than half watch work-related videos on YouTube at least weekly.
  • 65% of senior executives have visited a vendor’s Website after watching a video.
  • It’s estimated that 75% of U.S. smartphone users watch online video on their smartphones and 26% of them do so every day. 50% of tablet users watch online video content.

Ways to use video.
There are many ways to use video. The best approach is to have multiple videos that cover all these options. Length should depend on the location and purpose of the video. Like all marketing issues, length should be tested for each product and market.

  • Testimonials and Customer Stories: One of my clients took advantage of a customer summit to record video success stories told by their customers. These were then edited into quick video testimonials for use on their Website. They also turned the full stories into case studies, which were put into a very popular content text-based offer.
  • Meet the CEO/President/Owner/Employee, etc.: There are few faster or more effective ways to personalize a B2B company to its prospects than showing an exec or employee talking about the company, its mission, its commitment, or the benefits it offers to customers and clients. Greg recommends that these recordings NOT be scripted.
  • Product Sales: One of my B2B ecommerce clients is adding video descriptions to products on their Website. They’ve made a huge impact on the company’s SEO and product sales.
  • Present the USP: B2B marketers can present their unique selling proposition (USP) in a quick video statement that adds life to the words.
  • Promote the Offer on Landing Pages: Videos produce better conversion from search engine ad or banner landing pages.
  • Enhance Page Content: A video can be put on every page of the site to support or enrich the content of that page with testimonials, product details, etc.
  • Video on Emails: Just like a video can enhance a Website, Web page or a landing page, it can do wonders for generating readership and response to prospect or customer emails.

What to pay for video.
The answer, of course, is, “It depends.” Companies can produce their own videos in-house for very little. But no company wants to project an amateur image. Using a professional video firm can significantly enhance the quality and results. Some resources are willing to do a simple animated video with voice over (like the one I had done) for around $1000. Using interviews, announcers, animation and more might cost an average of $5000 and up.

Video can be a cost-effective investment in better SEO, a more compelling Website and landing pages that convert. If I can do it, anyone can.

*The sources for the stats are available on request.

Use December to assess B2B marketing practices for 2013.

December is traditionally a slow month in which to conduct B2B marketing, with the possible exception of outbound calling. When B2B buyers are in the holiday spirit they are typically more likely to take calls. But since December isn’t great for marketing, it’s the perfect month to assess B2B marketing plans and practices for 2013.

For 2013, MarketingProfs is predicting the continued rise of content marketing. Another Marketing is predicting a greater return to offline channels and the increased value of mobile. In fact, all of the predictions for 2013 support the continued importance of integrated marketing. That is, being everywhere a B2B prospect or customer might be and not putting all of one’s B2B marketing eggs in one basket.

So now is the time for B2B marketers to assess how well they are following best practices — then to update their marketing plans for 2013. Here are three areas that might be worth assessing:

  1. Analyze if the targeting being used is missing any huge potential for growth and sales in 2013. Here are a few tips on how to do this: “Is your B2B marketing barking up all the right trees?
  2. Evaluate how well the Website supports the online brand and generates involvement on the part of the visitor by reviewing “Is anything missing from your online B2B brand?
  3. Evaluate overall B2B marketing messaging to make sure it’s consistent from channel to channel. Then check it for best practices in “B2B marketing’s 10 most common copy mistakes.”

B2B marketing is a process of reaching the right people with the right messaging and using the tools and tactics that have been proven to generate leads and convert them into a qualified pipeline. B2B marketers can use December to make sure 2013 doesn’t miss one opportunity to generate leads, support growth and make a big impact on the bottom line.

B2B marketing’s 10 most common copy mistakes

My first contact with a prospective client always fills my head with questions. Are they savvy marketers who need their work refined? Are they clueless? Are they trying to do their best in spite of restraints from upper management? The possibilities are many, and I’ve seen them all.

Regardless of the situation and experience of the prospect, however, it’s rare that I don’t come across at least one of these common mistakes on the company’s Web site or other marketing material.

So I’m sharing this list with other B2B marketers who may want to review it and check out their own practices:

1. Selling the product and the company, not the call to action.
To maximize the response to a B2B content offer, Webinar invite, or any other free information designed to generate qualified leads, the copy message must sell the benefits of responding to the offer, not the company’s product.

2. Forgetting to tell prospects exactly what they should do.
B2B marketers should never assume the prospect/buyer/reader will know what they are to do. Testing has proven time and time again that, to get someone to respond, they must be told exactly what to do and when to do it — download now, call now, email now, click here now, etc.

3. Making the copy virtually unreadable by reversing it out of a dark background.
Copy is not a design element. Design should support the company graphic standards while making the message easy and inviting to read. Dark type on a light background is always the best.

4. Putting the company credentials ahead of the “what’s in it for me” copy. Putting the “we” ahead of the “you.”
I cringe when I see Web copy, emails or any other marketing materials opening with the word “we.” Prospects don’t care about the company behind the product or offer until they are in a purchase evaluation stage. In lead generation it’s OK to mention who the company is and include a brief statement of its expertise or focus, but that copy should appear after the offer and call to action have been made clear.

5. Using long, complex words and language thinking it makes the company appear sophisticated.
I addressed this issue in a previous blog and included the following paragraph that was shared on a blog by Peter Helmer. Basically, his advice is “Don’t write like this” and he’s right. “We provide CMOs with best-of-breed, next-generation, scalable solutions that optimize revenue and enhance customer value. We act as a change agent empowering a paradigm shift using a value-added synergistic approach that enables clients to take a deep dive.”

6. Promoting features, not benefits.
Working recently with a client on integrating direct mail best practices into a mailer, this discussion came up. For B2B marketers who want to educate product managers on this issue, here’s the classic example using a portable dishwasher.

Spec:        Measures 12″ x 12″
Feature:     Small size
Benefit:     Fits anywhere

7. Using the same messaging regardless of the title or industry of the individual target.
Emails, Web site pages dedicated to specific titles or industries, or direct mailers segmented by title or industry — with copy focusing on those targets — consistently performs better than using a single generic message for everyone.

8. Saying too much.
When B2B marketers are offering a white paper download via an outbound marketing message, they should sell “what you’ll learn” and “what the content will help the reader do or understand” put in the call to action, then shut up. Many marketers I’ve worked with feel the need to go on and on about all of the elements connected to that issue. Determine if the information is really necessary to get a response. If not, leave it out.

9. Being dull.
Clients who present what they have to offer in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact manner are typically afraid that any other tone sounds too promotional. But if the messaging does not show any excitement or energy about the content or product being offered, how can the reader get excited about it?

10. Putting cute ahead of communication.
Being clever — getting prospects to smile when they read a B2B marketing communication — is not bad. Unfortunately, many times the move to be clever overpowers the communication. B2B marketers should be very sure to keep the tie-in to the theme or visual in marketing to a minimum so as not to overpower the purpose of the message.

Great B2B marketing ideas you may have missed.

The rising number of visitors to this blog is not only good for my ego, but also indicates that more and more B2B marketers out there are interested in knowing about and following B2B marketing best practices.

It occurred to me, that with many readers taking the day off to celebrate the great day of our nation’s independence, it might be time to remember this blog’s great history. It seems a perfect time to expose some of the more popular earlier posts to new visitors who may have missed them.

So below are links to five of my earlier posts that remain the most popular on this site. Note that getting “B2B marketing ideas” does seem to be a theme.

Three Great B2B Marketing Ideas I Read in (OMG) Print Media.

  • One over-the-top creative idea that was a big hit
  • Ideas for writing more powerful B2B marketing email subject lines
  • Report on the goals driving IT decision-makers and how they affect B2B marketing copy

Two simple B2B marketing ideas I wish I’d thought of.

  • Making it easy and inviting for prospects to access and share business/product information
  • Adding a powerful Web page that boosts communication and SEO

Five B2B marketing ideas you can implement (almost) instantly.

  • Boost content downloads
  • Increase landing page performance
  • Lighten the burden of creating nurturing content
  • Get a longer life out of email and direct mail content offers
  • Get better results by using the word FREE in subject lines and emails

The two biggest B2B marketing campaign essentials.

  • Targeting
  • Tracking

Bad thoughts that block B2B marketing success.

  • I’m reaching everyone I need to reach with email
  • Social media is the only way to go today
  • We tried that and it didn’t work

I wish all marketers out there a happy and safe Independence Day observance full of fun and festivities, and many years of successful B2B marketing using today’s best practices.

B2B marketing SEO meets the keyword monster.

Back in the old days (like childhood), being found was not a good thing. It involved the game of “Hide and Seek” and required finding imaginative hiding places that would confound your fellow gamers. Today, the game has turned into “Find Me, Find Me, Pleeeeease” or Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s a lot harder to play and not nearly as much fun — until you get found, that is.

I was optimistic the day I hired a team of pros to build and maintain SEO for my company Website. Their first step was to research the top search terms for my type of B2B marketing service business. When they sent me the list they had found, my response was “yikes.” It wasn’t anything like the keyword ideas I had sent them initially.

Who knew that people could conduct strange searches, use such off-the-wall wording, or have completely forgetton how to spell?

So how can a B2B marketing team put these strange, convoluted keyword phrases into the language on their Website copy without looking uneducated or downright sloppy?

Add connective words
Fortunately, it’s my understanding that Google and other search platforms ignore small words. So adding the words “in”, “to” or “the” inside a search term should not diminish its effectiveness and can turn an awkward phrase into something that can be placed comfortably into a sentence.

For example, a search term such as “sales training San Diego” can be more easily placed in a sentence by changing it to “sales training in San Diego.”

Hiding awkward SEO phrases.
Awkward phrases may be just fine for searching but they’re a bit of a nightmare in marketing messaging if the company wants to appear to have any brains. Sometimes, however, awkward SEO phrases can be bunched together in a less prominent paragraph and not appear to be quite so out of place:

“Whether you’re looking for donations direct mail political, a direct mail sample political campaign, political direct mail portfolio samples, donations direct mail political, or campaigns direct mail political — ABC agency has the experience and success you can count on.”

If a B2B marketer’s business includes keywords that are commonly misspelled and generate traffic, it’s important to include those in the site text as well. Fortunately, Google helps reduce the number of searches using misspellings with their familiar “Did you mean ______” generator. However, this does not correct 100% of the searches.

Many companies add “footnotes” or blocks of copy under the call to action on a Web page that incorporate misspelled words. They can first be presented spelled as the searcher might spell it, then correctly in parentheses afterwards as in this example:

“ABC Company is your best resource for interim buisness (business) managers . . .”

Maximizing SEO positioning does require longer copy on a page. But if the main points are highlighted in subtitles and communicated early in the copy, B2B marketers can help deliver effective communication and successful SEO.

B2B marketing shalt not speak in strange tongues.

It’s always nice to read someone else’s very solid argument in favor of some B2B marketing position I advocate. I had this experience last week when reading the words of Peter Helmer on the MENG Blend blog. His post “For an Effective Elevator Speech, Obey the Ten Commandments” discussed one of my favorite topics — words.

He starts out with one of the most classic examples of poor B2B marketing-speak I’ve ever read.

“We provide CMOs with best-of-breed, next-generation, scalable solutions that optimize revenue and enhance customer value. We act as a change agent empowering a paradigm shift using a value added synergistic approach that enables clients to take a deep dive.”

You’ll want to read his post as it provides great guidance for creating an elevator pitch and positioning a sales message. What I really connected with, however, was Commandment #8, which reads:

8. Thou Shalt Not Speak in Strange Tongues

Don’t talk in Consultant Speak. Use plain English. Avoid terms like “scalable”, “best-of-breed,” “next generation” and the like. These are meaningless buzz words. Smart, successful people don’t need to describe their work in highfalutin language. Your listeners won’t be impressed. They’ll think you’re showing off. That’s a sure-fire way NOT to get referrals.

Early in my writing career I was taught this instruction I still follow today. “Write to the lowest common denominator.” That is, write B2B marketing copy to fit the person with the least knowledge about your topic. The criterion I was taught to use was to write to someone with a junior-high school education level. I believe that is the level targeted by the Wall Street Journal. This writing approach will not insult highly educated readers. It will simply make a B2B marketing message something that communicates effectively and is easy and comfortable to read.

Here, for example, are some plain and simple substitutions for these highfalutin words:

  • Scalable — grows as your business grows
  • Best of breed — unmatched, market leader
  • Next generation — new, advanced
  • Optimize — improve the efficiency of, make more productive
  • Synergistic — works together, creates a team setting

B2B marketers should scan their Web sites, brochures, emails, data sheets and other materials for these words and find easier ways to communicate the points being made. The fact is, simple, straightforward language is the basis of successful communication.

Don’t let your developers grow up to be marketers.

A long conversation on the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) this week reminded me of an old country song that became a number-one hit recorded by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Written by Patsy Bruce, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” tells of how cowboys never stay home and are always alone. This may or may not describe what it’s like to be a marketer today, but the conversation resulted in a very clear demonstration on why it’s critical to keep technical product experts out of the marketing arena.

The conversation began when an executive in a B2B start-up software company turned to the individuals who developed the product to create its Web site. Once complete, he went onto MENG and requested that other MENG members take a look at the site and answer these questions:

  1. What does the company do?
  2. What is the target market?
  3. What are the unique benefits it provides?
  4. Why should I believe that it does this better than a competitor?

The very few truly technical members reviewed multiple pages and were able to answer the questions. The rest of us couldn’t even answer the simple question of what the company does. We reviewed the entire Web site and still did not know what the software did, who would use it, or why.

The final comment by the exec that began the conversation was, “I have to say that I was overwhelmed by the quality of the replies. I gave up rating the quality since all were valuable and helpful. While they were each individual, I did see a clear pattern, with which I agree. Now we see why it is a bad idea to allow the technical people to design and implement a company’s website however good they are at writing code!”

Why shouldn’t people who know the product best write the Web site or help with marketing? It’s not the job of marketing to use the product. It’s the job of marketing to translate the features of the product into user benefits. We don’t need to know how a feature does something automatically — just that it is automatic and that it will save the user time, or money, or effort, or reduce risk, or a number of other benefits.

Marketing should always talk to those who know nothing about the product or service and are just looking to solve a problem. It’s rare to find a developer who can turn the complex into simple, straightforward, benefit-oriented messaging that’s critical to effective marketing.

So, B2B executives, don’t let your developers grow up to be marketers. It may not keep them from being lonely, but it gives your Web site a chance to be productive.

Two B2B marketing rules that cross all forms of communication.

After back-and-forth email discussion with a client today about subject lines on a particular email, I got to thinking about how what I was saying applied to all types of B2B communications.

The fact is, we want to be effective communicators whether the platform is an email, letter, PowerPoint presentation, Website, post card, brochure or who knows what else. If B2B marketers forget all the other rules and best practices of communication, they must remember these two as the basics of getting their messages read. They are simple to remember — but can make a powerful difference.

1. Keep it short.
People are multitasking. They may be reviewing their emails while on a conference call. Schedules are often booked solid all day long. Often they don’t have time to do more than take a quick eye scan of the communication.

B2B marketers are not usually in the same room with the reader when the messaging is being read. They aren’t there to see the person yawning, looking at their watch or not giving the message any more than a glance. The trick to keeping it short is to write the communication. Then let it sit overnight. Then review it the next day and remove every word and sentence that is not critical to its purpose.

Don’t go on and on about product details in a communication inviting attendees to a Webinar demo. Don’t give away all the details of a case study you’re asking prospects to download.

2. Forget your big vocabulary.
B2B marketing communication is always more effective when it uses simple, direct language. The easier it is to read by anyone, the better. Some assert that one should use formal language when talking to, say, academics. However, everyone, regardless of education level, prefers simple, straightforward language. This is especially true when learning about products or services they might want to use. Clearer, more basic language also helps keep the communication short.

This isn’t new advice. In fact it’s been said over and over and over again by me and others. What’s disappointing is how often I still see these rules broken. B2B marketers have a better chance of standing out from their competition in this crowded marketplace by just following these two simple rules.

B2B marketing tip: Targeting prospects on your Web site

All smart marketers agree that reaching the right people with their B2B marketing message and content offer makes the biggest difference in the success of marketing efforts. Sending the wrong message to the right market, or the right message to the wrong market, is a complete waste of money.

That’s why automated lead nurturing is such a rapidly growing B2B marketing approach. By automatically emailing a new offer to a lead/prospect — based on the action that person has last taken — boosts the targeting and gives marketers a better chance of sending the right message and content offer to the right person.

Web sites are different. Although B2B marketers use multiple channel options (SEO, SEM, email, social media, direct mail, banners) to generate Web site visits, they do not have control over who gets their messages.

If a company’s targets come from multiple industries, multiple departments, or multiple titles, who should the messaging on their Web site speak to?

If the decision maker is the CFO, should the focus of the introductory message be on cost, ROI, and the bottom line? What if the product is actually a sales or CRM tool? It’s then recommended by the sales manager, but the CFO has to make the decision due to cost. Wait a minute. If IT has to install and manage the tool, IT needs to have a big say in the decision.

So now the B2B marketer is back to the Web site. Who the heck should it talk to?

Most companies serving multiple industries do a good job of providing navigation to information for each industry. But it’s surprising how few provide specific navigation by individual target or title.

In 2007 I wrote copy for the Web site of a company selling inventory management software to healthcare facilities. The home page navigation included navigation by department, which is, in essence, navigation by the needs of the titles in that department. Under “Advantages” it included:

  • Compliance Benefits
  • Financial Benefits
  •  Inventory Benefits
  • IT Benefits
  • Process Benefits
  • Quality Control Benefits
  • Nurse/Patient Benefits

Each target has different goals and motivations. Each item can link to a page dedicated to the specific benefits the product or service brings to that title or department.

The more a Web site can reach out to the individual needs of decision makers and influencers, the better chance it has of engaging its prospective buyers. Navigation by title or department is a simple, but effective addition that makes Web site messaging more targeted and more effective.