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B2B marketing’s one-stop manual of content best practices.

Recognizing the critical importance of content in B2B marketing, a colleague of mine, Paul Mosenson, is tapping the knowledge and expertise of a number of marketing communication strategists to help support his NuSpark Marketing venture. He’s started a group on LinkedIn, “B2B Lead Generation & Content Marketing,” and has gathered together a collection of top blog posts from his team.

It’s a privilege for me to be part of this impressive group of marketers. But it’s also good luck for the B2B marketers reading this post. Because Paul has put together a collection of these top posts into an eBook that makes a top-notch reference guide to best practices for all aspects of using content in lead generation, nurturing and moving prospects through the buy cycle. This collection includes 20 excellent posts (two of which are mine) on every angle of content planning and preparation you can imagine. Here are the titles of what’s included:

  • How Good Content Can Grow Your Business
  • 5 Rock-Bottom Rules for Effective B2B Marketing Content Offers
  • How to Boost Content Downloads
  • A Matter of Trust
  • Message Maps – Easier Content Creation
  • 9 Steps to Continuous Content Improvement
  • Interruption Marketing; Billy May Exposed
  • 20/20 Insight/Content Strategy
  • Creating Value and Trust
  • Military Intelligence (re: effectively reaching outside of marketing)
  • 3 Easy Steps to a True Value Proposition
  • 2 Key Ingredients to Social Media Content
  • Content Marketing for Your Brand
  • Using Customer Stories to Nurture Leads
  • White Papers for Lead Generation
  • Using Email to Promote Your Content
  • Matching Content to Buyer Personas
  • Feeling Stumped when Creating Content?
  • Is Your Content Having an Identity Crisis?
  • Content, SEO, and Landing Pages

This book is for B2B marketers generating leads, nurturing leads, boosting the company’s brand recognition, delving into social media, improving the Web site, or other tasks. It takes them through the all-important steps that need to be completed before creating one word of content, then through how to make sure that the content resonates with their audience.

What’s missing from your B2B marketing strategy?

Not long ago every invitation I received to every Webinar and marketing event focused on social media. Now the hot topic seems to be mobile marketing. These are just two new channels that expand the options in the world of integrated B2B marketing. They have become part of the fundamentals that successful B2B businesses must implement.

The sad part is that many B2B marketers haven’t yet incorporated some of the basics that have been — and continue to be — necessary for a successful marketing outcome.

Bob Apollo, writing a guest post for My Venture Pad, alerted me to the “B2B Marketing Manifesto” created by Velocity Partners in the UK.

He points out what we all know — B2B buyers have more options than ever before for finding solutions to their business challenges. Because of that, it’s more essential than ever to follow these fundamentals outlined by Velocity Partners.

  • Content Marketing: converting your insight into campaigns that change people’s minds
  • Analytics: measuring everything that moves in your marketing (and the stuff that doesn’t)
  • A/B Testing: backing your hunches with real-life data — and responding accordingly
  • Lead Nurturing: cultivating your prospects until they are ready to take the next step in their buying journey with you
  • Search: getting found using the terms your prospects use when they go looking for answers
  • Community: hanging out (and contributing) in the places where your prospects go for trusted advice

Although many of today’s B2B marketers are using content, it’s surprising how many are not and are simply just trying to sell product. These days, only companies with no competition can afford to do that. In regards to analytics, online click-thrus may be counted, but how many B2B marketers are tracking the lead and lead source all the way to a sale? How many are tracking cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale, both critical marketing measurement tools.

Now is the time to be planning for 2012. When marketers are putting together their plan for the next year, they should build it around these six key essentials.

Help your B2B marketing prospects get the message.

My colleague and white paper writer extraordinaire Jonathan Kantor, the White Paper Pundit, is now sending out a newsletter called “Short Attention Span Marketing Tips.” His September issue makes it very clear why he picked the name. I suggest that all B2B marketers take note. He explains,

“In today’s ‘sound-bite’ world, it’s getting harder to pay attention:

  • We don’t read articles — we scan headlines and sub-heads.We prefer short SMS text messages to email.
  • Social media platform Twitter is based on messages of 140 characters or less.
  • The ‘3-second rule’ — the amount of time a web surfer will spend on a page — is a key factor in website design.
  • Television news — the industry that invented the sound-bite — has succeeded in reducing a complex news story to a few seconds.”

He’s right and this reiterates why it’s so important to follow these B2B marketing copywriting and design rules:

  1. Make your message scannable. Put the heart of the message in the headline, the subheads, bullet points and the call to action. If the reader is grabbed, then and only then will he or she read the body copy.
  2. Make your headlines strong benefit statements or promises of a benefit. That is, don’t make them information such as “Sarbanes-Oxley Compliant” but deliver a benefit such as “Stay compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley — effortlessly.”
  3. Make your headlines and subheads action statements. Write using words like Save, Get, Win, Start, Learn, Discover and dozens of other words that get your readers involved with your message.
  4. Keep emails under 250 words and keep lead generation letters to one page. I’ve worked with a client who had many lawyers involved in the marketing process and insisted that every possible caveat be included in every message. This approach diminishes the effectiveness of every marketing communication.

Think bullets. Think short paragraphs. Think reader benefits. B2B marketing must be inviting and informative even when it isn’t read word for word.

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company.”

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.”

How intuitive is B2B direct marketing?

Merriam-Webster defines intuitive as “directly apprehended.” I think most would agree that, if direct marketing is intuitive, then most people can naturally know how to do it and do it right based on their own experiences.

If direct marketing is intuitive, it would mean that an executive could make a marketing decision based on his or her own experiences and attitudes. “Because I don’t read marketing materials that come to my desk at the office, direct mail marketing is not worth doing.”

If direct marketing is intuitive, a product manager would make sure that the marketing messages sent out to generate leads would talk about the many features of the product being sold. That’s because anyone wanting those features will surely read the message and want to learn more about the product right away.

If direct marketing is intuitive, a B2B marketer who monitors Twitter, Facebook, industry blogs and his company’s SEO ranking would conclude that it’s the only way today’s buyers want to get their information.

The fact is, B2B direct marketing is almost totally counter-intuitive. This has been proven thousands of times by marketers conducting true A/B split testing of marketing channels, offers and messaging.

For example, which of the following offers would work best?

  • Buy one get one free
  • Two for the price of one
  • 50% off

Every one of these offers is exactly the same, so intuition would tell marketers that neither one would work better than the other. In real life, “Buy one get one free” typically outperforms the other two by a significant margin every time it’s tested.

Recently the wonderful Which Test Won service reported on this subject line test that was sent out with an email to a double, opt-in house file.

A. [First Name] Test, track, increase your profit – start today!
B. [First Name] Start tracking and optimizing your business today!

These subject lines say practically the same thing, so is this even worth testing? It turns out that 67% who took a guess on the winning line picked line A. Yet line B was not only the best performing subject line, but it generated an 88% lift in open rate.

It’s very clear that using one’s intuition to make any B2B marketing decision is not a reliable way to achieve marketing success. Smart marketers test, they don’t guess. It’s the only way to go.

Four B2B best practices for late buy-cycle marketing

Virtually all of today’s B2B marketing advice involves the benchmarks, best practices and how-tos for demand generation, nurturing, social media and content. These four topics are all vital parts of the process of making a B2B sale.

But there comes a point when B2B marketers have to directly sell the features and benefits of their product or service. This is when a qualified buyer is nearing the end of the buy cycle and is evaluating his or her purchase options.

This is when the content and the offers aren’t designed to woo or nurture but must “sell.” This stage has its own best practices and how-tos that B2B marketers need to know.

Knowing I was going to cover this topic today, I did searches to see what others are saying about it. Strangely enough, I could find little coverage on the topic. Most of the results ended up talking about the same general practices one would use in the earlier stages of the prospect relationship.

Because of this, I pulled from my own experiences and those of my colleagues to provide these four best practices for B2B late-stage marketing:

1. Focus: Collateral materials, Web sites and outbound marketing messages should still focus on the product benefits, but directly support every one with a feature or group of features.

2. Tone: Research (I learned this at a seminar years ago) shows that the greater the promise, the greater the level of satisfaction on the part of buyers. The rule: don’t lie, but feel free to maximize the promise of what a product or service can deliver.

3. Content: We all know that the B2B environment has changed. Once buyers feel the pain of a business challenge, they initiate their own research, look deeper into solutions and look longer before being willing to talk to sales — hence the lengthening of buy cycles. Therefore, it’s critical that B2B Web sites and outbound marketing materials contain product content that is far more in-depth than brochures or product briefs. Content should include self-selected Web site tools and information such as ROI calculators, detailed demos, third-party product comparisons, total cost of ownership (TOC) numbers, implementation time-frames, etc. It’s also in the late buy cycle that prospective buyers care most about your current customers. Videos of customers telling their own stories make for strong late buy-cycle content.

4. Incentives: Make a deep buy-cycle offer tied to a deadline. This is necessary to create urgency and overcome buyer inertia. Offers can include such things as discounts; added services, support or training; an upgrade at the same price; extra free months on a subscription purchase; extra seats; etc. Many companies prefer not to discount their products, as that approach can diminish the perceived value of the product. Offering added services, extended contracts and other non-product discounts are strong incentives.

Demand generation, lead nurturing and late buy-cycle marketing/sales efforts are all equally important in this customer-controlled marketing world. B2B marketers must create messaging and content to do them all.

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.

When B2B Marketing should apply the rule of IDM.

In today’s B2B marketing world a large number of blogs, LinkedIn commentary, Webinars and the like focus on all the changes in marketing. In fact, the header on G. David Dodd’s Marketing Directions blog is positioned on following the changes. His header reads, “The rules of B2B marketing are constantly changing. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. . .or tomorrow. This blog presents information, opinion, and speculation about where B2B marketing is headed.”

Unfortunately, there is one constant in the B2B marketing world in which I travel — and that’s “delay.” Web sites that could be redone in eight weeks suffer a six-month process of redesign. Marketing messages get reviewed and re-reviewed and reviewed again. One client got so backed up that they were months behind in sending out nurturing emails to prospects.

Many delays are impossible to avoid due to workloads and priorities. B2B marketing, however, should be a top priority. Generating leads, nurturing leads, upselling and cross-selling customers, maintaining customer loyalty — all those efforts are critical to company sales, growth, and success.

What can marketers do to minimize delays? Learn when to apply the rule of “IDM.”

“IDM,” of course, is “it don’t matter.” Many B2B marketing projects are held up by players messing with elements that, frankly, make little or no difference in response or results.

Ken Flowers, in his Practical Leadership blog, says it best when he updates Voltaire’s quote: “perfect is the enemy of good.” In Flower’s version, “Perfect is the Enemy of Done.” He goes on to point out that this quote comes in handy too often as people are reminded that there’s no value in perfect work until it is delivered.

A B2B marketer’s biggest job is knowing which marketing elements are critical to increasing response and which are IDMs. For example:

  • Copy and buttons on landing pages and emails matter. (Ann Holland points this out on her “Which Test Won” site where she reports results of real-world testing of emails and landing pages.)
  • Clear, prominent calls to action matter.
  • Subject lines matter. (Testing subject lines is critical.)
  • Home pages matter.
  • Language clarity matters.
  • Message targeting and personalization matter.
  • Titles of content offers matter.

There’s much more. This entire blog is focused on covering the marketing stuff that matters.

When delays happen, B2B marketers should look at the element delaying the project and determine if it’s critical or if it’s an IDM. Then they should know whether to make the change or to move on.

Today’s 3 Biggest B2B Marketing Success Barriers are Human: Part II

When I vented last October about various managers in B2B companies sticking their noses into areas of marketing that are not their concern, responsibility, or expertise, I thought I’d said it all. Of course, after they read my post on “Today’s 3 Biggest B2B Marketing Success Barriers are Human,” these executives would certainly learn their place and get out of marketing’s way.

I was wrong. In fact, the problem may be getting worse. When reading Amy Africa’s QLog today I was reminded of the reason this interference continues.

Amy’s post “Stalin Is My Soulmate,” about trying make sense out of Web analytics, answered an inquiry from a person in a company that had just spent $80k on a Web analytics consultant only to end up more confused than before. The result being that management has issued an edict stopping an important marketing and sales-related activity.

The entire reason for humans being such a barrier is that it’s virtually impossible for us to be objective and open-minded. We bring our personal experiences to every opinion we have and every decision we make.

Anyone in any position, in any company is likely to experience these barriers. I find it to be especially prevalent in B2B marketing, as the three following real-life situations illustrate. Fortunately, there is a strong argument to overcome each.

1. CFO: “It’s cheaper to bring all marketing creative services and production management in-house.”

Mind-opening Argument:

a. Employees must be hired and paid their salary and benefits regardless of the workload. Costs cannot adjust as the workload goes up or down.
b. If employees don’t work out, there is a huge interruption in marketing efforts while the company goes through the lengthy firing and hiring process.
c. Outside service providers (agencies, freelancers, media buyers) must be proactive and do a great job or they will lose the business. They are more driven to keep up with the latest technology and opportunities than in-house personnel. This drive makes a positive impact on B2B marketing results.

2. Product/sales manager: “It’s a waste of time to offer content that doesn’t sell the product directly.”

Mind-opening Argument:

Content containing product details will resonate with the individuals who are already looking for a solution to the problem our product solves. But it will miss gaining the attention of those prospective buyers who are just realizing they have the problem, but may not be ready to actively search for a solution. By getting those early buy-cycle prospects into our database now, we gain a huge advantage by building a relationship with them before they begin their solution search. Only educational content will appeal to both groups of prospects.

3. VP of sales and marketing: “It’s a waste of money reaching out to new markets. All our customers are ABC providers.”

Mind-opening Argument:

All of our current customers are “ABC providers” because that’s the only vertical we’ve ever marketed to. Until we test the waters of directing our marketing to other verticals we won’t know whether those are valid opportunities. Opening new markets is a fast path to growth and revenue.

It’s sad that we B2B marketers must expend so much of our energy fighting these battles. But we must all keep trying, as pulling down these barriers is the key to following best practices and having real impact on the company’s bottom line.

The 3 most important rules in B2B marketing copy.

Being recognized by Gartner on one of their Magic Quadrants is the dream of most technology firms today. However, if a B2B marketer sees his or her favorite marketing copy phrase on the “Richards’ Quadrant,” they should run and hide.

In “A War of Enlightenment Against Marketing Jargon,” Hunter Richards, Accounting Market Analyst and blogger for Software Advice, has put a few meaningless and overused marketing phrases on a Gartner-like quadrant that clearly categorizes the jargon many B2B marketers are inclined to use.

Regardless of the education-level of one’s audience, effective marketing communication requires the use of clear, common words that everyone easily understands. As Richards’ chart demonstrates, big words, lingo, jargon or complex phrasing represses meaning.

The key to good written communication (in marketing and even in business emails or letters) is to always speak to the lowest common denominator. If there is any chance that a message might be read by someone at a prospect company who does not know what TOC is, then it’s safer to spell the words out the first time the phrase appears in the copy. That also goes for ROI, SFA, CRM, ERP and dozens of other B2B acronyms. Reading B2B marketing messages should be easy, not hard work.

B2B marketers should not write much differently than they would speak if sitting across the desk from a prospect.

Here are some rough ideas on how complex phrasing that diminishes communication could be replaced with plain, basic English:

Don’t Say: Optimize workflow.
Say:  Get more done faster.

Don’t Say: Enable productive people and processes.
Say: Give your teams the tools to do more with less effort.

Don’t Say:  Enhance insight and decision making.
Say: Get the information you need to make profitable decisions.

As a B2B copywriter, I’ve never gone as far as to use the word optimize (unless it was part of a client’s tag line). But observers may see a random “seamless” or “robust” in some of my copy in the past. That’s why Richards’ chart is so valuable. We all need to keep reminding ourselves that our job as B2B marketers is to get the message across, not to show off.

Remember, the three most important rules in B2B marketing copy are: communicate, communicate, communicate.