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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.

Steps #2-6 in creating ideal B2B lead generation copy.

My previous post covered the first and most important step in any B2B marketing copy for successful outbound B2B lead generation. That first step is the most important as it must contain the information necessary to make a connection with the prospect.

Once the B2B lead generation opening statement “gets the prospect” or “hooks them in,” there are ???????????????????six more copy steps necessary for moving that prospect to action — that is, generating a response.

Here are the remaining steps in order:

Step #2 — Make the B2B marketing offer, then immediately make the first call to action.
The reader is busy and needs to absorb the message in seconds. If the opening line says, “This message is for you,” then the next should present the content offer and the call to action. If the prospect does not read another line, the entire message has been communicated.

Step #3 — Expand on the benefit of responding to the content offer.
The next section is necessary for the prospects who want to know more before responding. This is the place to put a very brief or bulleted list of what they will learn from reading this valuable FREE information, attending this Webinar, accepting this private demo, etc.

The content of this section is often exactly what the product being sold can deliver. But, by not mentioning the product by name, the message does not come off as a sales pitch. If people think they are being “sold” and not “informed,” response rates will drop.

Step #4 — Repeat the call to action and then add a plug, if applicable.
If the information being offered is a published book or a report by an independent third party, that should be mentioned the first time the offer is made. However, if the information is compiled by the B2B marketing company, this is where that company can take a very brief bow. This might be, “This infographic has been compiled by XYZ Company, a leader in ….”

Step #5 — Close the communication.
Traditionally, in direct mail, the close would include a statement of what the prospect would lose by not responding. In the case of offering free information, what is lost is the opportunity to learn what the information covers. The purpose of the campaign is to get the prospect to request the offer. So the close should repeat the call to action and the main benefit.

Step #6 — Always add a P.S.
Since the opening line and the P.S. remain the most-read sections of personal communications, a P.S. should contain the offer or a secondary incentive to respond. Busy B2B prospects need to get the entire message as quickly as possible. Using this tactic in the P.S. helps accomplish that.

Keep B2B marketing copy simple; keep it short
Whatever is written, the message should eliminate any need for the prospect to have to think. Outbound B2B marketing should never make the prospect think — just react and act on what is being offered.

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.

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.

B2B marketers should watch their words.

In “The History Boys,” one of my favorite movies, author Alan Bennett has his English teacher character state, “I didn’t want to turn out boys who would claim in later life to have a deep love of literature or who would talk in their middle age of the lure of language and their love of words.”

Yet, that’s how I am. I love words. Used well, words not only communicate information but express the emotion behind the information.

In B2B marketing communication, the design of Web sites, emails, brochures, ads, and letters do contribute to how a company is seen and recognized. But it’s the words and the copy messaging that cause prospects to act on what a B2B marketer is offering.

That’s why B2B marketers should care about the words they use and, unfortunately, many do not understand how important those words can be.

They may think that using big words makes their company appear to have a higher intelligence and sophistication. They write based on the knowledge that a powerful vocabulary connotes success. Actually, in B2B marketing, it’s just the opposite. Big words and long sentences reduce the effectiveness of human-to-human communication.

Using simple language and avoiding bigger, more complex wording and long complex sentences maximizes the readability of B2B marketing messages. For example, here are introductory paragraphs from two B2B Web sites that do not communicate in a direct and clear manner (sites shall remain unnamed to protect the guilty).

“Our extensive business and subject-matter expertise and technical acumen enables us to identify and apply best practices to resolve issues and optimize opportunities. We consult and collaborate with our clients to deliver products and solutions that are highly specialized, practical, realistic and feasible.”

“. . .  aims to provide marketing services to targeted business environments in Indonesia, Asia, and the west Pacific region. This plan seeks to generate a significant increase in company sales and profits from the delivery of retainer consulting, project consulting, market research and industrial analysis, feasibility studies, and strategic analysis and reporting services, compared to the preceding year. “

Fortunately, B2B marketers don’t have to wonder about the readability of their Web sites or other marketing communications.

JuicyStudio provides an excellent lesson on readability measurement and actually shows that even the Wall Street Journal is written for the reading level of a high school junior. B2B marketers can use this site to enter their URL and get their site scored immediately for readability. I discovered that my Web site (The Copy Works) is readable by someone with a 7.7 grade education.

The Juicy Studio page even shares how to calculate the Gunning-Fog Index of B2B marketing copy (or any writing) to determine a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. In addition, in the spelling feature of Microsoft Word, B2B marketers can select an option to see the Flesch-Kincaid grade level readability measurement along with the spelling.

The lesson here is for B2B marketers to not make their prospects and customers work to get their message. They should use visuals to show their image and success. Let the words stay simple so readers can get the message without effort — and then act on it.

B2B Marketing Tip of the Day: Stop asking questions.

All great sales people will tell you that asking the right questions is one of the most important elements in qualifying and pitching prospective customers.

  • Never ask, “Would you like to have a personal demonstration of the product?”
  • Instead, ask, “When would be the best time for you to get a personal demonstration of the product?”

The rule is to never ask questions that can be answered with the word “no.”

Unfortunately, many B2B marketers are unaware of this rule. Worse, I regularly see email or direct mail messages opening with a yes/no question, a practice that basically puts an end to the conversation before it even begins. Here is a classic example:

  • Have you ever wondered how else you could sell, buy or market your products and services?

Rather than possibly generate a “no” answer, this opening sentence can easily be turned from a question into the promise of a benefit with something like:

  • Finding ways to boost revenue and profits for your business is always a challenge. Many leading businesses today have met this challenge by discovering a new way to sell, buy or market their products and services.

Today’s tip for B2B marketers: Learn from great sales people. Never ask a question in marketing messages that can be answered by “no.” To be safe, stop asking questions.