Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

“Stop Selling Ships. Start Selling Destinations.” Reflections on Content Marketing

“Stop selling ships.  Start selling destinations”

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?   But what does it mean?  I pulled this quote from a B2B Marketing Forum which I attended two weeks ago in Boston, sponsored by Marketing Profs. It was, in essence, the overall theme of the conference – offer value beyond product.    Across every industry, B2B Marketers are discovering new ways to capture and engage their audience.

For today,  I will focus on the  hottest topic at this year’s conference:  Content Marketing.  The message was loud and clear — B2B Marketing organizations everywhere are shifting from traditional “push marketing” tactics to telling stories that matter to their customers.

So what “is” Content Marketing, anyway?

“Content marketing is the art of understanding exactly what your customers need to know and delivering it to them in a relevant and compelling way to grow your business.”  – Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Again, sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?  Just like you might be doing, I asked myself:  “What does this actually mean, what’s in it for us (in the healthcare marketing space) and how can we make it happen”? I thought a lot about this, read articles, blog posts, talked to colleagues – and went to conferences.  Now, I’d like to share with you some highlights of Content Marketing that resonated with me:

What keeps your customers up at night?

This is all about identifying your customer’s pain points.  Every great content story starts with having an intricate understanding of customer segments, and tailoring messages accordingly.  Make it relevant – help them solve a problem and create great content around it.  Then, make the content easy to find for your audience.

Think of the customer’s journey toward selecting a vendor

Consider the pathway your customers take toward purchasing decisions.  Are they researching online or relying on their peers?   It’s about gaining a deeper understanding of how your customers research potential vendors / suppliers and what information they require at each stage of their process.

What questions will they have along the journey?

While a customer is researching your business and consuming your content, they will inevitably have questions along the way.  How can we anticipate their questions and concerns, and provide answers to those questions at the right time and in the right way? It goes back to knowing what your customers care about – and facilitating ongoing collaboration.

This includes talking to customer service, talking to sales representative – all key stakeholders – and identifying those key customer questions and documenting them.

Answer those questions with … (wait for it)….CONTENT!

At the end of the day it’s about answering our customer’s questions with valuable, relevant information.  Information that helps them solve a problem, makes their jobs easier or helps them make an informed decision.   The following quote says it best:

“It’s About Telling Stories That Matter.  This is much more than offering product information, but rather it extends into providing best practices, case studies, success stories, thought leadership, and more. Once you have delivered relevant content, you become a trusted resource. Content marketing enables companies to build a level of trust among their customers that makes it easy for those customers to buy. This is easy to say but hard to do because it almost certainly means changing the way you think and act about marketing.”   – Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Very well said.

Content Marketing is really about building trust

While product-specific marketing materials are also important, it is vital to develop content that positions your company as a thought leader and a trusted partner. The trust comes from your ability to bring success to your customers by answering their questions and addressing their pain points.  Sound a little soft?  I get that.  I often have to remind myself that B2B purchase decisions are still emotional ones.  They are still consumers, at the end of the day – looking for a brand they can trust.  Just as we are.

Now that I’ve shared my thoughts on Content Marketing – I’m interested to hear from you.

Do you believe that Content Marketing is the right approach for your business?

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Content Marketing

How Not to Fail At Your Content Marketing Efforts

I have written extensively and shared on LinkedIn and other social networks about the importance of content marketing in B2B marketing.  Of course I am not alone.  A recent survey conducted by MarketingProfs entitled B2B Content Marketing: Trends and Benchmarks for 2012 affirms the rising importance of content marketing for the modern marketer.  One point from the survey bears repeating:

“Among B2B marketers, successful content starts with engaging and compelling storytelling (81.5%), originality (52.6%), and customized content (49.2%), followed by well-edited copy (38.5%) and professional writing (38.3%)”

I would argue that this needs to go one step further — we need to know the why of our content marketing efforts.  This is a critical step that most marketers gloss over. In the rush to keep up with the Jones’ we often overlook the why and go straight to the how (e.g., “our competition has a Facebook page, so we need to be on Facebook now! Instead of what is it that we aim to accomplish and what vehicles will help us achieve those goals?”).  This all boils down to knowing the story you aim to tell and forming a content strategy that communicates your story in a compelling way to your current and future customers.

Strategy First, Content Second

Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute has written and presented on this point extensively. I had the pleasure of attending Joe’s session during the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston last week. During this session there were many tweetable comments but the one that stuck with me was this:

@boyedoe: Define your editorial mission BEFORE you begin creating content. This will bring focus & clarity to your content @juntajoe #mpb2b

His reasoning for this was driven home by his recent post on this topic entitled Why You Need a Content Marketing Mission Statement in which he writes:

Marketing professionals from so many small and large businesses get so fixated on channels such as blogs, Facebook or Pinterest that they honestly have no clue of the underlying content strategy.

We know content is a powerful weapon within the modern marketer’s arsenal, but without a content strategy (e.g., what you want to say, why you want to say it and to whom you want to say it to) your content marketing efforts will often miss the mark. In short, in marketing it’s important to tell your story (Even in B2B); and ensure your content communicates it clearly.

So my question to you is this — what is your content marketing mission statement?

Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing

I came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that discussed the end of solution sales – The End of Solution Sales – Harvard Business Review – which upon initial review had me more than a little concerned. As you well know one of the most important tasks of a B2B marketer is to communicate to customers the benefit of the firm’s offering (the suite of products from various divisions that provide customers with a solution that addresses their needs economically).  Yet, here we have an article from a reputable source saying that way of marketing is on its way out. So I read further to get to their central idea:

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

That sounds familiar; especially considering how much information is now readily available online, the increase in the number of decision makers that play a role in the purchasing process and the increase in the importance of clearly understanding the economic impact of purchases. So what is a solutions marketer to do? Do we go to ground and retreat back into the features-and-benefits marketing model? The simple answer is — no. This means that we have to do these three things really well:

    1. Get out in front an use thought leadership to educate customers about the problems they are aiming to solve
    2. Engage customers earlier in their decision making process so we are in their minds early in the information gathering process
    3. Provide them with timely content in the places that they frequent to learn about products that will ultimately make up solution they need

Long story short, think of it as the heroes journey narrative — the hero has a problem, they go on a quest at the end of which there will be a great battle, along the way they meet people and collect tools that will help them in the final battle, and it all culminates in the final conflict where the hero emerging victorious. Wait, what?! Think of it this way:

1) We use thought leadership to highlight the challenges they face and the perils they will have to overcome to be successful (the story is told from their perspective)

2) We insert ourselves early into their discovery journey by participating on the channels that they frequent during their decision making process (the heroes journey)

3) We syndicate our content to inform them of the tools we provide that will help them in the final battle (the tools they collect on their way)

The final battle of course is when they put out bids to vendors for ‘solutions’ and ultimately the negotiation table. If we use these methods the customer will believe they have arrived at the decision on their own through their own research but the reality will be that we were with them all the time. So yes, while the idea of a solution sell at the RFP stage is probably going away, the solution sell is not — it just starts earlier.

How Inbound Marketing Can Keep Solutions Selling Alive [INFOGRAPHIC]

Content Marketing

Infographics and The B2B Marketer – Why Should You Care?

The saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true then what about the increasingly popular infographic?  A quick Google search of the term ‘infographic’ returns over 10 million results. Before we get into how B2B marketers should leverage them, it’s important that we answer 3 questions:

    • What are infographics?
    • Why are infographics so popular?
    • How are infographics important to a B2B marketer?

What Are Infographics?

Infographics (a concatenation of information and graphics) are visual representations of information or data. Sounds pretty simple, so what’s all the fuss?  The power of infographics is in their simplicity.  A well designed infographic reduces a complex topic down to its key elements, incorporates that information into a story and then tells that story in a visually appealing way that can be readily consumed by the target audience — sounds like a good meal to me.

So what, you may by now be wondering, do these  magical pieces of content look like and what stories can they help the B2B marketer? For that look no further than my favorite aggregator site visual.ly where you will find a treasure trove of ideas for infographics. Below is an example from the site of a good patient-focused infographic on bariatric surgery options:

Weight loss Surgery Options

While this particular infographic is wordier than most, what I do like about it is that it is clear about what it aims to convey, is visually appealing, includes clinical data from highly reputable sources and makes an effort to convey a complicated concept in a down to earth way. Now that we’ve established what they are and seen examples, let’s see why infographics are so popular.

Why Are Infographics Popular?

Infographics have quickly risen through the ranks of popular content types.  They have become the darling of B2B marketers in many industries including companies like Eloqua who’s wildly popular infographic The Content Grid V2 has enjoyed upwards of 1,000+ social media shares. There are a number of reasons for the popularity of this medium. The one’s that should resonate most with marketers are how infographics are:

    • Part of the rising category of visual storytelling: sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram continue their meteoric growth because of their ability to share images and video. People are pressed for time, content that provides a shortcut to the point wins.
    • Able to convey a concept quickly: with the amount of information the average person is exposed to on a daily basis, we simply don’t have time to devote to consuming a long message. Therefore, brevity is an essential requirement to have your message heard.
    • Accesible, by making complex concepts easier to convey: if it takes too much concentration to ‘get it’, then most of your audience won’t be reached because they just don’t have the time.

Why Are Infographics Important to a B2B Marketer?

Now that we have established why infographics are popular here is why you, a B2B marketer should care.

    • Easily shared socially: made right, people will share the infographic with their network which will further expand the reach of your message.
    • Provide and opportunity to drive viewers back to your brand: with built in calls to action (e.g., QR codes, links back to your website, etc.) you will drive traffic back to your brand as the reach of your infographic increases.
    • Give you double billing: infographics are usually images that are embedded in blog posts or other web copy.  Because of this your infographic, when combined with solid SEM, will show up in Google’s image searches as well as the normal search results.

So how about it — are you intrigued enough to give infographics as try in your next campaign? If so, here are a few resources that may prove useful as you strike out on your creative journey:

Visual.ly Infographic Library (Inspiration)
Visual.ly Infographic Creation Tool
The Marketer’s Guide to Creating Infographics in PowerPoint

Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing: Does It Apply In Healthcare?

Anyone who follows the healthcare market has read about the impact of healthcare reform and the associated focus on reducing healthcare delivery costs. You’ve also seen the ripple effects of this new focus; as healthcare providers focus on costs they now demand proof that new technologies or “solutions” offered by medical equipment manufacturers provide a measurable improvement in the service they are trying to deliver to the healthcare consumer. Long gone are the days when providers were willing to pay for new products that weren’t clearly differentiated from existing offerings.

Healthcare Providers Are Becoming Savvy Researchers

Healthcare providers are also becoming savvier. They have a better understanding of their purchasing needs. This is due to the proliferation of peer-to-peer forums, group purchasing organizations and information from medical equipment manufacturers. And then there is the internet. Now providers – like consumers in many other industries – have a wide array of online resources at their disposal to research the landscape of products available from a wide array of manufacturers.

In my recent blog post entitled The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing I discussed the impact of B2B customers becoming savvier in gathering information. The title of the post was somewhat disingenuous – the solution sale isn’t dead. Assuming that B2B customers come to the bargaining table with little information? That’s dead.

Inbound Marketing in Healthcare

Today’s B2B customer (including healthcare providers) does their research before engaging with vendors. This puts pressure on medical equipment manufacturers to deliver proof points about their products and services in the venues that purchasers use the research offerings.

If this all sound very familiar it’s because this is the basic tenet of inbound marketing which relies some key steps:

    1. Creating information (content) that answers your prospect’s questions
    2. Syndicating that content such that when prospects search for answers during their consideration process your content gets found.
    3. Continuously creating engaging content that reinforces how your product/solution addresses their needs.
    4. Driving prospects to a solution (yours) or location (your sales rep or website) where they can continue the evaluation process or purchase.

The key, of course, is understanding the questions healthcare providers will have about these products. These questions usually revolve around clinical and economic evidence. Therefore, content will usually take the form of clinical studies, procedural videos, key opinion leader papers, clinical webinars and product specific collateral. Once the right content is ready the next step is ensuring your content is available where your prospects are looking for answers.

For consumers this search typically begins with Google, YouTube, blogs or socially-powered product review sites. Healthcare providers, being consumers as well, initiate their searches in similar locations but also turn to industry specific resources as well. This is where it becomes important that content strategy, search engine optimization, social media and customer marketing teams are closely aligned.

Breaking Down Marketing Silos

In her blog post Why Only Adaptive Marketers Will Survive Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group writes about the impact of different marketing functions acting fiefdoms:

“Real-time insights, optimization, and shared learnings that inform other initiatives (not to mention that inform their own work) are an impossibility in vertically organized, hierarchical organizations. Enterprises must be able to move as quickly as their customers do. This requires bold realignment as well as informed empowerment.”

Her example focuses on combining centers of excellence in strategy, content creation, search engine optimization, syndication, social media and analytics into a combined demand generation function. The benefit of this COE approach is improved execution speed and effectiveness while reducing duplication.

This is not an easy task – nothing worthwhile is – but the benefits are clear. When inbound marketing is done right and executed in sync with a solid content strategy, customers will seek out your solutions because through their research it has risen to the top of the list; often, before they’ve even engaged with you.

Content Marketing, Thought Leadership

How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps: Step 1 – Blog About It

I would like to revisit a previous discussion about TOFU. No not the food that we all love to hate, but rather top of funnel tactics and content and how marketers leverage them to drive awareness and engagement among your target audience. Of course one of the hardest parts about embarking on TOFU activities is creating that content that is compelling to your prospective reader but not self serving. As I’m sure you know by now, TOFU content usually tends to NOT be about your company or your company’s products or services. This content has to be about something of interest to your audience. So what is a marketer to do to attract subscribers to your content when your expertise lies in your intimate knowledge about your products?

A tactic that many B2B marketers have used to tackle this very issue is to first establish thought leadership in an area of interest to your audience. Once your audience begins to view you as an authority in the space, they are more likely to engage with you further through the process of “subscribing”. This is the thought process behind most B2B blogging. Find a subject of interest to the audience, research the topic extensively, create informative content paired with insightful commentary and then post these on a blog that your audience will read and then eventually subscribe to. Kind of like this blog you are reading now.

The nice thing abot blogs is that users are trained by past experiences to know that eventually, you will want to communicate to them about a product or service you provide. Once you have established the relationship, they are fine with that and actually welcome it. The other nice thing about blogs is that they increase your rank on search engines organically, provide easy connections back to your other online properties, and they are trackable.

But don’t just take my word for it. Blogging also falls into Step 1 of the HBR blog post entitled How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/11/how_to_become_a_thought_leader.html):

    1. Create a Robust Online Presence.Not everyone can immediately jump to international prominence (CNN probably won’t book you as a talking head if you’ve never been on local TV). But everyone can start here, with an online beachhead. Blogs are particularly good because they showcase your knowledge — and search engines prize the frequent stream of fresh content. Most blogs are unloved and unread — but yours can be different with a little time and elbow grease. Good content is key, of course, but so is making friends (online and off) with other bloggers to create a virtuous, networked circle.

New to blogging and still unclear as to how it can benefit a B2B marketer? Download the attached eBook on B2B Blogging from HubSpot here: An Introduction To Business Blogging – HubSpot.

Marketing Competencies

The Future of Marketing …

Catchy title right?  So marketing is once again going through a REVOLUTION (seems to happen every couple of years and with the advances in digital that is only accellerating). But all noise and pontificating aside, the practice of Marketing is changing. In her post on May 20, 2012 entitled The Future of Marketing | Social Media Today, Wendy Bryant-Neswick writes about how marketing is changing and the new skills today’s marketers will need.  Her article reminded me of a talk from last year’s Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference given by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan (HubSpot is an inbound marketing software company — more on that another time). In his talk he said marketers have to be DARC …

Brian Halligan’s Take On A Good Marketing Hire | Matt Middlesworth:

Digital – have an expertise in digital channels and technologies
Analytical – have the ability to measure and quantify the results of campaigns and activities (conversion rates, funnel velocity, effort ratios, etc.)
Reach – be able to leverage digital channels (web, inbound, email, digital, social media) to reach current and prospective customers
Content – be content machines; creating assets that help to move customers further along in the sales process (or funnel)

These are new skillsets for many of us but as marketers we need to adapt.  And if you think this only applies to B2C or not to highly regulated industrries (e.g., medical devices), I suggest you take a look at the following examples:

How Johnson & Johnson Uses YouTube to Drive Awareness
B2B Marketing: Reasons to Adopt Social Media Marketing
The Marketing Skills Gap (Eloqua)

Content Marketing

3 Steps to Better Content Marketing

In their June 19, 2012 blog post the Corporate Executive Board addresses the hot topic of content marketing and specifically lays out what they call “3 Steps to Better Content Marketing”. The first question you might ask is, what is content marketing and how is it different?

Simply put, content marketing is the practice of creating and publishing content that is designed to move prospects (or current customers) through the purchasing funnel by delivering timely “content” that answers the questions they invariably have at different stages of their decision making process. Some of these questions we often hear are:

    • What is the problem I’m having and what is it’s impact to me?
    • How can you help me prevent it with your solution?
    • What are the details of your solution?
    • What are my opportunities to see it in action?

You may be thinking, we already make content and launch programs that answer these questions. Indeed, “content marketing” has been around on as long as people have been telling stories about products, but what is new is that it is now a formal discipline with specific research, tools and best practices to support effective execution.

After learning this your next question will likely be — sounds like a significant investment to create all that content, but what is the ROI? While content marketing has a wide range of benefits, one of the most often quoted is the impact on the cost of leads. The chart below — which is an excerpt from the eBook from Eloqua and Kapost which addresses the ROI of content marketing — shows that companies that employ a content marketing strategy see an 80% reduction in the cost/lead. While this figues are impressive the caveat is that they are focused on the B2C space, but emerging evidence shows that B2B implementations show significant cost reductions as well.

ROI of Content Marketing

Ideally, your interest has been peaked and you want to learn more and specifically, what best practices exist? The aforementioned blog post discusses three:

    1. Get your customers’ permission to speak
    2. Lead back to your unique benefits
    3. Integrate content into your other marketing efforts

Specifically on the last point they write:

“When social media was new, many of our members set up teams to focus on Facebook and other social platforms; we found, though, that social must be integrated with the rest of the company’s marketing efforts and coordinated by a Ringmaster (you can read more about our HBR article here).Just like with the advent of social media, most companies are addressing the growth of content marketing by starting a separate content team that doesn’t always report into Marketing. To develop the most effective content marketing, though, companies should take an integrated approach, like they now do with social media.”

If you what to learn more about content marketing best practices and it’s ROI take a look at the blog post which has some good outbound links on the subject and the eBook Content Marketing ROI (eBook By Kapost and Eloqua)

Inbound Marketing

The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing

I came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that discussed the end of solution sales – The End of Solution Sales – Harvard Business Review – which upon initial review had me more than a little concerned. As you well know one of the most important roles of marketing is to communicate to customers the benefit of our solutions yet, here we have an article from a reputable source saying that way of marketing is on its way out. So I read further to get to their central idea:

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

So that sounds familiar; especially considering how much information is now readily available online, the increase in the number of decision makers that play a role in the purchasing process and the increase in the importance of clearly understanding the economic impact of purchases. So what is a solutions marketer to do? Do we go to ground and retreat back into the features-and-benefits marketing model? The simple answer is — no. This means that we have to do these three things really well:

1) Get out in front an use thought leadership to educate customers about the problems they are aiming to solve
2) Engage customers earlier in their decision making process so we are in their minds early in the information gathering process
3) Provide them with timely content in the places that they frequent to learn about products that will ultimately make up solution they need

Long story short, think of it as the heroes journey narrative — the hero has a problem, they go on a quest at the end of which there will be a great battle, along the way they meet people and collect tools that will help them in the final battle, and it all culminates in the final conflict where the hero emerging victorious. What?! Think of it this way:

How Inbound Marketing Can Keep Solutions Selling Alive [INFOGRAPHIC]

1) We use thought leadership to highlight the challenges they face and the perils they will have to overcome to be successful (the story is told from their perspective)
2) We insert ourselves early into their discovery journey by participating on the channels that they frequent during their decision making process (the heroes journey)
3) We syndicate our content to inform them of the tools we provide that will help them in the final battle (the tools they collect on their way)

The final battle of course is when they put out bids to vendors for instrumentation and ultimately the negotiation table. If we use these methods the customer will believe they have arrived at the decision on their own through their own research but the reality will be that we were with them all the time. So yes, while the idea of a solution sell at the RFP stage is probably going away, the solution sell is not — it just starts earlier.