Content marketing: Getting started

Some years ago, I was working for a company that made video editing gear. We noticed pretty quickly that customers and prospects had some common questions: How to shoot great videos, how to add audio, how to tell a story. So we began to write articles and posted them on discussion groups and forums. The articles didn’t talk much about us or our products. In fact, one article, “How to choose a video editor,” listed all our competitors.

Not only were they wildly popular, they produced buyers — and fiercely loyal evangelists.

This was in 1995.

We later posted those articles on our nascent website and I was able to show traffic from search engines (before Google) and buyer conversions!

Now, it’s called “content marketing” and it remains one of the most important marketing strategies of all.

The idea is simple: Rather than write about your company and your solution, the best content addresses the needs of the user, independent of your products. Your goal is to be authentic, authoritative, and helpful. You earn trust and a reputation. You become a go-to resource for quality information — and that makes you a search engine magnet. The Content Council says that 61 percent of customers are more likely to buy from companies that produce useful content.

Here are some tips to get started.

When

The answer is: now! It takes time to build both content and reputation in the eyes of search engines (and consumers), so it’s wise to begin building content even before you have a detailed strategy.

In the early phases, you will have a lot of low-hanging fruit such as tutorial-level articles, overviews, and materials you have probably already written in one form or another. Post these on your website now. Don’t worry about perfection or completeness or even navigation. Just get materials up and let search run its course. Later, you’ll use analytics and customer feedback to see what’s working and beginning tuning content.

Do worry about quality and especially, worry about customer focus. Is your content about you and your products? Or is it a full-on focus on customers, prospects whether they do business with you or not? If people send you email saying, “hey, thanks,” then you’re on the right track. If other people link to your articles, then you’re gold.

I suggest you set monthly or quarterly goals for everyone to develop articles. If some of the team does not write well, I can help you locate reasonably inexpensive editing resources.

Who

If you have done persona development, you know who your customers are and what their problems are. You therefore know exactly what to write!

If you don’t have personas developed, another good clue is to look at what your company has already written. Ask your customer-facing employees. Ask me about how to do a customer-facing employee survey.

What

While detailed, technical articles are great, don’t overlook the low-hanging fruit, the kinds of things your staff can write from their own knowledge. It can be produced quickly and is likely what prospects want to know. Look at competitors’ and partners’ sites and at trade sites for inspiration (no, don’t steal). Glossaries of terms, tutorials, and tips and tricks are a great way to get started. “Top ten…” articles are a consistent winner. For instance, “Top 5 features to look for in a tent.”

Strategy

It’s fine to post an article every week or two for now, but very soon, you would be wise to build a strategy. Some key elements:

1. Think like a publisher: Every magazine schedules content and you need to do that, too. You will want a schedule with names, dates, and topics. You’ll want to synchronize with industry seasons, tradeshows, new product releases, etc. In particular, you want your staff to be a publishing machine — everyone knows they owe you an article per quarter, an article per month, etc. It needs to be a machine.

2. Reuse: Every idea should be reused for your blog, email campaigns, newsletter, technical articles, Facebook and LinkedIn postings, etc. One company I know has a practice which produces 19 uses for every article.

3. Promotion: Having an article on your website is interesting. Having links to it from others’ sites, from trade magazine sites, from trade association sites, blogs, social sites, and your users, and discussion groups — that’s gold. When a visitor sees your expertise touted by an authoritative source –that’s platinum. Social media is a great way to achieve this.

4. Search: Nothing feeds a search strategy better than a great content marketing strategy. You will want to develop a solid search strategy to stand alongside your brilliant content!

Resources:

 

Web Analytics: ABC

I frequently see web analytics misapplied two ways. Either it’s overly simplistic (“how many hits do we have on these pages”) or it’s a flood of data without insight or action.

e-Nor (a Google Analytics expert agency) released a great infographic and a simple approach to focus analytics on what matters.

(They address this for Google Analytics but it applies equally well to any analytics package.)

e-nor-ABC-web-analytics

Use HTTPS for higher search ranking

A couple of days ago, Google announced that it would favor sites that encrypt via HTTPS. Should people with websites — including smaller sites — be doing something about it? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

What is HTTPS?

httpsYou may have noticed that when you use certain sites, especially major sites like Google and Facebook, and financial and e-commerce sites, a padlock icon appears. If you’re a keen observer, you may have also noticed that the first letters of the web address (URL) changed, adding an “s” to the “http://” that precedes most website addresses.

The “s” stands for secure. It means traffic between you and the website is encrypted. If someone out there (say, at the coffeeshop or hotel whose wifi you’re using) intercepts network data, it is much less likely they can listen in.

While using HTTPS on large sites that handle financial transactions is obviously important, the Internet community would really like to see it used everywhere because the bad guys are piecing together small bits of data  (such as where you live) and use it to gain greater access.

What Google is doing

Google says it will elevate search results for sites that use HTTPS. What does that mean? If someone is searching for your product and your competitor is using HTTPS and you are not, your competitor is more likely to appear higher on the page, assuming all other factors are equal.

It probably will be a small advantage at first but it’s likely to become more significant, given how Google addressed page speed. Years ago, Google announced they’d give preference to faster sites. That advantage started small but over the years, it became greater. Then, as now, Google was using its power to encourage website owners to make the web better, and to deliver better sites to their users. I’d wager that they will do the same thing for encrypted sites and increase the incentive as time goes on.

What should you do?

If you manage a commercial site of any size, add HTTPS. It’s not a do it yourself activity, for most people. Your webhost or the techies who built your site should know how.

 

19 Pieces of Content from One

At a content marketing conference I attended last month, Readytalk’s Bo Bandy talked about how the company turns each piece of content into 19. An infographic diagrams the process.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.03.42 AM

It’s not just a cut and paste job; some finesse is required. Customize the content to take advantage of the medium and drive traffic. For instance, I might do a blog post that refers to an article I posted. The blog post would be highlights, with a link to the article. Think about the intent: do you want to tell the whole story, or lead readers to the article?

And replicating the article without editing would look like duplicate content to the search engines.

The infographic shows how the 19 uses vary in time. If done well, you can not only multiply the article’s content, you can spread its impact over time. Do that for all your content and you have achieved a drumbeat of marketing that your desired audiences cannot fail to notice.

Present to the Boss’s Boss’s Boss’s Boss…

When presenting a proposal, Shawn Herring of METAventure Group suggests a practice he calls “2Up”: presenting to the manager of whomever you’re presenting to. Chances are the person to whom you sell your idea has to sell his or her boss, so why not equip them with what they need?

Smart business people are always looking at how they can make their managers successful — and if we’re thinking ahead, their manager’s manager. As with many top truths, it’s obvious once it’s been said, yet takes some practice to keep in mind.

I often tell my team to “think like a shareholder.” When faced with a decision, ask, “What would a shareholder want you to do?” It’s kind of the ultimate expression of 2Up, since ultimately, all of our higher-ups report to the shareholders.

Be the Customer

Since we’re talking about empathy (well, I am), here’s a great example that happened yesterday. Answering customer requests is good empathy — anticipating them is great empathy.

top-of-the-mark

I was having drinks with friends at the Top of the Mark, atop the famed luxury Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. The waiter asked one of our party, “Can I top off your phone?” The phone was on the table, powered on, and we think he must have noticed the battery indicator showed a low battery. He came by with a charger and a cable but with no place to plug in near the table, he offered to take the phone to his station. He came back with a plate and a folded napkin, which he used to take the phone. When we were ready to leave, he returned with the charged phone.

It’s the question smart marketers ask over and over: “What is the customer’s problem?” As in this case, sometimes the customer doesn’t even know. When you can spot and solve a problem before the customer, that’s the big win that takes you from A to A+.

Empathy FTW

In my last post, Customer Service: Emotions Matter, I reported on my experience at Microsoft’s store, where they spent the money on the service infrastructure but overlooked the free human touches.

I had a more positive example today. I had a technical issue with email, which is hosted by Dreamhost. Their support form has two questions I have not seen before. Perfect examples of customer-centric communications, they address customer concerns and do so in a humorous, friendly way.

Instead of asking the customer to define the priority of the request, they ask in this customer-centric way:

dreamhost-priority

And they asked the customer’s expertise. Clever idea — this way they know how to frame the reply:

dreamhost-expertise

Pretty smart, huh!

As marketers, we should always be thinking about everything from the customer’s point of view. Dreamhost gets it, for the win!

Customer Service: Emotions Matter

The latest fad in satisfying customers, taking the place of authenticity, is empathy. Most of the empathy I observe is decidedly inauthentic, which I think is a sad misfire, but the idea is sound: Let the customer know you understand the problem and you’re going to help.

Sorry to pick on Microsoft (no, I’m not) but they have a curious tone deafness about customer service and about process; things Apple has down to a science.

I was at the Microsoft store with a dead, in warranty, Surface RT. The service I experienced was adequate, but missing the human touches. Ironically, they’re spending the funds, implementing competent programs, but falling short.

Their first comment was not empathetic, did not acknowledge there was a problem, did not suggest they would take care of my problem. It was, “When did you buy it?”

The person I saw tried a different charger. The person she sent me to tried a different charger and made me an appointment to see a technician. When I saw the tech, he tried a different charger. None of them communicated with the others.

When the tech came out, he didn’t say hi, didn’t acknowledge the customer’s problem, he just went to work.

Finally having confirmed it was dead, they offered to replace it on the spot! Excellent! But then they found they did not have any replacements so they would send it to the repair facility. Once it arrives there, they will immediately ship me a replacement unit. I asked, “Since you have this unit in your hands now, can you have them ship the replacement now?”

“No, this has to arrive there first. The system won’t allow us to ship one immediately.”

“Apple does,” I said. Grin.

“I know,” he said. Shrug and grin.

I will be getting a replacement in a week or so, which is adequate performance (though Apple does it in a day). But it could have been superior performance and stellar customer satisfaction — at no increase in cost! It would not cost them to smile and say they will help me. Eye contact is free. Shipping when the computer said the unit was in the store’s custody instead of waiting several days costs not a penny more.

But they’re not inclined to think that way. It’s a company-DNA issue. Not unlike their software. They have some of the best user interface labs in the world but they don’t fix the problems; they just layer on a new wizard.

Tone deaf.

Postscript: It’s been a week 10 days and the replacement unit is still not here and we have heard nothing. Sadly for Microsoft, I’ve been conditioned to expect better.

Any Business Can Use Amazon’s Four Pillars of Success

In Amazon’s Performance Secrets, Bryan Eisenberg posts Amazon’s four pillars of success. He says, “What we most admire…is that it is duplicable by just about every other business.”

4-Amazon-pillars-infographic

Bryan Eisenberg’s notes on Amazon’s Four Pillars of Success

Not complicated:

  1. Customer Centricity
  2. Continuous Optimization
  3. Culture of Innovation
  4. Corporate Agility

(P.S. Don’t you love Bryan’s notes? Way better than an infographic.)

Bold Branding for B2B

A couple of years ago, I was part of a rebrand for Maxim Integrated, which we called “a 2.5 billion dollar company no one has ever heard of.” I was also at Hewlett-Packard when they ran their first television ads in the 1980s. It’s not easy. It takes a ton of money, or imagination and innovation. 

Check out AdAge’s article on Arrow Electronics’ campaign, developed by Olgivy.

Arrow Electronics is looking to ditch its self-proclaimed “biggest electronics company you never heard of” label. One year after its first national TV campaign brought down its corporate website, it’s using animated digital ads to help tell the story of what the company does.

In this phase of its rebranding effort, Arrow sales staff have been showing off the YouTube animated shorts on their iPads for the past few weeks — with the latest incarnation set to release this week. The 30-to 60-second pieces are part of Arrow’s “Five Year Olds on Five Years Out” campaign, which highlights the company’s various services as told through the mind of a five-year old.

Don’t believe it? Leonardo DaVinci wouldn’t lie: