5 Important Reasons to Create a Content Marketing Program

Content-MarketingContent marketing has become a major trend in marketing today and organizations are spending an increasingly large portion of their marketing budgets creating and distributing content. According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

In a world of competing demands for the marketing budget, why should an organization create a content marketing program? Here are five reasons it’s critical to create and Content Marketing program today.

1) The buying process has changed and customers are in control.

The Internet has dramatically changed the buying process. At one time, companies that sold goods and services controlled the flow of information to buyers. They provided product information through sales people in stores, at events, over the phone, and through outside sales teams in the form of brochures and other printed documents. Sellers controlled the buying process through the flow of information and buyers often faced an expensive and time-consuming task to get the information needed to make the best decision. The most important information such as reviews and real-life experiences from other customers was often the most difficult to get.

Today, buyers can get access to product and service information much faster on a company’s website, and they can also access articles, videos, reviews, white papers, e-books and other information that is provided by the sellers, their competitors, industry experts, amateurs, social media and even other customers.

Content Marketing lets you engage with potential customers by creating and distributing information that is important to your customers whenever they need it.

2) You need to get potential customers engaged early in today’s complex buying processes.

It’s no secret that the sales cycle for most B2B products is getting longer and that there are more people involved in the process. Since every organization is under pressure to make good decisions and keep costs low, buying committees are created and include people from disciples such as engineering, finance, marketing and IT. These committees develop purchase criteria and evaluate products over long periods of time to make good purchase decisions. Your sales team may only be engaged by the committee late in the process, but they are all consuming content to better understand your offering. If you wait until the end of the process when they are actually taking to vendors, you will miss the opportunity to influence the team as they set their decision criteria and even select possible solutions. By providing good and valuable content early in the process, you will be able to influence the team weeks or months before they reach out to your sales team.

3) It’s critical to establish thought leadership and set the purchase criteria schema so that you win.

Content-MarketingGood content is more than a nice product brochure or pretty web page. It can influence the buyer to establish decision criteria that positions you to win. Well-written white papers or e-books that help the buyer understand how to diagnose a problem or understand a technology can help them, can be delivered in a way that features your strengths in the marketplace. These thought leadership documents are not written to promote your product, but designs to help properly frame the question. If you are successful in creating the framework for their buying decision, you’ll be much more successful when you present your solution to the problem.

4) If you have content, you can leverage social media and search to cost effectively drive engagement, leads and sales.

Social Media and search marketing have become major tools for marketing professionals. By taking advantage of organic search traffic and social media sites, you can generate traffic to your website without paying for advertising, and this in turn makes lead generation much more cost effective. The key to success in social media and search is good content. Search engines such as Google highly value new, original content on your blog and website when they decide on search engine rankings. In social media, it is the marketers with engaging and relevant posts, articles and videos who are successful in turning likes and followers in to website visitors and sales.

5) If you don’t provide the content, someone else will control the conversation.

Buyers have many choices when they are searching for information to help them solve a problem. You may feel that if you stay out of the content marketing game, buyers will still engage with you as they did in the past. The reality is that they have too many choices to go back to the past. If you don’t provide the content that sets the agenda and influences complex buying teams early in the process, you may find that are you left out completely when it’s time for the buyer to actually talk to the sales person.

The Decline of Guest Blogging for SEO Linkbuilding

black-hat-seoThe SEO landscape continues to shift, making it harder and harder for those that are using unearned tactics to appear within the search results listings. In an age when content is king, Google’s Matt Cutts announced in January the decay and fall of using guest blogging for SEO.

“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.” – Matt Cutts January 20, 2014

Guest blogging at one time was a great way to gain links, promote content and your brand. As more and more SEO marketers were hungry for places to post content, blog and site owners saw an opportunity to capitalize. They started accepting payments for content placement. This content in most cases had keyword seeded anchor text and links pointing to pages to help increase page authority, which would then increase rank.

Websites like Search Engine Leaks – have been outing services that engage in the tactics of content placement for payment. So how do you promote content now?mattcutts-final

Guest blogging when done correctly is still appropriate to use. If the guest blogger is trusted and known in the eyes of Google then the likelihood of being penalized is greatly decreased. Google’s authorship is one way to gain that trust. The other way is to not have your guest post links pass along page rank. If you “no follow” your links when citing and referencing from your post you are still within Google’s guidelines.

In 2014 let your content speak for itself, if worthy and valuable, others will naturally promote it and share.

 

Advantages of Video Blogging

As I was beginning my research as to why a video blog would be beneficial I found myself answering my own question. If you think about it logically, a video blog in this digital era definitely has several advantages.

Here are a few that I came up with:

  • Captivating Messaging– A video blog allows you to deliver the same messaging you would in print in a more captivating manner. People are more likely to become excited about the content in a video than they would be about the content of a text written blog. If you’ve ever watched TV or gone to the movies then you know what I’m talking about.
  • Exposure– If you were to tweet a link to your video blog on twitter, and people started re-tweeting your post, that is just one way to get more people to see your site. The same could be said about any of the social networking websites.
  • SEO– Currently, videos are not indexed by Google. However, the title and descriptions tags are indexed. Adding a link to your website in the description could help in your page rankings. Also, if your video blog starts to become popular, you could have others posting links to your website. This will also give you more in-bound links which also helps you in your SEO.
  • Lastly, you may be wondering, why, if I am such a big fan of video blogging, I didn’t do this post in a video blog? The answer is simple: I’m camera shy.

For more tips and techniques on SEO, click here.

10 Surprising Similarities Between Blogging and Direct Marketing

As a veteran copywriter and creative director, someone who’s made a living for over two decades putting together direct mail, email and direct response advertising campaigns that pitch practically every product and service imaginable, I may not fit the mold of the typical blogger.

But I’ve been helplessly hooked on blogging since my first post in 2004, never able to get enough of this newfangled mode of online communications.  I like it for many reasons, first and foremost because it’s such a refreshing change of pace from tired, traditional marketing riffs and age-old corporate-speak.

In the blogosphere, the prevailing communications standard is transparency, not verisimilitude.  There’s no spinning of the truth.  And you’re only as successful as you are trustworthy. But if you commit your time and energy to it, blogging can be an incredibly effective way to disseminate news, information and opinion to an audience of readers who are predisposed to be interested in what you have to offer.

Sure, blogging is all about being open, honest and yes, vulnerable.  Its most ardent devotees believe passionately in sharing generously with their audiences, engaging them frequently in particularly candid conversations in public forums where everyone has an equal voice. So it’s not necessarily the first place you’d turn if your priority is, say, e-commerce.  But the number of similarities between blogging and direct marketing tell me the two disciplines don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  Not at all. For instance…

1.  Measurable.  Of course, many of the benefits of blogging are qualitative, not quantitative.  But the fact that search engines such as Google and Yahoo are so quick to pick up blogs, especially when they’re updated regularly, is certainly a big plus. And there are many other blog metrics worth measuring, too – including subscribers, visitors, comments, third-party citations, inbound links and more – using tools such as Google Analytics, BlogPulse, Technorati, Icerocket and Clicky, among countless others.  You may not be able to gauge the success of a blog in response rates and ROI the way you would measure the results of a direct mail or email campaign.  But you shouldn’t be using it the same way, either.  In establishing their positions as thought leaders and practice experts, the best bloggers among us are building trust and credibility, flushing out leads on behalf of their corresponding brands.

2.  Targeted.  Like the most strategically designed direct marketing campaigns, most blogs are geared toward an audience of constituents and customers, like-minded people who are most likely to do business with the blogs’ authors and sponsors.  For three exemplary examples of well-targeted, niche-oriented blogs, check out Yvonne DiVita’s Lip-Sticking, Jeff Brooks’ Donor Power Blog and Laura Ries’ Ries’ Pieces.  Bloggers need to know who they’re writing for, what’s going to resonate most with their readers and move them to action.

“Make sure that you are primarily focusing on a particular topic, and the more specialized that topic is, the better you’ll do. It’s also key to step back and evaluate whether there are enough prospective readers in your chosen niche. It’s better to be brutally honest with yourself than to toil away and end up disappointed,” writes Copyblogger’s Brian Clark in “10 Effective Ways to Get More Blog Subscribers.”

3.  Offer-oriented.  Sure, blogging isn’t selling, per se. It’s listening, sharing and conversing, primarily.  And your offer isn’t a product or a service, either.  It’s your attention to your audience.  But like any good relationship, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.  You can’t expect an immediate return on your investment in blogging, not before you’ve established a degree of authority in the blogosphere.  But once you’ve earned a reputation as someone worth following, the likelihood is that your wares will be looked upon more favorably and you’ll see an increase in sales. John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing is an excellent example of a blog that helps sell its author’s products and services, as is Hubspot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog, which features lead generation offers (webinars, educational kits, etc.) at the close of each post.

4.  Interactive.  What’s always been regarded as one of direct marketing’s biggest benefits is, unlike broadcast advertising, the fact that it’s a form of reciprocal, two-way communications, giving the sender the ability to trigger a response from the receiver.  If your audience responds favorably to your offer, you have a hit on your hands.  It’s that simple.  What could be better?  Well, some might say blogging.  After all, not only can a blogger get a yes or no answer from his readers, he can also get opinion, feedback, input and advice.  While, in many cases, direct marketing is a well-choreographed sales pitch to an audience of passive prospects, one of the attributes of a blog is that it allows readers to provide honest, public comments that are posted below the author’s spiel. Blogging involves and engages readers. By granting the opportunity to respond almost instantaneously to any and all posts, a blogger is building a relationship with his or her constituency. As the level of confidence grows between blogger and reader, so does the potential for lucrative, new business activities.

5.  Inspirational.  You may already be familiar with the acronym, AIDA. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.  It’s something direct marketers always have in mind when working on a campaign.  And it’s what every blogger should heed, too.  Think about it.  Your blog isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t capture your audience’s Attention.  You then need to hold their Interest and create a Desire for something, whether it’s more sharing of your expertise and opinion in subsequent posts or products and services your organization has to offer. It’s at that point that you want your readers to take Action.  One way or another, the best bloggers among us – Chris Brogan immediately comes to mind – have a way of inspiring their readers to act on their feelings through support, loyalty, devotion and investment of both time and, ultimately, money.

6.  Personal.  “People respond best to authenticity,” writes Susan Hanshaw in her post, Direct Marketers Know More About Social Media Than You Think, on the Inner Architect blog. And I couldn’t agree more with her. Having written literally hundreds of direct mail and email letters over the course of my career, I’ve always gone to great lengths to put myself in the shoes of the actual letter signer, whether he or she was a CEO of some huge corporation, a publisher of a magazine, or an executive director of a nonprofit organization.  I had to be him or her.  But blogging leaves little room for such impersonation at all. Such stark transparency on the part of those bloggers who “get it” goes a long way toward bridging any existing communications gap, fostering trust, respect, understanding, appreciation and some degree of business activity.  Read this post written by Todd Defren (principal at SHIFT Communications), or this one by C.C. Chapman (co-founder of The Advance Guard) to see just how up close and personal you can get with two of the most accomplished bloggers among us.

7.  Experimental. One of the tenets of direct marketing is the testing of one approach against another, the experimentation with offers and concepts in order to identify those elements of your campaign that resonate with your audience.  And once you’ve found your sweet spot, of course, you don’t hesitate to take advantage of it until something better comes along.  The same goes for blogging. You can alternate between long posts and short ones and see which ones are more popular.  You can test guest bloggers versus your own staff writers.  You can count comments on different topics and issues.  You can include a variety of outbound links in your posts and watch which ones are clicked through more than the others.  You can share news and information about yourself and your organization, your field of expertise or anything else under the sun.  And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, the approach you should settle on is the one readers like best.

8.  Creative.  In direct marketing, the longstanding 40-40-20 rule suggests the success of a campaign is equally dependent on the list and the offer, while its creative execution is worth the remaining 20%.  I’ve always questioned the preciseness of those percentages, but I’ve never disputed the upshot of the rule, which could just as easily apply to blogging.  Your creative should support, not predominate. The look and feel of a blog should be clean and simple, colorful and aesthetically attractive only to the degree that it is reflective of the author’s and sponsoring organization’s brand identity. A blog needs to stands out among the clutter, sure.  After all, there are now well more than 100 million blogs in existence.  But for the most part, what a blog should be remembered for is good, relevant, regularly published content, not bells and whistles.

9.  Formulaic. While the artist in me has always been hesitant to embrace anything too formulaic, my business instincts are strong enough to pull me toward industry best practices (not without incorporating a measure of creativity to stand out from the crowd).  That’s how it is for me as both a direct marketer and blogger, but that’s not to say there aren’t other ways to approach either discipline.  While your blog should be a direct reflection of you and your brand, anyone in the blogosphere should be mindful of the space’s established principles and practices, many of which are covered in detail in Naked Conversations, Join the Conversation, The Cluetrain Manifesto and Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day. In addition to the aforementioned books, read blogs written by the likes of such luminaries as Chris Brogan, Debbie Weil, Seth Godin, Steve Rubel, B.L. Ochman and Beth Harte. Blogging has been around long enough now for a whole cadre of experts and evangelists to have paved the way for your own success.

10. Powerful. Yes, like direct marketing has been for so many decades, blogging has quickly established itself as a powerful communications tactic to be strategically leveraged by advertising, marketing, PR and sales professionals.

“Listen to the murmur of your market, wrote Don Jackson in “2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success,” the book he put together with direct marketing guru, Denny Hatch.  “Create feedback loops in your database environment so that you can record what your customers and prospects are saying about your products, your service, your company and your competition.  There is no more valuable source of information.”

If you ask me, a blog is one such “feedback loop,” a way of interlocking a circle of people who are interested in you and your organization and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with each and every one of them.

And if that’s not direct marketing, it sure is similar.

Note: On May 7, 2009, from 10:45 AM-11:45 AM, Bob Cargill will be joining forces with Jennifer Brady, Director of Marketing at UMass Online, for a one-hour presentation on the “10 Surprising Similarities Between Blogging and Direct Marketing” for the New England Direct Marketing Association at Bentley University’s LaCava Center in Waltham, MA.  For more information and to register for this event, click here.

For more social media strategies, check out our webinar, “How to Build your own Blog and Social Media Marketing Strategy”

Are You a Corporate All-Star?

Whether it’s delivering an outstanding presentation at an important trade show, winning over a client with an awesome display of creative firepower or simply going above and beyond on everything that’s asked of you, there are many obvious ways to score points with your boss. But now you can add blogging, tweeting and even spending company time on Facebook to that list.

It’s true.  Workers who use social media – even if it’s for their own personal branding – can go a long way toward positioning their employers as thought-leading organizations worthy of their constituents’ trust, loyalty, support and business.

That’s what I’m telling you today.  And that’s what I told the 40 or so people in attendance at my recent social media marketing workshop for the New England Direct Marketing Association.  Citing Edelman Digital’s recently released white paper, “Five Digital Trends to Watch for 2009,” I was happy to proclaim that thanks to social media, everyone in the audience had the opportunity to be so-called corporate all-stars (if they weren’t already)…

“Personal branding, while not a new concept, is hot.  Many workers are flocking to social media venues in an effort to invest in their own brands, especially in these more uncertain times.  Smart companies are recognizing that these individuals, if channeled, can become corporate all-stars that help them market in a very efficient and authentic way,” reads the summary of this Edelman Digital white paper.

Ironically, I found out about this white paper on Micro Persuasion, a wildly popular blog written by a quintessential example of the corporate all-star, Edelman’s own Steve Rubel.  If you’re not paying attention to Micro Persuasion, you’re missing out on arguably today’s most vital information and insight on “how emerging technologies are revolutionizing marketing communications.”  Trust me.  I’ve been reading Steve’s posts since I started blogging myself in 2004, and I find him to be engaging, illuminating and downright spot on almost every time in his analysis and commentary.

Other well-known corporate all-stars active in social media circles on behalf of their employers include Chris Brogan, Sarah Evans, Jeff Brooks, Kara Swisher, Amber Naslund, Frank Eliason and Paul Chaney, just to name a small handful of the many who are undoubtedly out there tirelessly, indefatigably working the beat.

As Seth Godin writes on page 35 of his latest book, Tribes, “The essential lesson is that every day it gets easier to tighten the relationship you have with people who choose to follow you.”

And that’s due in large part to the emergence of social media, of course.  If you’re blogging, tweeting and engaging in the conversation on Facebook and other SM platforms, you’re likely positioning yourself as a leader of a tribe, someone who values listening and learning as much as teaching, someone who can be counted on as a successful brand ambassador, corporate citizen and role model.  The benefits to you and your employer are multitudinous, including…

• Increased credibility and enhanced reputation
• Greater transparency, authenticity and trust
• More knowledge, information and insight
• Additional PR and business opportunities
• New relationships, contacts, customers and friends
• Extra traffic, attention and buzz
• Greater professional growth and education

So what about you?  Are you a corporate all-star?  Are you doing everything you can to hit a home run out of the social media ballpark?  If not, there’s never been a better time to step up to the plate.

For more social media strategies, check out our webinar, “How to Build your own Blog and Social Media Marketing Strategy”