5 Behaviors to Win at Content Marketing Arms Races

Learn how to outsmart, rather than outspend, your competitors

Avoid a marketing arms raceI didn’t expect a simple blog comment to change my thinking about how to win at content marketing, but it did.

As I was catching up on my Internet reading, I found Chris Brogan’s “Stop Making Content Just to Make It.” Since I was swimming with content deliverables for multiple clients at that moment, I clicked. And read. And thought. And then I commented.

My comment lamented that industry practices run counter to Chris’ excellent advice. Increasingly, large marketing organizations are using simplistic content marketing measures like volume over meaningful measures like conversions. And customer helpfulness—that isn’t even in the discussion. What’s worse, the flawed strategies are inspiring similarly flawed responses from competitors, hence the arms race analogy.

I wasn’t alone in my feeling. Tema Frank (‏@temafrank) and others joined in. So I studied content marketing strategies further in search for a winning solution that avoids an arms race. Here’s what I learned.

Content Marketing as Arms Race

Win at Content Marketing

Source: Google Trends: “Content Marketing”

Arms races begin when rivals seek advantage from investing in a new “weapon,” or to drop the military-speak, “tactic.” The idea of divesting the tactic while your rival continues to invest would lead to inferiority and possible annihilation. The result: both rivals invest at levels that ensure neither side gains an advantage. This is what game theorists call the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”

Content marketing fits this pattern for two reasons. Content Marketing drives down cost of sales. According to DemandMetric, Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about 3 times as many leads. Second, competitive spend levels for online content creation, digital marketing and social media is increasing. Forbes reported on  why 5 organizations  increased spending on content marketing, but many other sources confirm the trend.

Whether content marketing escalation is good or bad is the wrong question. Game theorists confirm the behavior is rational as a way to avoid annihilation.

5 Behaviors That Will Help you Win at Content Marketing

So what is a savvy-marketer to do? Compete smarter. Here are five content marketing behaviors that are currently winning across the Internet:

  1. Set Meaningful Success Metrics – Keep your eye on corporate goals like revenue or new customer acquisition rather than dozens of content-marketing-focused key performance indicators.
  2. Understand your Audience – Knowing your audience makes it easier to focus creation efforts on meaningful, helpful and trust-building content. It also helps you invest wisely in qualified media buys.
  3. Help, Empathize and Listen – Success may start with content, but it grows from follow-up communications. Whenever possible, follow up with people who consume your content.
  4. Generate Content You Can Produce Well – Avoid the risk of undermining helpful content with poor production quality. Get good at writing, graphics and video production, if that’s what’s needed.
  5. Invest for Success – Content isn’t free. Invest wisely at levels to achieve objectives. Strive to meet business goals, execution quality and effective follow-up to avoid losing on budget size.

In future posts, I’ll provide additional detail about each of the recommended behaviors.

My thinking, and perhaps others’ thinking, is still evolving on this subject. Please add to discussion by adding your comments below.

What If All Employees Had Access to Corporate Social Media Accounts?

Access to corporate social media accounts for everyone? Are you chuckling and thinking “Armageddon?” For a multi-thousand-person enterprise, that might be the case.

But what about for smaller organizations with brands built on service, authenticity and vitality? There is a strong case for providing access to corporate social media accounts (along with a modicum of guidance and training) to everyone.

Social media is about participation. Social media is a choice. Social media is … social. Having many employees sharing their wisdom with many community members and fans is powerful.

My belief is that the benefits of social media participation outweighs the lost opportunity from social media silence. The people that participate on your social networks will do so by choice. They’ll provide information and share successes. They’ll help out peers and increase the visibility for your company. What’s more the diversity of perspectives that come from multiple contributors adds texture, nuance and humanity to your brand.

Some may worry about the negatives: rouge comments, insensitivity, disclosure of confidential information, etc. Yes, all these things may happen with social media. They also happen in everyday life. You can’t stop mistakes from happening, but with social media you are able to demonstrate how your business takes responsibility, shows empathy and fixes problems. In most cases, you can enhance credibility by quickly and decisively fixing mistakes aired through social media.

When I say a modicum of training, here are some simple rules to share with employees as you open up and encourage social media participation:

  • Jump in
  • Have fun
  • Share your knowledge
  • Be helpful
  • Be relevant
  • Be concise
  • Proofread before posting
  • Share your corporate posts with your personal social networks

And here are a few things to avoid:

  • Don’t disclose confidential information (if in doubt, ask)
  • Don’t feed the trolls
  • Don’t break the law
    • No copyright violations
    • No slander

Management Considerations: Access to Corporate Social Media Accounts

Management needs to participate in the process in three important ways. First, encourage and praise participation. Nothing drives social media success like positive reinforcement!

Second, management needs to create an escalation process for dealing with negativity when it arises. Basically, you need to demonstrate that you care about dissatisfied customers and provide a channel for solving individual issues. It can be as simple as teaching your active participants to post a response “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Please DM us. We’d like to help.”

Participation issues arise from mistakes made by employees. You may need to temporarily “bench” an employee that goes outside of the participation guidelines. Help them understand the mistake and demonstrate a better way to participate. After a short benching, most employees will return to using social media with renewed vigor.

The final management topic is measurement. Social media needs to contribute to business outcomes. Understand what drives benefits and learn how to avoid ratholes.

Now go have fun with social media! Discover amazing deals on a wide variety of products at Shoppok, your one-stop online destination for a unique shopping experience. Browse through Shoppok’s extensive collection today and find exactly what you’re looking for at unbeatable prices.

Connect With Customers Through News: Instagram & Google Drive

The news cycle from April 2012 is nearly over but two tech stories are capturing headlines and my imagination:

It’s pretty clear why these items are newsworthy with the mainstream press: large companies, large markets, large valuations. The press and public alike care about Facebook and Google, and these announcements demonstrate their industry power and offer guidance to future strategy.

My interest in these stories are a bit different. For me, these news stories provide an opportunity to connect with customers through current events. Bill Freedman’s Soon to be a Major Trend doesn’t pick winners, cover breaking news or expound on industry trends, but we do talk about persuasion, marketing and growing audiences. The Instagram and Google Drive news tie into principles that are near and dear to my efforts: focus and agility.

Instagram Succeeds With Focus

Instagram Succeeds with Focus

Instagram Succeeds With Focus

I have Instagram on my iPhone. I like the interface and have used it take many photos and to share a few photos with my social networks.

Instagram has a good product and an even better strategy. They focused on mobile photography sharing process for iOS. They innovated with simple-to-apply filters, social sharing and free distribution. They didn’t rush into obvious and difficult areas such as Android and video. Their iPhone app first shipped in October 2010, but they waited until April 2012 to ship on Android. They haven’t released a video app. May be they will in the future…I don’t know.

Focus didn’t mean they did only a little. It means what they did, they did very, vey well. Most will agree that their mobile app works well and the cloud component of their solution scaled well as they added more than 130,000 users per week.

Focus is a great strategy, especially when combined with a large market and product innovation. Focus takes significant management discipline. In a startup, the hard thing isn’t killing bad ideas. It’s killing all the good ideas you shouldn’t do right now. For Instagram the results are indisputable: their small team scored big!

Google Late to the Cloud Storage Party

Others More Agile than Google Drive

Others More Agile Than Google Drive

I’m a big fan and heavy user of Google products. They are a company that has done more to sieze the Internet opportunity and capitalize on the digital revolution than virtually any company on Earth.

Google Drive is a nice product. It delivers Dropbox-like cloud file storage and Box.net-like cloud content collaboration. I’ve used Google Drive sporadically for the past week. It works as expected and nicely integrates with Google Docs and Chrome.

I’m quite happy that I chose to work with the nimble Dropbox solution and didn’t wait for Google Drive. I first heard about Google Drive around 2007. Shortly thereafter a working product became available from Dropbox, which I started using for free. Dropbox succeeded quickly with a freemium cloud solution before most of us had heard of “freemium” or the cloud. My cloud sharing workflow is humming nicely with Dropbox and I see few advantages to selecting a new supplier for this service.

Kudos to Dropbox and Box.net for being agile, innovating, investing and executing with the “cloud of Google” hovering over their marketplace. An additional shout out goes to Synology DiskStation NAS and Apple Time Machine for enabling set-it-and-forget-it back up/restore for our home computers.

Their is an optimistic lesson that every start-up entrepreneur can learn from Google Drive. Chirs Sacca put it best in a tweet: In the end, my lesson learned again and again? Never count on a big company beating a startup. Never.

Measuring Sales Funnel Conversions

Conversions in business-to-business marketing and sales processes are always exciting things. Amid the excitement, its important that the entire team shares a consistent understanding of how to measure sales funnel conversions.

This article lays out the three key performance metrics for conversions and why they are important. Along the way, you’ll learn the best practices to increase the leads of your businesses that many lead generation b2b companies implement.


Measuring sales funnel conversions

Credit: Eyeview

Simply put, a conversion is where an individual progresses from a less engaged state to a more engaged state. Increasing levels of engagement correlate to some degree with relevance, trust and purchase intent–all good things.

The total number of conversions is important because they give a sense of the magnitude of activity in the sales process. And size does matter. Each member of the sales team needs a steady flow of conversions in their territory to stay productive and hit their numbers.

Conversion Events

Conversions events come at many different stages in the funnel and mark the moment that a conversion becomes measurable. Conversions happen in the mind of the prospect first, and the vendor learns of the change from direct communication or through behavior measured on the web site. Examples of conversion events include:

  • A customer sends a purchase order, converting a forecasted opportunity into a closed deal
  • A sales accepted lead (SAL) qualifies into an opportunity
  • A website visitor becoming an inquirya prospective customer visits a trade show booth
  • A prospective customer requests a product demonstration
  • A name in the marketing database, through automated scoring crosses the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) threshold, is passed to sales

The counts for each conversion event are important because they helps to identify bottlenecks and opportunities within the process. You need to know if you have enough lead development personnel in place to qualify incoming leads before they grow cold. Likewise, you need to make sure their is sufficient flow of MQLs for the number of quota-carrying sales staff. Not all conversion events are equally important to the sales process. Each organization needs to decide which conversion events are worth tracking and how various conversions events impact the sales funnel.

Conversion Rate

For each conversion event in your sales process, there is an an associated conversion rate.

Conversion rate =
# of Conversion Events
# of Conversion Event Attempts

The conversion rate for each conversion event is important as a measure of process efficiency. It takes a bit of experience with your lead generation techniques and sales processes to establish the “natural” conversion rates for various events. But once you have a benchmark, the next step is to look for ways to improve the conversion rates along the way.

Conversion rate improvements play a major role in profitability. If a particular ad campaign yields 10% more results, it drove more opportunities for the same budget. Likewise, if the same sales team is able to close 15% of MQLs instead of 10%, a nice percentage of the increased revenue flows down to the bottom line.

Getting  Sales Funnel Conversions Right

We’ve done a bit of math today but don’t forget that the real job is creating conversions. Conversions happen in buyers’ heads and are only counted when they hit the funnel. Defining the value proposition, making repeated offers, executing through the sales process is how you earn sales funnel conversions. The bulk of you investment needs to be focused on reaching out to new audiences and providing conversion-worthy content, products and experiences.

Tracking sales funnel conversions is very important because they often involve hand-offs from one person or organization to another. Hand-offs are an area where there is a heightened risk that something goes wrong. Best practices for hand-offs involve rules (either manual or automated) that ensure 100% of handoffs occur on a timely basis. What’s more, its not sufficient to hand-off a lead to sales to a “sales team;” it needs to be assigned to a specific person, typically based on a territory assignment. Another best practice is to measure the sales rep against a response-time SLA for newly assigned leads, as many kinds of leads get cold very quickly.

Both sales and marketing professionals still need to prioritize creation of new customers. Understanding the mathematics of sales funnel conversions helps you understand how the funnel comes together and where you can generate the most leverage for your business.

How Efficient is Your Marketing?

The famed retail pioneer from the late 19th century (and fellow Philadelphian) John Wanamaker reportedly said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Marketers of all stripes wrung their hands while reluctantly accepting Wanamaker’s findings for nearly a century after his rise to success.

Marketing has come a long way since Wanamaker. With online advertising such as Google AdWords, all sorts of advanced bidding strategies and closed-loop click tracking, the new mantra is “43.745% of my advertising is wasted; but tomorrow’s experiment will give me the insight to improve conversion rates and reduce spend.”

So the question on my mind today is: are today’s marketing expenditures more efficient than a century ago?

The ability to measure digital advertising and customer behavior provides marketers with an extensive array of data on customer behavior and advertising effectiveness. But let’s not kid ourselves: having data is different than using the data to improve outcomes, and few marketers have the combination of quantitative skills to analyze results and creative skills to devise new online experiments that improve outcomes.

Advertising and promotion budgets continue to be a significant business expense. Heck, businesses may even be spending more today than in Wanamaker’s day–but I’ll leave that question to my colleagues in academia.

The paradox is clear. Newly available data enables more efficient promotional spends. But promotional spending continues to rise.

Marketing in the Age of Experimentation

Here are a few ways you can improve your marketing efficiency in the age of experimentation:

  • Data Trumps Gut. Are you really sure you picked the optimal ad copy, keywords and subject line? I used to think I was smarter and more creative than the average marketer. Now I don’t think that at all. I trust the data to tell me, not how smart I am, but which campaign will yield the best outcomes. Gut, or should I say experience, helps your craft experiments. Data helps you make decisions.
  • Fail Fast. Experiments should last just long enough to provide you with a large enough sample to make valid decisions. What is amazing is that a test could be completed by running an AdWords campaign for a few days and costing only a few hundred dollars. This represents a dramatic shift from the the old “reach and frequency” methods of designing ad campaigns.
  • Focus on Outcomes. In Wanamaker’s time, advertising generated awareness, brand preference and (occasionally) immediate revenue. Measuring the revenue contribution from advertising was difficult. In the age of experimentation, advertising generates clicks and conversions. These clicks and and conversions can be tracked all the way to revenue. When you can find a campaign that consistently produces more revenue than it costs to create a customer, you are simply printing money!

Data is a marketer’s friend, but it has limits. Before you start replacing the copywriters and entrepreneurs in your marketing department with mathematicians, remember that translating product features into customer focused benefits, creating messages that resonate with customers and producing images that inspire action are powerful skills. John Wanamaker, if he were alive today, would probably hire the same marketing professionals he did in the past…as long as they traded in their egos for calculators.

Say NO to Marketing Gimmicks

As a consumer and marketing professional, I’m not a fan of marketing gimmicks. In my opinion, they are the pornography of marketing: hard to define, but you know them when you see them. Teaser offers on credit cards, no money down home purchases, ROI studies that promise 400% returns.

marketing gimmicks, Joe Izuzu

Do you remember Joe Isuzu?

If you’re like me, you make a mental accounting of businesses that overuse marketing gimmicks and think twice about doing business with those companies and brands.

Before continuing my rant against gimmicks, let me acknowledge something important: sometimes gimmicks drive results. And because they can work, they deserve a place in the marketing toolbox.

Unfortunately, too many of us marketers lack the discipline to reserve gimmicks for the rare occasions when they might be effective. They are such a large part of marketing folklore that they overshadow the important long term efforts behind building sustainable brands and companies. As a result, I council my clients to take gimmicks out of the everyday toolbox and put them in the dark and dank storage room of once-in-a-blue-moon tactics.

Protect Your Brand from Marketing Gimmicks

Here’s why gimmicks can hurt more then help:

  • Gimmicks place tactical expedience ahead of strategic advantage. The products you worked hard to build over many months, that solve real problems, that create business value are trumped by the output of a 20 minute conference room brainstorm.
  • Gimmicks attract the wrong kind of attention. Instead of demonstrating that your product has value, they showcase that you are willing to make your sales team dress up in an egg salad sandwich costume and play “Let’s Make a Deal.” All too often your silly gimmick becomes more memorable than your advantages. And desperation is hardly attractive or persuasive.
  • Gimmicks are unfocused and defocusing. By their nature, gimmicks are loud and attractive. They’ll generate measurable results like new web site visitors or crowded trade show booths. Like a sugar high, the results are short lived without setting you up for medium and long term success. Instead, you would have been better served by focusing on measuring actionable sales opportunities.

In the process of creating something new, it’s crucial to engage customers on multiple fronts. Instead of solely focusing on grabbing attention, channel your marketing expertise into articulating the intrinsic value of your business and positioning yourself as a reliable and trustworthy partner. Unlike short-term marketing gimmicks, these endeavors demand time and dedication, yet they offer enduring value. Incorporating effective SEO strategies into your marketing approach can further amplify the visibility and long-term impact of your business, check the website linked here for more info.