Archive for the ‘Marketing Strategy’ Category

Six Best Practices for Marketing with White Papers

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Though the format is sometimes misused (i.e., documents are called white papers when they are really just extended marketing brochures), properly produced and promoted white papers remain an effective and vital marketing tool—particularly for b2b technology companies.

At their best, white papers accomplish two mutually beneficial goals:

  • • They provide readers with valuable, actionable, vendor-agnostic (or at least mostly agnostic) information about a trend, concept or topic.
  • • They provide vendors with a platform to showcase their subject matter expertise and thought leadership, thereby building brand credibility.

In the lead generation process, white papers can be extremely valuable because they identify prospective buyers while requiring a low level of commitment. In the hierarchy of lead generating assets and activities, white papers form the vital base, as illustrated below.

The B2B Lead Generation Pyramid

 

White papers are intended to provide value to a sophisticated audience, thereby enhancing the credibility and image of the brand behind them. Poorly crafted or overtly promotional white papers can actually have the opposite effect.

Here are six recommendations to help maximize the value of the (often considerable) investment in white papers, for both readers and vendors.

1. Solve a real problem. Too often, white papers topics are chosen by looking inward, reflecting subjects the vendor wants to talk about rather than trends and issues that matter to their sales prospects. There are many sources for identifying topics that matter to your market, including:

  • • Search keywords used to find your website
  • • Keywords and phrases used in site search on your website
  • • Suggestions from your company’s consultants, customer service representatives, and sales people
  • • Discussions with current and prospective customers
  • • Social media (e.g., discussions in relevant LinkedIn groups, trending topics on Twitter)
  • • Industry news sources and blogs
  • • Industry analyst reports and briefings
  • Google Trends

To find the most impactful topics, triangulate input from multiple sources.

2. Do your research. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that your white paper will be the first ever written on a specific topic, so before diving in and writing, conduct some research to discover what’s already been written by analysts, journalists, bloggers, and competitors. Citing third-party sources that support your contentions is a great way to increase both the value of the white paper to the reader and your brand’s credibility.

Research also helps prevent potentially embarrassing mistakes. If your white paper adds nothing new to knowledge of the topic, it may not be worth writing. If it contradicts existing articles and reports, you’d better have strong evidence to back up your position. And most importantly, if you are going to cite statistics, try to verify figures between multiple, reliable sources first.

For example, this blog frequently publishes updated compilations of social media and digital marketing statistics. One particular statistic that’s been difficult to nail down is the percentage of companies that maintain corporate blogs. Part of the reason is wide variation between different industries and company sizes; another is the underlying survey methodology (e.g., a survey conducted via social media will inevitably produce a larger figure than one done via email).

But one infographic reported the figure at 95%—no qualification, no mention of who was surveyed or how. Just a cute little graphic showing that 95% of all businesses have blogs. That number is, of course, patent hogwash, and immediately destroyed the credibility of the source.

3. Promote white papers honestly. Use abstract text that is compelling and even creates a bit of intrigue, but keep it real. Don’t mislead potential downloaders or promise knowledge or insights the white paper doesn’t deliver.

Most of all, don’t promise a vendor-agnostic presentation of facts, then devote most of the copy to a product pitch.

There is a place for product information in white papers, of course. For example, one vendor of high-performance database software had developed an entirely new data model; to help prospective buyers understand how the software was different, the vendor produced a technical white paper describing the new data model and how it worked. There’s nothing inherently wrong with producing such product-oriented white papers, as long as the subject material is accurately disclosed on the download page.

4. Use graphics. Images not only add visual appeal and make copy more readable by breaking up long blocks of text, they are often a more concise and understandable way to communicate information.

For example, which gives the reader a more immediate and clear understanding of the trend in traffic growth on a b2b technology blog? A sentence like “after growing at a relatively modest pace, averaging about 8% per quarter for seven quarters starting early 2011, blog visits have increased substantially in past year, increasing by 218% since the final quarter of 2012″—or this graphic:

Technology Blog Visit Trend Graph

 

5. Publicize the white paper across a variety of media (blog posts, search ads, social, etc.). Creating high-quality white papers requires a significant investments of time, cost and effort. To maximize a white paper’s impact and ROI, a similar level of energy and resources should be devoted to promoting it.

White papers provide rich opportunities for repurposing content (and using these repurposed assets to promote downloads of the full white paper), into formats such as SlideShare presentations, infographics, blog posts, guest posts, and media articles. All of these assets, as well as the original white paper, can and should be shared through social channels like Twitter, Google+,  LinkedIn and Facebook. Images and infographics can also be shared on visually-oriented networks like Pinterest and Scoop.It.

6. Think beyond the PDF. Most white papers are still produced in static PDF format. Not only do PDFs have a number of limitations (e.g., they offer very limited capabilities for SEO and aren’t mobile-friendly), but they typically force marketers to choose between two less-than-ideal options:

  • • “gating” the white paper behind a contact form generates raw leads, but also greatly diminishes distribution, as only one of twenty (on average) visitors to the download page will complete the form (and even fewer with accurate information); or
  • • allowing the white paper to be freely downloaded, which maximizes reach but provides no names to follow up with or way to measure the success and productivity of the asset.

Fortunately, marketers are no longer limited to these two alternatives, as new technologies expand the possibilities for white paper dissemination.

One example is Docalytics, an online platform which extends the utility of PDF documents by adding analytics capabilities (e.g., how long did the reader spend with the white paper? How many pages did he or she read?); one-click social sharing and other follow-on calls to action; and “inline progressive capture”–the ability to display a contact form only after the reader has read the first two or three pages, which can significantly increase conversion rates.

Another option for white paper distribution, which goes beyond the PDF format completely, is Readz, a tool that converts PDFs or articles into responsive, mobile-friendly web content. Like Docalytics, it improves conversion rates and offers rich analytics, but in addition, the Readz platform does away with the need for Acrobat Reader; adapts to display properly on any device; provides SEO benefits; and integrates to popular email and marketing automation systems, like MailChimp and Infusionsoftt–as well as to Google Analytics.

Readz Content ExamplesContent published by Readz can be directly shared through a URL. Your prospects or customers click the link or button, and the app opens. You can share the link on your website, blog or social network or in your inbound marketing campaign on a landing page or in email. The company’s goal is to “make it easy to create the kind of content that’s shareable, measurable and usable.”

Readz content is also interactive, unlike PDF files. For example, you can add “action points” that expand into pop-up text boxes when clicked on by a reader. You can imbed SlideShare presentations, videos, or other similar content into a Readz document.

To see Readz in action, check out their white paper The Insider’s Guide to White Papers that get Higher Conversions, which offers helpful tips for how to write a professional white paper, promote white papers, increase readership, improve conversion rates, and more.

Thought the Readz system drives visitors to content hosted on their site, not yours, it does provide flexible options for branding so visitors have a consistent experience, and an option to embed code on external websites is currently in the works.

Danny Brown has written a detailed review of the Readz product here, which notes that “Pricing starts at $25 per month for up to two content pieces/whitepapers 10,000 page views, going up to $300 per month for 50 whitepapers with 100,000 page views.” So, even a modest increase in conversion rate more than pays for the tool.

The bottom line is that while white papers remain a vital lead generation mechanism in a variety of industries, but particularly for b2b technology vendors, the bar has been raised. Users have become somewhat jaded due to the proliferation, and in many cases misuse, of the format.

To stand out today and get the maximum value for the (not insignificant) investment required to produce quality white papers, vendors need to provide high-quality, objective content, promote it broadly, and evaluate new tools that can improve conversion rates, provide advanced analytics, and improve the user experience across desktop and mobile devices.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Readz. However, all opinions are my own.

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How B2B Marketers Will Spend Their Budgets in 2014

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Marketing budget allocations should, of course, always be based on the unique a company’s unique situation: its specific needs, experiences, strengths, market position, market conditions and trends, etc.

That said, it can nevertheless be helpful to know how one’s competitors and peers in other industries are planning to split up their marketing dollars for the coming year. This knowledge can help marketing executives identify gaps and opportunities within their own plans, as well as providing “ammunition” for high-level budget battles.

So it’s helpful that MarketingSherpa recently asked a large number of marketers how they planned to change tactical allocations over the next 12 months.

B2B Marketing Budget Allocation Plans for 2014

 

Among the key findings:

Digital budgets are growing. While the trend is hardly shocking, it is striking how pronounced this shift is. All of the top seven growth areas for marketing dollars are digital, with more than half of all marketers planning budget increases in 2014 in five of these areas.

The top three areas for budget increases—and five of the top seven tactics—are focused on a company’s “owned” media.

Taking the top six categories as a group, the strategy being embraced by the majority of marketers in 2014 will primarily consist of:

  • • Attracting relevant visitors to their websites using valued content.
  • • Converting those visitors into leads by optimizing calls to action and other elements of landing pages.
  • • Promoting content using a mixed of organic search, paid search, and social media tactics.

B2B vendor websites have come a long way since the days of serving as essentially online brochures. Given that 70% of the b2b purchasing cycle is complete before a vendor’s sales team is even aware of the opportunity, websites are now expected to accomplish much of the pre-sales heavy lifting.

One-to-one tactics are holding steady. More than half of all survey respondents plan no changes in spending levels for direct mail, trade shows and telemarketing in the coming year, with larger shares of the remaining respondents planning budget increases rather than decreases.

Each of these tactics enable one-to-one communication with sales prospects. Direct mail and telemarketing also permit careful targeting.

Old school marketing continues to decline. The two tactics for which the largest shares of marketers plan to cut budgets in the coming year are print and broadcast advertising.  These channels share three characteristics:

  • • The content is interruption-based rather than sought out.
  • • They permit only general targeting.
  • • Their results are difficult to measure.

Taken as a whole, this survey indicates that marketers will increase efforts on content marketing (online) and targeted one-to-one (online and offline) communications over traditional, mass-market media in the coming year. While every company’s situation is unique, few B2B vendors are likely to stray too far off this general path in 2014.

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B2B Marketing is Becoming More Like B2C Marketing – Or is it?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

B2B marketing has traditionally been viewed (correctly) as much different from the promotion of consumer products. Buyers were different, sales cycles were different, messaging was different, and media was different. While there were some small areas of overlap, the disciplines were, for the most part, treated as distinct.

Image Credit: Lydia's Marketing Blog

Image Credit: Lydia’s Marketing Blog

That may be changing. Driven by shifting customer expectations and demands, “B2B vendors clearly feel that they need to evolve to more closely resemble their B2C counterparts,” according to recent research reported on by MarketingCharts.

Much of the study focused on online commerce, where changes in b2b offerings indeed make sense. There’s no reason corporate purchasing professionals shouldn’t be able to buy office supplies, chairs, filing cabinets, commodity technology items and other frequently purchased, generally low value items online as easily as they’d buy a book, a pair of shoes or music in their personal lives.

The study suggested however that the emulation of B2C marketing practices by their B2B counterparts may go beyond ecommerce, however. So, are B2B marketers really adopting B2C practices? Yes and no. While creative B2B marketing professionals have always adopted certain consumer marketing practices to their needs, significant differences remain—and likely will for a long time.

4 Areas Where the Consumerization of B2B Marketing Applies…

Entertaining content. B2B content doesn’t have to be boring (at least not all of it). While certain types of information, such as technical product specifications, need to be delivered as straightforwardly and succinctly as possible, many types of B2B content could use a bit more life. Show off your brand’s personality. Don’t be afraid to use (appropriate) humor. Tell stories; inspire prospective buyers with tales of what your current customers have achieved.

Multimedia content, including video. While text (such as blog posts and white papers) will continue to play a significant role in B2B marketing, messages and concepts can often be delivered in a more compelling manner through infographics, online slide presentations, and video. B2B C-level executives are watching an increasing amount of online video, with 75% of executives telling Forbes they watch work-related videos on business websites at least once per week,  according to statistics provided by b2b video expert Bob Leonard.

A focus on personal benefits. B2B buyers are people too. While it’s essential to provide information about product capabilities, benefits, and financial justification—traditional B2B content—it can also help to talk about the personal benefits of a B2B purchasing choice to a buyer, such as job security (being the safe choice), career enhancement (helping the buyer be a hero, get a raise or promotion), and work-life balance (make the buyer’s job easier, get home earlier in the evening).

Capitalizing on trade shows. Despite the growth in digital marketing channels, physical tradeshows and conferences remain one of the most effective lead generation tactics for B2B marketers. Of course, B2C marketers use such events as well, with car shows, boat shows, and home-and-garden shows being among the most popular. B2B marketers can increase the impact of tradeshow attendance by borrowing B2C event promotion tactics, such as selective use of outdoor and local radio advertising.

…And Four Areas Where B2B Marketing Remains Distinct

Roles trump demographics. While other factors have gained in importance over the years, demographic metrics remain a key focus in B2C marketing; consider the differences,  not just in the products promoted, but in the style and tone of messages between the TV advertisements shown on, for example, 60 Minutes, and the NFL game that precedes it throughout autumn.

In B2B marketing, work roles play a far larger role than demographics. Information targeted to the CFO is different from technical product specifications designed for engineering, but each of those messages remain essentially the same regardless of the age, gender or ethnicity of the financial executive or technical decision maker.

Information trumps image. In many if not most cases, B2B products and services are more complex (and expensive) than consumer goods. B2B messaging is therefore of necessity more detailed and information based; buyers need larger quantities of information to determine how a purchase may impact current business practices, how it will integrate with existing systems, what impact it will have on staffing, and other considerations absent in consumer purchases.

Committees make decisions. The vast majority of consumer purchases are individual decisions. In complex B2B sales, group decisions are the norm. Rather than targeting an individual buyer, therefore, B2B marketers need to develop content for all of the people likely to be involved in the vendor selection process, frequently encompassing at a minimum  a business buyer (how will this increase sales or reduce costs?), a financial buyer (cost, financing, ROI),  and a technical buyer (specifications, compatibility with existing systems or platforms, integration points and requirements).

Services are a major component of sales. B2B sales often combine services with products, one factor increasing the cost and complexity noted above. Unlike consumer purchases, B2B product acquisitions often include services not just to implement but also optimize the use of those items. When buying applications like marketing automation, multi-channel marketing metrics, or customer relationship management (CRM), for example, the quality of the consulting services is every bit as important as the functionality of the software itself.

While the consumerization of B2B marketing is an interesting concept, it clearly has its limits. Or does it? What do you think?

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Need More B2B Sales Leads? Ignore This Research

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

According to recent research conducted by InsideSales.com and reported by MarketingProfs, websites,  blogs and search are among the most effective tactics for both lead generation and brand awareness. But social media (including Twitter, Pinterest and Google+), display ads and online video are among the worst activities for achieving either objective.

While the findings are interesting and no doubt reflect the experience of many b2b marketers, it’s crucial not to misinterpret the results. Whether one agrees with conclusions of the research or not, it clearly has one important flaw: ignoring the connections between tactics.

Top B2B Lead Generation Tactics

 

Business buyers obtain information from multiple online and offline sources when making significant purchase decisions. A study from Siriius Decisions found that b2b buyers are typically 70% of the way through their purchase process before they contact a vendor’s sales team.

That makes it crucial for companies to be as visible as possible during that research phase, before they even aware of a prospect’s potential interest. And given that more than 90% of b2b buyers use online sources in their buying decisions, it’s vital to maximize web presence.

In order to create a framework to optimize web presence and online visibility,  b2b marketers need to understand and capitalize on the connections between these different tactics. For example, just looking at four of the tactics in the “Established Value” quadrant:

Tradeshows and conferences: marketers can maximize their presence at these events by utilizing a button, badge or “ad” on the company website; direct mail; a blog post about the upcoming event; a notice in the company’s email newsletter; and through social media updates on Twitter and LinkedIn.

During the event, the company can use public relations tactics to meet with industry journalists and other influencers attending the show or conference.

And post-event, the company can keep buzz going by posting photos from the booth on Facebook and Pinterest, and if the show included a speaking opportunity, posting the presentation to SlideShare and possibly even video to YouTube.

Email or electronic newsletters: e-newsletters and marketing email messages serve two basic functions–to share information of value to recipients, and to persuade recipients to take action.

That information may be third-party links, but may also be hosted on the company’s website or blog. Newsletters themselves, new and archived, can be posted on the company website, where they provide search value. Both the email and web-hosted version of the newsletter should contain social links,  encouraging readers to share the content on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or other social networks.

Newsletter calls to action can include registration for executive events, virtual events, or webinars—all of which appear in the “underused” quadrant in this chart. They can also promote content downloads—reports, white papers, e-books and guides. Website visitors are often more likely to register for an event or download a white paper if the landing page includes a short online video (which is, for this and other reasons, best not a “being abandoned” tactic).

Company websites: these are of course at the core of digital marketing. The ultimate goal of all online tactics (and many offline ones) is to attract visitors to your website to learn more about your products and services, and take some action (purchase, subscribe, register, download, contact sales, or some other conversion action).

The single leading source of traffic for most b2b websites remains organic search. Driving search traffic requires ranking well, which in turn depends on relevant content, high-quality links, and social signals.

The content is going to be housed on company website pages, in the newsletter archive, and in posts on the company blog. It can include images, infographics, rich media, and online video in addition to text.

Some of the highest quality links come from influential industry blogs or news websites, which are supported by an active public relations program. Quality links also come from event sponsorships and industry association websites.

Social signals are driven by links from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and even Pinterest. Indeed, recent research indicates that Google+, while not much of a social network, can be highly valuable in achieving the ranking that drives organic search traffic. “Abandon” such tactics at your own risk.

Website traffic can also be driven by offline tactics like radio, outdoor,  and direct mail. Codes can be assigned (e.g., “Visit company.com/radio to learn more”)—or in the case of direct mail, QR codes can be used—in order to track the effectiveness of these channels.

Sponsorships/Associations: event sponsorships as well as membership in and content contributions to industry and trade association websites are key components of industry presence, which can both drive targeted website traffic and create relevant, high-quality backlinks to the company website and/or blog. Event sponsorship can also drive increased booth traffic at tradeshows.

Industry associations also often offer opportunities for guest blog posts (which can then be promoted through social networks), participation and exposure in groups on LinkedIn, and even in some cases online display advertising—which can drive site traffic or targeted calls to action.

The bottom line is that,  while various online and offline tactics clearly differ in direct value and the amount of budget and effort they merit, it’s also vital to recognize and account for the connections between these tactics and how they support each other. This requires using cross-channel online marketing metrics to develop strategies, prioritize tactics, and execute effectively to support your organization’s ultimate online visibility and business goals.

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Five Marketing Metrics that are Definitely NOT “Worthless”

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Online marketing activities preovide marketers with a wealth of metrics; actually, too much information. The challenge in deciding which strategies to pursue, increase, modify, or drop, in most cases isn’t a lack of data but an over-abundance of it. Marketers just want the competitive and multichannel metrics they need to make informed decisions, nothing more.

But like any good thing, data simplification can be overdone. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

WPO Metrics DashboardOf course it’s true that, ultimately,  any marketing tactic has to show business results (higher sales,  lower costs, or some combination thereof). But to argue that marketing strategies and tactics can be properly evaluated solely on that basis is like saying pilots don’t need instruments; after all, at the end of the day,  a pilot isn’t judged by altitude or airspeed, but simply by the result of safely landing at the flight’s destination.

Just as a pilot needs instruments to fly accurately and safely, marketers need a broad set of interim metrics to measure their overall web presence and activities. Simply because a specific metric doesn’t appear on a P&L statement or in an ROI calculation doesn’t make it unimportant.

Yet that’s what was argued recently in The 5 most worthless metrics in marketing in iMedia Connection. Now iMedia Connection  is a widely respected marketing publication; its posts and stories are frequently spot-on and highly share-worthy, but this article misses the mark.

The post states that marketers shouldn’t “measure anything that you can’t find a direct line of sight back to your financial statements.” But that criteria would ignore many “interim” metrics that, while not directly bottom-line related in and of themselves, are important guideposts to designing and executing financially successful marketing plans—similar to the way a pilot may use GPS or visual landmarks.

Here are the five metrics and why each is indeed not “worthless.”

Twitter Followers

The post contends that counting Twitter followers is “a completely pointless exercise…Up to half of all Twitter accounts are inactive, while many are just spambots. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Twitter fans of many celebrities and politicians are fake. So we have to ask: Why would someone purchase fakes on a system whose sole function is to communicate with people?”

There are two problems with this argument. The first is that Twitter follower count is misleading because of inactive and bot accounts. But as Shelly Kramer recently wrote, this issue is easily overcome using a tool like Status People, which checks for fake followers and reports, for any Twitter account, the percentages of fake, inactive, and good Twitter followers (the tools reveals, for example, that for the @TomPick Twitter account, those figures are 1%, 6%, and 93% respectively—not bad).

The second is the notion of “purchasing” Twitter followers, which is a bad idea regardless. Just as a college student may be able to cheat in a class by buying a term paper, or even test answers, the result is that the student didn’t really get the benefit of learning in the class, which will have long-term (if not also short-term) repercussions. And it renders that student’s grade worthless.

But that doesn’t make the general notion of class grades or test scores worthless, only those that are achieved fraudulently. The same principle applies to Twitter followers; as long as they are obtained legitimately, the count does matter.

Facebook “Likes”

The article argues in his post that “the vast majority of people who click the ‘like’ button will never return to the site of their own accord. If you want to get value out of them, you need to actively do something.” True! But that doesn’t make “likes” worthless generically, it means, as with Twitter followers, that what matters is how the “like” are obtained and what type of ongoing engagement activities are implemented.

As with many web presence optimization and online marketing metrics,  what’s important about Facebook “likes” isn’t the number itself but rather 1) how that number changes over time, and 2) how that number compares to competitors’. If your “likes” aren’t growing over time, it calls for rethinking the type of updates you’re sharing and how you’re engaging on Facebook.

And if competitors have significant more “likes,” why? Is there something in their strategies you can learn from? Or are they merely inflating their follower counts through contests similar low-involvement tactics? If the latter, then the “likes” differential truly doesn’t matter much.

This isn’t to say that Facebook should be a central part of every company’s social strategy. It’s a better environment for promoting hospitality, entertainment, retail and fashion brands than for industrial goods. And if you sell an item like adult diapers or anti-fungal cream, you’re unlikely to get a lot of customers to publicly express affection for your products on Facebook no matter how much they may “like” them in real life.

Social Mentions

The point that sentiment tracking is important (thought challenging to do accurately) in providing context around social mentions is well taken, but still: if you’ve got an active social media marketing program going and aren’t getting social mentions, that’s a critical signal that something is wrong. And as with “likes,” if competitors are getting significantly more social mentions than your brand, you need to investigate why.

Link Counts

Actually,  the post is correct here that an unfiltered, raw count of backlinks is meaningless. In the post-Penguin world, a large number of link farm or similar low-quality links can be worse than useless—it can actually be harmful.

Still, with proper categorization and filtering, links counts can be quite enlightening. Discovering that a competitor has far more links from industry news sources or blogs, for example, tells you something important about their strategy, and how you may need to adjust yours.

Search Engine Visibility

Again, while it’s true as the article states that “Many performance indicators, including bounce rate, form abandonment, average order value, engagement, and conversion rate, vary from search phrase to search phrase,” telling a client or boss generically that search engine visibility doesn’t matter is certainly not advisable.

Ideally, a website should attract increasing numbers of visits over time for both branded and non-brand (generic) search phrases. Generic visits are driven by SEO activities (content, social, PR, industry, link-building, etc.). Branded search visits are driven by a host of activities that raise brand awareness; again including PR and social,  but also advertising, trade shows,  sponsorships, speaking engagements, awards, community involvement among others.

Yes, it’s true that in the final analysis, if a marketing activity isn’t positively contributing to the bottom line, a company shouldn’t be spending time, effort or money on it. But there are many interim measures that are vital in guiding marketers, just as instruments guide pilots, to adjust their speed or direction intelligently in order to reach their final destination.

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