Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Content Remains King: 5 Tips to Reign Supreme

Many moons ago, the media mogul Sumner Redstone coined the phrase "content is king." 

Redstone uttered this now-famous phrase because with the proliferation of broadcasting, movies and other media outlets, he knew content was more important than distribution mechanisms. There would always exist channels of distribution (albeit in varied forms), but content was always going to be necessary.

Still True Today
Redstone's proclamation “Content is King”  was never more true than in today's online marketing world.

In business to business marketing, relevant content of value to prospects feeds Internet marketing, blog posts, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, direct marketing, public relations, and other online channels.

Proof Positive
Here’s proof that content remains king: According to Marketing Sherpa’s 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report-SEO Edition, “content creation works the best, but takes the most work.”

Another data point:  A recent study by TechValidate shows content marketing is a central tactic in the modern B2B marketers’ toolkit for generating demand. 90% of respondents reported a significant slice of their marketing budget is devoted to producing content.

Tips to Reign Supreme
If effective content fuels business to business marketing, and helps with SEO, web traffic, lead generation and other key metrics, what’s the best way to consistently churn out compelling website copy, blog posts, guest blog posts, whitepapers, press releases and more?

Here are 5 tips to “reign supreme” with your marketing content:

1) Let the customer speak:    Develop marketing content that answers the question “what’s in it for the prospect?”   Avoid “we we” text, and content that talks only about the company. Keep front and center the needs, wants, and problems of prospects for content that offers specific value.  Take a close look at your products/services, discover what motivates the customer and prospect, and write about that.

2) Match the content to the audience:   Folks who have just discovered your product or service likely do not want lengthy and detailed technical white papers.  They are simply looking for high-level information to orient themselves to your offering.  Be sure content addresses those folks early in the sales cycle.  Likewise, develop and offer more detailed content for those later in the cycle, who seek specifications and other details to see if your product or service is a good fit. 

3) Recycle and repurpose:  My colleagues and I at Market Strategies and PR claim to be the “greenest marketers around” in that we recycle content in a myriad of ways. A customer case study or analyst research paper is transformed into a press release, a blog post, a Tweet, a direct marketing offer, and web copy.  Be resourceful, seek out nuggets of information and recycle it to fuel their content machine.

People don't read.  They scan. 

In the spirit of brevity, I'll keep this tip short. Remember that with marketing content, “less is more.”  And by all means, avoid buzzwords and marketing speak!

5) Tell a story:  Stories are easy to remember.  Instead of an assortment of facts, technical specs or other dry content, help your prospects gain value by telling a compelling story. A story provides a lesson. Business storytelling is no different. The trick is to take the time to create a meaningful story of value.   

(PRWeb post about generating compelling press releases puts it this way: "As content creators, we are storytellers." )

Go Forth - May Your Content Reigneth Supreme! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Brevity: The Soul of Business Writing?

There is a compelling case for concise business writing.

Whether it’s Twitter (where one is forced to be succinct at 140 characters),  the annual composing and sending of trillions of cryptic text messages, or the advent of the “one sentence press release” -- folks are losing patience with  the blah blah blah...
Even email messages of over 50 words or so cause a recipient’s eyes to glaze over.
Blast from the Past
My fellow Liberal Arts majors might recall Strunk’s “Elements of Style"-- 
Dating from 1918, William Strunk puts it like this:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.   William Strunk Jr.
 in Elements of Style
No Value in Verbosity
Even in the face of these wise words, and the exponential growth of Twitter, business writing is still as long-winded and verbose as ever.
Everybody loses with verbosity.  Messages are lost.  Readers lose meaning. Marketers lose audiences.  

Business communicators, and certainly marketers, must cultivate the art of being concise.
Going Mobile
It’s likely that patience with overly wordy text will continue to diminish.
A recent study by Norman/Nielsen group reveals that impatience with overly-long business messaging is growing with the rise in use of mobile devices and tablets.
“Mobile users are in a hurry and get visibly angry at verbose messages that waste their time. Also, it's twice as hard to understand content on small mobile devices as it is on bigger desktop screens, making wordy content even more despised.”
It is hard work to shape complex ideas and condense them down to clear insights. It’s much easier to ramble, relying on filler text and meaningless words.
I grapple with these same issues myself when developing marketing content for clients.
5 Keys to Being Concise
In the spirit of the New Year, here’s a simple check-list for more pithy and concise communication:
1) Write. Rest. Return.  Write your text.  Let it rest overnight. Review with a fresh eye and start cutting .  And I mean chop! Someone once said (it might have been me) that a final draft should lose 40% of content from the first draft.  (I try to take this approach with client work as much as possible.  Will resolve to do better in 2012!)

2) A picture is worth 1000 words. Let images, charts and graphics tell the story in business writing as much as possible. 

3) Stay active. Avoid passive voice when writing.  Stick to active voice for a more immediate impact.

4) Keep it simple. Strive for simplicity and clarity. Make every word count. 

5) Forget the fluff.  Avoid over-used and cliché ridden terms. Marketing-speak buzzwords do not help with meaning. 

I’m tempted to say more, but won’t since after all, this post isn't that concise, is it?! 

Let us go forth and be brief!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reckoning with Last Year's Resolutions

The list set priorities against the never-ending to-do list of marketing campaigns, eNewsletters, PR programs and other daily tasks.

So how did it turn out?  

Let's look back to the 5 resolutions set for 2011, with an assessment of efforts.

1) Test your marketing programs, when you can.  2011 efforts were solid but we can do better!  One 2011 client project did use a CRM solution to split direct email marketing messages into A/B groups to test email subject lines. However, our team resolves to continue to test one element at a time.  This year, we intend to test the audiences by being more strategic in segmentation; test the “call to action” or offers to see which gets the best result; test design elements like photos; test headlines and subheads in the copy.  I did not have a chance to use Google Optimizer tools to A/B test two pages of a website. Great idea to pursue in 2012.

2) Ask somebody else outside of the organization to review your content.  Again, 2011 efforts were good but there’s room for improvement here.  For several Rogier Communications projects, a person outside the client organization, who was in the same general industry, read marketing content (website, an article and press releases) and provided valuable feedback. Other client work did not take time to seek an outside perspective. Here again, need to do more of this in 2012!

3) Make campaigns as relevant and timely as possible.  Teaming with Markit Strategies, our efforts definitely hit the mark.  Our team quickly sent out over a dozen direct marketing messages through the year, emphasizing timely regulations, articles and news in the industry press relevant on behalf of our main Markit Strategies client. These messages result in high conversions responding to the offer.  The timely nature of the message is a big part of the success.  Let’s keep it up in 2012!

4) Make measurements meaningful.  A recent post stressed the value of measuring marketing program outcomes, not outputs. 2011 efforts moved in this direction, but there is room for improvement.  Several 2011 Rogier Communications programs did focus on outcomes in terms of measuring social media engagement, open rates of messages, web traffic and other key metrics.  We can do better about being consistent in measurement, reporting, and monitoring trends.

5) Keep learning! Try something new!  This one hit the mark in 2011. There was tremendous value from attending the MarketingSherpa BtoB Summit in Boston, summarized in blog post recap part I and Summit recap part II.    The one-on-one content strategy and direct marketing coaching provided by MecLabs was especially useful. Other 2011 training included attending several  MarketingProf webinars related to using LinkedIn business-to-business marketing, eBook marketing, content strategy, and direct mail messaging.  I taught myself the basics of salesforce.com for a professional services client, and successfully navigated the world of social media marketing.  It’s critical to keep skills fresh. A learning mind is everything. This approach will continue in 2012.

So instead of laying out another set of resolutions, let’s keep these five and shoulder on!  Happy New Year, all!