Tag Archives: Anne Janzer

Measuring content marketing effectiveness

How do you measure the performance of your content marketing?  LinkedIn recently introduced a Content Marketing Score to track and benchmark the performance of content on the LinkedIn network. This effort highlights a larger issue – it’s tough to track the effectiveness of content marketing efforts.

We’re not great at tracking marketing in general

The most recent release of the Duke CMO Survey confirms the scope of the problem. Conducted twice a year through the Duke Fuqua School of Business, the survey is a rich source of information about trends in marketing. You can see the overall results here or drill down to the results split out by industry characteristics and look for what’s happening in B2B marketing.

One interesting difference between the B2B and B2C responders was that B2B marketers were significantly worse than their B2C counterparts at quantitatively proving the impact of their marketing efforts.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 4.12.45 PM

Source: The CMO Survey (February 2014), Figure 3.7, Highlights and Insights Report

When it comes to short-term impact, B2C product marketers can prove their effectiveness at more than twice the rate of their B2B colleagues.

Near half of B2B marketers claimed ‘qualitative’ proof of their marketing effectiveness without the hard data to back it up. And almost 20% had no idea at all. Because content marketing is a growing part of the B2B marketing investment, it most certainly contributes to the problem.

Measuring content marketing is difficult

Measuring effectiveness of content is difficult, particularly in B2B. Content marketing often helps the buyer through a journey, and sales can rarely be attributed to a single piece of content or interaction. Different metrics are appropriate at different stages of the content cycle.

For a lead generation piece, a high number of downloads or registrations may be the best measure of success. A piece designed for a specific buyer persona late in the sales cycle may reach a small number of people but play a critical role in revenue.  I once wrote a white paper intended for one specific prospective customer of an early-stage B2B company. Given the size of the deal and the importance of the customer, creating the paper was well worth the time and effort.

That being said, you should certainly try to track the effectiveness of the content marketing investment as best you can. Just realize that it’s an imperfect art. And remember that your social media and content marketing efforts may trigger the ‘offline’ discussions that ultimately deliver big results. Thanks to Heidi Cohen and her blog on P2P Content: The Content Nobody Measures for advocating the importance of the offline world!

Content recycling do’s and don’ts

The biggest challenge that many content marketers face is creating enough content to reach prospects and customers at the right places and times.  Re-purposing or recycling content is a critical strategy.

When you recycle content, you can amplify your message, reaching different parts of your target audience at different stages of the decision cycle. For example, the content developed for a single webinar could be recycled into white papers, blog postings, infographics and videos.

But there’s an important distinction between ‘recycling’ or repurposing content and simply re-using it.

Think of the analogy of a glass bottle. When you re-use it, you simply wash it out and use it again in exactly its same form.  From an environmental point of view, this is great because it takes the least energy.

The same is true for  re-using content across channels – putting a press release on your social media sites or in your blog takes less energy than actually doing something with it.

Here’s the catch – from the reader/viewer’s perspective, it’s clear that you’ve basically punted and chosen the low-energy strategy. And that doesn’t work in your favor.

Worse, content designed for one use (such as a press release) doesn’t usually work well in other channels.  The social media world is filled with examples of content re-use gone wrong.

Content “don’ts”: Looking lazy or clueless

  • Don’t automatically push all your Facebook posts to Twitter. It’s frustrating to read a truncated post on Twitter, in which the call to action has been cut off or the message cut in a way that makes no sense.
  • Beware of pushing press releases, verbatim, to social media sites like LinkedIn.  At the very least, write something pointed and relevant about the ‘news’ in the comment, then attach the release.
  • Don’t cut and paste big chunks of content, verbatim, across white papers and ebooks (with the exception of boilerplate text or definitions). When someone encounters the same paragraphs in different places, they’ll either put it aside thinking they’ve already read it, or conclude that you’re a small-time operation without adequate resources.

4 steps to successful content recycling

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to repurpose content appropriately.

  1. Identify any limitations or characteristics of the target(s) for your recycled content (Twitter, Facebook, images, blog posts, etc.)
  2. Think about the audience for that medium. Are the people who visit your blog the same people that might go to your page on Facebook?  LinkedIn? If not, you’ll need to adjust the style and/or messages.
  3. Rework the content with the audience in mind. Take snippets or pull out certain key sections to amplify in different ways. Rephrase or rework the ideas – so even if the same person sees it in both places, they’ll still follow through.
  4. Think across media  – create an infographic for a paper, for example, or a video from an ebook.

Yes, it takes more work to recycle the content appropriately than re-using it without change, but you’ll ultimately get more value from that content.

Content marketing, technology and sustainability

Laptop on stump is charging with help of natureAfter spending many years writing about the role of technology in business, I’m expanding my horizons to explore technology’s role in sustainable development. I’ll keep writing here about content marketing and technology, but I’m also starting a parallel blog on technology and sustainability.

Creating a more sustainable world is the next big challenge of technology, industry, governments and cultures.  I’d love to be part this effort. And as a content marketing professional, I’ve learned a few tricks that can play a role.

Tell stories:  Governments, NGOs, individuals and businesses alike are all taking steps towards a more sustainable future. But their stories are often swamped in today’s news environment. I’d like to amplify some of the positive stories of change – particularly in the area of technology, where I operate every day.

Meet the audience where they are: This is a content marketing premise that can be applied equally well to “marketing”  sustainability. For example, Patagonia dedicated two pages in the middle of its winter catalog to an article by the company’s founder about the “responsible economy.”  The pull-quote for this story was, “I think the simple life really begins with owning less stuff.”  Sure, Patagonia shoppers already love nature, but it was refreshing to see this message happen right at the place where people are looking to buy.

Understand  human psychology: It’s easy to feel a sense of helplessness when confronting the problems of climate and sustainability.  Yikes, the ocean is warming?  What can I do?   Unfortunately, one common response is to turn away and focus on simpler or more pleasant things.

A study by C.J. Hutto and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that on Twitter, people who posted positive messages gained the most followers. (Good writing was also a contributing factor, I’m happy to say.)

That’s not to say that we should hold off on the bad news – other studies show that people pay more attention to bad news than good. But if you want to encourage people to take action and to amplify your message, it’s best not to make the case too hopeless. Give people something to move towards, rather than run away from.

If you’re interested in following this journey, visit my new blog, Technology and Sustainability. I welcome comments and suggestions.

Create a quick corporate style guide

If multiple people create content for your business, you need a corporate style guide. Otherwise, you risk having a corporate identity with personality disorder.

Style guide

Keep a consistent voice across your content

If you don’t already have a style guide, don’t fear. It doesn’t have to be a huge project. Here’s a case where the perfect is the enemy of the good. It’s better to have a basic, barebones guide that people will actually use, rather than a complete AP Style Guide discourse.

At a minimum, the style guide should cover terminology specific to your company/industry, as well as the most common mistakes you see from writers.

Here are the five basic elements that I include in the ‘quick-and-dirty’ style guides I sometimes create for clients. (Note that logo usage, fonts and color schemes are out of scope – although the style guide is a good place to include them.)

1. Product naming and usage

It seems obvious, but needs saying. The style guide should include:

  • Product names (with correct capitalization)
  • Product name usage – For example, should you “install seven Acme Gizmos” or “install Acme Gizmo on seven servers?”
  • Product category – Be consistent about how you refer to the product.

2. Voice

Share the overall tone and voice, based on the ‘corporate style’ you’ve identified (see my previous post on Finding your corporate style). Considerations include:

  • Second person – Do you write ‘you’ when referring to the reader?
  • First person plural – Do you want to say ‘we’ in your website? In which situations? (For a discussion of using “we”, see Gini Dietrich’s recent post about “eliminating the French” from your website.)
  • Active/passive – Encourage people to avoid excessive use of the passive voice.
  • Authoritative vs. collaborative – Do you want to be perceived as the font of authority, or do you want a more engaging style?
  • Humor – Is it appropriate, and if so, where and how much?

Blog contributors will write in a personal tone and style – that’s appropriate and expected. They have more leeway on sentence structure and the use of first and second person. But blogs should still use the same grammar rules, product naming and terminology as pieces written in the corporate voice.

3. Punctuation

Use the AP style guide or Chicago Manual of Style as a final arbiter for punctuation. However, your style guide can resolve the most common dilemmas for writers, including:

  • Commas – Choose a side in the great serial comma debate and stick with it. (The serial comma is the last comma before the ‘and’ in a list).
  • Dashes – If dashes are consistent with your corporate style, do you use an m-dash or n-dash? Lay out for people exactly how you want dashes to appear, and whether you want a space on either side or not.
  • It’s and its – This is such a common mistake that it’s worth putting in your style guide. The possessive does not have an apostrophe, the contraction does.

4. Capitalization

Which terms/words common should you capitalize? Legitimate candidates include:

  • Product names
  • Terms for which you have trademarks or registered trademarks
  • Terms that make up an acronym (Bring Your Own Device or BYOD)
  • Initial words of headings (depending on your heading styles)
  • Industry terms like “Internet” or “Wi-Fi”

Note that when it comes to capitalization, more is not better. Do not capitalize words within sentences without good reason. Make a strong stand against random capitalization.

5. Blacklisted words

Come up with your personal list of overused or stale words and ban them from your content. Anyone using a blacklisted word should present a convincing business case. My personal blacklist includes:

  • Leading – This word is overused to the point of meaninglessness (I’m a leading provider of content marketing strategy – bleh.)
  • Impactful – Need I say more? Even “impact” is often used incorrectly.
  • Utilize – 90 percent of the time I see the word ‘utilize’, it is an ugly substitute for the simpler ‘use.’

Share and collaborate on your style guide

Now share your barebones style guide with everyone creating content on your behalf – from writers to bloggers, designers and editors. Be sure to put a date on it. An effective style guide will continue to change over time.

Using a style guide will help you create consistency across your content marketing efforts and reinforce your brand image.

Finding your corporate style

If you’re ramping up your content marketing, you need a distinct and consistent corporate style. You want to create a corporate personality that is consistent across all of your communications, starting with your website.

My last post talked about identifying your corporate tone and style. But what if you’re just getting started or trying to reposition the company?

Corporate branding is beyond the scope of this blog. If you’ve done branding work, then that will inform your writing style. Otherwise, here are a few ideas to help find your authentic tone and style.

Find your adjectives

Pick three adjectives to identify the corporate image you’d like to portray. Are you:

  • friendly, responsive and expert?
  • trusted, secure and authoritative?
  • edgy, innovative and fun?

With only three adjectives, you cannot try to be all things to all people.

Make sure that the style will appear to your core customers. What works in the B2C space doesn’t always work in B2B. But B2B doesn’t have to be boring – just look at Box or AppDynamics.

The adjectives should be based in reality – if they don’t reflect the corporate culture, the perception won’t stick. If you’re a company fully of geeks, then embrace your own geekiness.

Try the goldilocks strategy

Once you know what you want, you have to decide how far to take it. Just how edgy do you want to be?  If you’re not sure, use the Goldilocks approach. Look at the websites of other companies to find the extremes, then determine your own comfort level.

Too formal -> just right -> too casual
Too serious -> just right -> Too flippant

Maybe you want to push the boundaries.  Every company will have a different take on what ‘just right’ means for their business.

Once you’ve identified some ‘just right’ websites, share them with your content developers to give them an idea of the tone and style you want to achieve. This will help ensure consistency across all of your content marketing efforts.

What’s your corporate style?

Your corporate website already has a distinct tone and style – is it by design or by accident?

As a writer, I need to understand a company’s tone and style before I start writing.   The corporate website is the first place I look. But it doesn’t always send the messages that companies intend.

Elements of online style

Although I focus on writing style, a website communicates brand personality in many ways, including:

  • The balance of text to graphics
  • Choice of pictures and fonts
  • Navigation (how easy or hard is it to find what you need)
  • Whether you ‘gate’ content or make it freely available

Then, finally, there are the  words and what they say. The combination of all these factors creates an online personality that the site visitor will associate with your business. Once that perception is in their heads, it can be tough to displace.

“Inconsistent” is not the style you want

Sometimes your website communicates a brand personality that you don’t intend to present, such as:

  • Carelessness (multiple grammatical or spelling problems)
  • Lack of consideration (hard to read and navigate)
  • Arrogance (talking about ‘we’ and ‘us’ without considering the visitor)
  • Inconsistency (writing style varies widely between pages)

These probably aren’t the brand images you want to project.

Do a quick ‘style audit’

Take a look at your website. Does it accurately communicate what you perceive to be your business culture and personality – either where you are today or where you want to be shortly?

It’s often best to ask a third party to do this audit for you. You could spring for full usability testing or use an unscientific panel of people in your target market. Just make sure that you get honest responses.

And at the very least, perform this basic tone/style check for the following red flags:

  • Grammar or spelling errors
  • Excessive use of “we” and “us” on your pages.  This belongs on the “About us” section, not everywhere else
  • Large blocks of text – break them up into smaller paragraphs and bullets
  • Long sentences – break them up into smaller sentences if you want people to read online

You can fix most of these problems quickly, without a major site redesign. Usability and design issues will take more work, but are a worthwhile investment.

In upcoming posts, I’ll write about identifying an appropriate tone and style for your business, and then making it stick across your content marketing efforts.