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.

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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.

A simple strategy for feeding the corporate blog

The single biggest question most companies have about creating a blog is this one: who has time to create content for the blog? Consistency is important – you need to keep providing fresh (and relevant) content on your blog.

One strategy for populating the blog is to make blogging a byproduct of your other content development efforts.

The “+blog” approach

Think of it as ‘supersizing’ your content development – order a blog on the side with nearly everything you do.

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“You want a blog with that?”

  • Developing a webinar? Create a blog post about it – both before the event (promoting the webinar) and afterwards.
  • Just shoot a great video? Embed it in your blog, with a few comments about interesting points.
  • Published a customer story? Find a point to highlight in the blog.

You get the idea.

Warning: Don’t just shill the content

Focus on delivering real value in the blog post – not just pushing the content asset. Or, in the immortal words of Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman in the book Content Rules, “Share or solve, don’t shill.”

Blog about an interesting fact, lesson learned or best practice from the asset and offer the link at the end as an additional source of content. Make sure that the reader gains something from reading the blog in the first place, even if they go no further.

Consider your timing

You want to create the blog content at the same time you create the initial content asset (the story, video, whatever). This makes it part of the larger task rather than a separate to-do for someone on your blogging team.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to publish the post at that time. It may be more valuable if you wait. You can use it to fill a gap in your editorial calendar or schedule during your vacation. For a time-based event like a webinar, use the blog to drive traffic to the recording well after the initial airing, when you have a fresh set of visitors to your blog who didn’t see the initial promotion.

And remember the SEO benefits

Using the +blog approach can also help you get more results from the original content by driving more traffic from the blog. Because they are updated frequently, blogs often rank highly in organic search –  the other content can be ‘found’ through the blog.

Using webinars in your content strategy

Webinars or webcasts are hardly a new technology, but they’re still hot in technology marketing.  Content marketing as a marketing strategy has breathed new life into the whole idea of webinars and webcasts.

In a new study published by the research organization Silicon Valley Voices, webinars rank highly as a strategy for multiple phases of the content lifecycle:

Webinar graphic SVV

[Source: Silicon Valley Voices, 2013 Marketing Trends report]

Webinars and lead generation

Webinars are great for lead generation because people are willing give you their email address in exchange for the anticipated  value of the webinar.  It’s up to you to make sure that the webinar delivers on that expectation.

For lead generation, you need to reach out to people who aren’t already in your internal database. To promote the webinar, be sure to:

  • Write keyword-rich and relevant blog posts ahead of the webinar
  • Cross-promote with partners if appropriate
  • Reach out to your list with shareable links to the webinar – so people can easily share with others who might be interested

The standard practice used to be to promote webinars weeks in advance. Recently I’ve noticed that people often wait until the last minute to register.  Be sure to send a reminder email a day or two ahead of time to catch procrastinators.

Webinars have longevity

A recorded webinar can continue delivering and nurturing leads for months to come if you make the most of it. Don’t let it gather dust on the Resources page of your website.

Here are a few ideas for getting more content value from your webinar.

  • Create a quick summary of the webinar and offer it to everyone who registered (along with a link to the recorded webinar).
  • Pull an interesting idea or two out of the webinar and create a blog post. The post should be of value on its own, but point people to the recorded webinar at the end. (Bonus: this can happen several months after the webinar, potentially reaching a new  set of followers.)
  • Use the webinar as the basis for a contributed article or white paper.
  • Engage existing prospects by asking them to suggest future topics.

I’d love to hear about other creative ways people are getting more ‘juice’ from their webinar investment.

Content marketing and the new marketing reality

Is content marketing an over-used term? Probably. Is it over-hyped? Maybe. But make no mistake, it is the new reality for marketing organizations – ignore it at your peril.

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[Google Trends shows recent uptick in search activity for Content Marketing]

The trend has been building for years in the B2B technology area, as buyers have been changing how they research and buy solutions.

Give away the good stuff
When I started in technology marketing, marketing saved its really ‘meaty’ materials for the sales team. Anything that included target audience, potential objections or competitive differentiators was marked with “Confidential” and included as part of sales training. You didn’t want your competitors to see what you were doing or to put potential objections into the minds of your prospects.

Those days are gone. Today people are actively researching solutions long before your sales team ever talks with them. You still need sales training, but you also need ‘prospect training.’ Focus on the customer. That’s where content marketing comes in.

The key is to give people useful, high-value content that helps them solve their business problems. Give it away freely, without waiting for prospects to talk to your salespeople. They can find this information on their own, anyway. You can earn their trust and attention by providing value early in the sales cycle.

There’s no turning back
Maybe you think you can stick to what you’ve always done – business as usual. This only succeeds if all of your competitors have the same idea. Once your competitors start engaging your prospects with useful, valuable content, they’ll gain an edge and you’ll lose the chance to form those relationships yourself.

Here’s a good article from Velocity Partners on content marketing hype and history.