Tag Archives: Anne Janzer

Minimum Viable Messaging for Startups

Few things make a content developer (aka writer) happier than a complete product messaging roadmap. For details, see What the Writer Wants from a Product Messaging Document. We know that content development and review cycles will be smooth sailing if there’s a well-developed product messaging map at the start.

But as with any rule, there’s an exception – the early stage startup.

Product messaging is critical in any business, start-ups included. But in an early startup, product messaging has a shorter shelf life than a peach in summer.

In the early stages of a product or solution’s life, messaging is bound to change, no matter how much work and research you’ve put into the messaging process.

What’s your minimum viable product messaging?
In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis recommends coming out with a minimum viable product and seeing how the market reacts. This protects you from spending a time (and money) on the wrong strategy.

Marketing teams can take a similar approach, even when the solution is ready for production. Come up with a minimum viable messaging platform, then test and perfect it based on its reception.

The elements of the minimum viable messaging map
An ideal messaging document is concise, so you can change it easily. Most startups go out the gate with the messages that their founders and investors feel are most important. If those messages don’t resonate with buyers, you want to know quickly.

The startup messaging map includes all of the main points of the standard product messaging map in a condensed version. Doing research is good, but experience with real customers is better.

Here’s what the product messaging map might look like for a startup:

  • Target markets/buyers: Start with just one or two, and assume there are others you don’t know about yet.
  • Key pains addressed or problems solved: Identify the key issues you’re trying to address and what people are doing about them now. Continue to listen to the market to validate those pains. Your solution may solve problems you don’t even know about. Did Apple know that the iPad would be a hit with octogenarians? No, but my mother is one of its biggest fans.
  • Top benefits: Identify what you think the top two or three benefits are, then let early customers tell you what they think based on their actions. They may surprise you.
  • Competitive differentiators and unique value proposition: Start small and test the messaging about why you’re different. Things you think are critical may be unimportant to customers.
  • Key features: Choose a few essential features and see which are most interesting or important to early users.

Put the most energy into testing the target market and top benefits. The key features and value propositions depend heavily on the value that people perceive they are getting from the solution.

You can track what people think about your messaging in several ways:

  • Use your content:  structure the website by benefits and features, and track where people click and read.
  • Track which kinds of content they download from your site or which blogs they read.
  • If you have insight into product usage, identify which features people are using.
  • Use customer research for additional insight.

Be ready to rewrite and revise the content produced in the early days, because it almost always changes. Revision isn’t a sign that you failed in your messaging – it’s a sign that you’re learning.

If you have other strategies for handling messaging in the fast-changing start-up world, please share them in the comments.

Content Marketing: Past, present and future

Want an illustration of how far content marketing has come as a practice? I was at a wedding a few weeks back, speaking with someone who does video for brands. Just to try it out, I described myself as a “long form written content developer” and he knew what I meant.

I’m not a writer anymore, I’m a long form written content developer. Try to tweet that!

How far we’ve come
When I started this blog more than five years ago, I had to define the term “content marketing” to people when I met them. Now it’s one of the hottest topics in marketing. See the Google Trends graph for content marketing in the last five years.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 4.39.03 PM

Content Marketing World is in its fourth year as a content marketing conference. It had more than 2,500 attendees this year.

Content is part of many job titles: Director of Content Strategy, Chief Content Officer, Content Marketing Manager, etc. Content marketing is mainstream.

Where we’re going
On one end of the spectrum, some marketers feel left behind by all the hype. At a marketing meetup in San Francisco a while back, someone asked me in hushed tones, “What does content marketing really mean?”

I gave her a quick answer – it’s about understanding what your prospects and customers need and then making sure you can help them at all points of their journey with content. If you’re in this camp and want a fuller explanation, I’d recommend that you read Joe Pulizzi’s book Epic Content Marketing. I’ll review that in a blog soon.

On the other end of the spectrum are the expert practitioners who use content not just to drive sales, but also to add value to their brands and solutions. These people understand that content is itself an asset of value.

For inspiring examples, see this blog that Michael Brenner posted recently about branded content hubs that are becoming valued destinations: 20 Amazing Examples of Branded Content Marketing Hubs.

In these examples, content marketing does more than simply driving leads through a sales cycle – it is adding value to the overall brand and strengthening relationships with existing customers. And that, in my humble opinion, is where the future of content marketing leads.

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.