Stop Stealing My Attention!

If you believe that attention is valuable currency in today’s world, then advertisements that force themselves on our attention are like people stealing money from our pockets.

Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour by dullhunk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  dullhunk 


Interrupt-driven advertising or marketing is becoming less effective as we find ways of ignoring the messages that don’t interest us. As a business model, interrupt-driven advertising is fading fast. And when advertisers insist on our attention – whether by raising a volume level, disabling fast-forwarding, or other schemes – it can work against the brand image they’re trying to project.

“The web visitor only has to look at the image for 10 seconds before they can click through,” says the advertiser. “We really need the leads, so we have to ask them to fill out a form first,” says the marketer.

The seconds spent on uninvited interruptions are taking our precious attention. If we don’t feel that we received something of value in return, we’ll simply resent the brand.

The talking campaign mailer

Anyone who says thinks print advertising is dead clearly doesn’t work for a political campaign. The number of mailers arriving at our household this campaign cycle was overwhelming.

Aside from its environmental implications, direct mail is a less offensive form of advertising, because you can decide whether to read or recycle at your own pace.

But one campaign earned my resentment by including a recorded speech on a sound disk in the printed mailer. When I opened the piece, a voice started exhorting me about the candidate’s qualities and positions.

From my perspective, that’s on par with a robo-call – and we all know how much we love those. I felt like my attention had forcibly taken from me by the mailer. (Plus, to recycle it we had to strip out the recording device first.) The speech didn’t deliver any information I could not read elsewhere, including on the mailer, nor was I willing to spend the time to listen to it. It had no value to me beyond annoyance.

I was an undecided voter on this local issue, and the mailer made me question the candidate’s good judgment.

The essential practice of content marketing is to consider the message from the audience perspective. If we, as marketers, create content that delivers value in the eyes of our customers, then they will gladly spend their attention on it.

Content Marketing vs. Marketing with Content

Content has always been a part of marketing. B2B technology marketing in particular relies heavily on content like white papers, demonstrations and case studies to explain the technology.

This fact leaves some marketers wondering about the distinction between marketing with content and content marketing.

To my mind, the difference lies in two key areas: strategy and perspective.

Not just content: strategy

I’ve heard it said that content marketing is simply another term for blogging. Yikes. That’s like saying that running shoes are a fitness training regimen.

Blogging is a key part of many content marketing strategies — not a replacement for strategy.

Content marketing is the strategic and intentional creation of content that is valuable and compelling for the audience you want to reach, at the times they need it. It requires a firm understanding of buyers’ specific needs at each phase of the journey. It’s not just about having more content.

Here’s how Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, defines content marketing in his excellent book Epic Content Marketing.

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience— with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

A matter of perspective

The other key differentiator is perspective – and that shows up in the types of content that you create.  While traditional marketing content is created from the business perspective with the objective of making the sale, content marketing requires you to understand the buyer’s perspective.

Tiree Perspective by MacJewell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  MacJewell 


You develop buyer personas because you need to understand and address the customer’s needs. Using that perspective, you can create content that educates, informs or entertains those personas, rather than simply selling. Content marketing is about finding the alignment between the customers’ needs and your business, and being generous with content.

Michael Brenner published a post recently on the 3 Vs of content marketing (riffing on the famous 3 Vs of Big Data, I believe.) He suggests that effective content marketing starts with value, then adds volume and variety.

I couldn’t agree more — start with the value you deliver to the customer or prospect. To provide value, you have to look at the world from the customer’s perspective.

Improve Your Customer Focus with 4 Simple Questions

The better you know your customers, the easier it is to create the content that they find valuable and engaging.

The recent B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America study by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute asked B2B marketers about their challenges. What’s the #1 problem? Creating engaging content.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 5.48.34 PM

Read more in the MarketingProfs article.

The first challenge of creating engaging content is to understand the audience. “Engaging” is in the eye of the beholder.

Focus on your target audience

Content marketing practitioners talk about developing buyer personas.  It’s a great practice. But in reality, many businesses skip that step in their content marketing strategies.

In all the companies I’ve worked with, I can count on one hand the number that have shared customer personas with me. Maybe the process of developing personas is too time-consuming?

So let’s make it less daunting and narrow it down to four simple questions. The questions get progressively more in-depth – the more you answer, the clearer your focus on the customer.

1 – Who are your target customers?

This first question is the most basic customer targeting. In the B2B sale, what type of business are you targeting? Who are the buyers within the business? Who will use the solution? You might have several different answers to this question. See if you can answer the following questions for each different target customer.

2 – Where are your customers?

In the B2B context, where do your buyers work? Where do they hang out during the day – either physically or online? Where do they look for answers to their questions or problems relevant to your offering?

3 – What are they doing today?

What are they doing related to what you offer? Do they realize they need your solution or do you have to educate them about the problem? Are they using a competitor’s product or nothing at all? Do they feel any urgency about the problem?

At this point, the target customer has come into sharper definition. But don’t stop yet – see if you can answer the following question.

4 – Where do they want to go?

What are your customer’s larger or longer-term objectives? Can you help them achieve those longer-term objectives? What are their values? How can you align your solution with their values or objectives?

I said the questions were simple – getting the answers takes time and work.  But the payoff is big. If you can answer these four questions for your target customers, you’ll know just what you need to do to create engaging content.

Freelance horror stories: Undead projects

Here’s the latest installment in my “freelance horror stories” – “undead” projects. If you’re a freelancer, you know that these are frighteningly real.  And if you hire freelancers, this may help you understand that fleeting look of fear when you first start working with a freelancer – we live in a dangerous world.

The Zombie: Not quite dead, it just keeps lingering on – for just a few more revisions. Defenses against zombies: Putting a fixed number of review cycles in the project scoping.

The Disapparition:  You send it to review and it is never heard from again. This is the most frequent type of undead project – and it’s a problem if you are waiting for project completion to invoice. Defense:  A fixed time for final invoicing on the project scoping.

The Shape-shifter:  This happens when the project shifts mid-course. For example, the senior person who hired you leaves the company mid-stream, and the new person wants to take the project in an entirely different direction. This is all fine unless the new direction is far outside the negotiated scope of the project.  A well-defined project scope is the only defense – but the process is never fun.

The Vampire: This is the one we all fear – the project that lives forever and sucks the life right out of you.  One sign of a vampire project? A client that cannot scope the project and wants hourly billing with a firm time commitment from you.  (Not every client like this has vampire projects, of course, but it’s a warning sign.)

Even great clients can have the occasional undead project. In nearly every case, careful project scoping and definition is the freelancer’s silver bullet (or wooden stake). Sometimes it takes courage to use that bullet, particularly if you fear damaging the client relationship. It’s not easy being a vampire-slayer.

I’d love to hear from others on the ‘undead’ project types I may have missed!

In case you missed it, the first installment can be found at Freelance horror stories: The consulting contract.

Survey says: Don’t trash those white papers yet

I love it when research comes out to back up my positions.

A couple weeks back I posted a blog called Old Marketing Channels Never Die – the premise being that with all of the buzz about social networks, videos, infographics and other content formats and channels, the traditional channels cannot be abandoned.

So now I find that Everything Technology Marketing did a survey of B2B marketing professionals on the LinkedIn B2B Technology Marketing community to identify the top marketing formats and channels.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest you peruse the data.

The point that jumps out is that the content formats that are rates as most ‘effective’ are old familiars:

  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Live presentations
  • Online articles

And live events, websites and email are still the most effective channels.

Yet there may be an inherent bias built into the survey if participants can only judge the content formats with which they have significant experience. Some of the newer content forms (blogs, podcasts) have a high number of ‘neutral’ ratings. I have to assume that is because the marketing professionals who answered the survey hadn’t yet worked with those channels. And no one is really effective right out of the gate with a new format.

Also, look lower on the chart and you’ll find many marketers having success with newer channels and formats. Video in particular is deemed effective by two-thirds of those who responded to the question, blog postings nearly 50%, and eBooks about 30%. You can either take comfort in the strong performance of familiar forms, or pay attention to the success that others are having. I’d suggest the latter.

What’s the take-away?  Don’t abandon the tried-and-true marketing methods like live events, and white papers, but find ways to leverage these efforts in other marketing channels and formats –  make a video from your live event, or a series of blog posts from your papers. At the very least you’ll start learning what works well in the new formats and channels.