Content Marketing: Beyond the blog

Statistics on content marketing 2016

I think we can all agree at this point that for almost every brand, company, product or service, content marketing makes sense. It particularly makes sense for B2B and SMB companies, who are often working with limited budgets, highly specific target markets, and a need to educate their targets on their services or the specific problems they solve.

But then the big question becomes: Exactly what kind of content marketing should you focus on?

The subhead on this infographic says “Marketers aren’t creating the content their audience actually wants.” Since when have any consumers anywhere actually said, “Oh yes, that content created by Acme Inc was exactly what I was looking for! It was just perfect.”? They never say that. No one wants to admit they actually liked anything with the word ‘marketing’ in the title.  So let’s just approach every data point (or ‘datum’ for purists) with a healthy dose of scepticism, and dig a little deeper into what this infographic is telling us.

People are more likely to read long-form content more thoroughly than blogs?

Well, sure. Sometimes blogs are just some random infographic with an introductory paragraph, or a link to a corporate video, or a picture of someone’s breakfast table. You can’t consume a picture of a breakfast table ‘thoroughly’. Long-form articles are, by definition, the kind of thing you either commit to reading or just skip over entirely.

Does this mean that you should start getting your office intern to write 2500-word articles on your corporate philosophy and post them on your blog? No. A ‘skimmed’ blog can be just as effective as a ‘thoroughly-read’ one, depending on the context.

45% of people want to see more ‘social posts’?

I’m not even sure what this means. If your target audience is teenagers and your product is makeup, then yes, more social posts are a great idea – nothing keeps your brand top-of-mind better than an endless stream of attractive Instagram and Snapchat posts. If, on the other hand, you’re selling waste-to-energy technology to foreign governments, then I’m 100% certain that adding more posts to your Facebook page isn’t going to move the needle.

43% want more video content?

Of course they do. Because, when you ask people a direct question, they assume that it’s going to be more fun to watch catvertising than to read your blog. But that doesn’t mean they want to watch a series of 7-minute videos in which your CEO discusses your corporate philosophy and Commitment to Customer Service. You’ll get more hits if he blogs pictures of his breakfast table every day.

They’re right about diversifying your content channels

It’s the same old story: For marketing to be successful, it has to reach the right people at the right time in the right place. And these days, people aren’t all in one place all the time. They’re consuming content on phones, iPads, laptops, desktops – and they’re still consuming content via traditional channels like tv, radio and print, even though everyone keeps forgetting that. A content marketing strategy that relies entirely on blog posts on your corporate website just isn’t going to give you the reach you need.

Anyway, as usual I’m in danger of veering off-topic (into a discussion of how getting the channel mix just right can mean that every marketing dollar works like $5) here, so I’ll simply encourage you to take a look at the infographic below and give some thought to how your content marketing strategy will look in 2017.

 

 

Statistics on content marketing 2016

One of your target groups is better than the others. Market to it.

Not all target markets are created equal

Do you really know who your best customers are?

Not all target markets are created equal

Okay, so the other week I talked about how it’s crucial for small businesses to get specific with their marketing goals. And last month I talked about how small businesses need to answer some very detailed questions about their business before they spend any money at all on marketing.

Look how theme-y I’m getting! Pretty soon I’ll be doing the 12 days of blogmas or something.

Just in case you haven’t spotted the theme yet, here it is: When small businesses start throwing money at marketing without doing their homework or getting very specific with their goals, they often always spend more than they need to for less than they hoped. And probably start saying things like “marketing is useless” or “marketing consultants are idiots”. (Only the second of these is sometimes true.)

Narrowing down target markets is the worst part of my job

Most of the time, when I tell clients that it’s important to articulate clear business goals so they can tie their marketing efforts and results to them, they’re totally on board. It’s easy to understand that you can’t reach goals if you don’t set them.

It’s when we get to identifying the target market(s) that we always run into trouble: “We have no ideal client!” the businesses say. “We want to sell to everyone!”

Except even McDonald’s isn’t selling to everyone – or at least they’re not trying to sell everything, all the time, to everyone. That’s why Happy Meal ads feature kids, while McCafe ads feature mildly hipster-type 30-somethings: They have different target markets.

So I can assure you, with some confidence, that your commercial office moving service, or your financial planning consultancy, or your large-scale aquarium maintenance business should also not be trying to market to ‘everyone’.

I get it. If you’ve spent the past few years of your life pouring all your time and energy into your business, the thought of losing even one potential customer makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach. But if you’ve spent all that time building your business, you’ve probably learned that chasing the wrong clients is futile: The cost of acquiring them is too high, they keep you up at night because they’re never satisfied anyway – they just don’t deliver a good ROI.

(And as so many Canadian companies saw with the Target debacle, even if you do, once in a while, land one of these unicorn clients, they can still be the kind of nightmare that demands 90-day payment terms and then skips town.)

Marketing is the same: Chasing long-shot target markets will cost you more money, time and resources than you can afford. So while I know it’s painful, you’ve got to define one or two ideal customers and then spend most of your time marketing to them. A year or two from now, when the cash is rolling in, then go ahead and broaden your scope – you’ll be able to afford it.

How to start defining your ideal client: 5 steps

If you want to get more out of your marketing dollars, you have to make decisions based on actual facts. Here’s how to determine your ideal client:

  1. Stop relying on anecdotal information. It’s easy to get sidetracked by compelling anecdotes about unexpected, easy, or huge sales wins. But repeating an anecdote at every sales and marketing meeting for 2 years doesn’t turn it into ‘data’.
  2. Pull a list of your clients from the past 12-24 months. 99% of the time, you’re going to find that your most profitable clients aren’t actually who you thought they were.
  3. Segment your client list by industry/vertical. When they actually sit down and do the numbers, most B2B SMBs discover that they’re making 85% of their revenue from a shortlist of 3 or 4 key industries. That’s where you should be spending your marketing dollars – until you’ve saturated those or have a specific business mandate to expand to other verticals.
  4. Ensure senior leadership – including the sales department – is on board. One of the biggest hurdles to marketing success for SMBs is when the CEO, the VP Sales and the VP Marketing can’t agree on which target market(s) should get the most marketing support. It dilutes the marketing message – and the marketing budget. Don’t spend any money on marketing until everyone’s on the same page.
  5. Create a profile of the individual decision maker(s). In B2B marketing, companies often don’t think about demographics/psychographics: They get focused on marketing to an industry or organization, and forget that, just like in B2C marketing, there’s an actual person who has to make the final purchasing decision. Knowing exactly what that person looks like, and what motivates them, will help you focus your marketing efforts more effectively. (And don’t forget to create profiles for the decision influencers, too!

 

“Sell more stuff” isn’t a marketing strategy – and won’t get the results you want

when marketing goals are hazy, results can't happen

when marketing goals are hazy, results can't happen

Marketing can’t deliver results if you don’t know what those results should be

The other day I had a conversation with a new client. He wants to grow his business aggressively (from $1.5 million to $5 million in revenue) in the next couple of years, and knows he needs marketing support to do it. But he hasn’t done a lot of marketing so far, and while he’s an expert in his field, he hasn’t had much experience in sales and marketing.

Here is part of our exchange:

ME: “Can you tell me a little more about your sales goals for the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “I told you. I want to grow the business.”

ME: “Yes, but as we’ve discussed you’ve got a wide range of products and services. Which ones do you want to focus on?

HIM: “All of them. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “What does your business plan look like? Where do you see the bulk of your revenue coming from in the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “We need to double our revenue by next year.”

ME: “Where do you see the incremental revenue coming from? What’s making you the most money right now?”

HIM: “Everything. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “But you said you didn’t want to spend more than $2500 a month, right?”

 

It’s hard to achieve goals if no one knows what they are

Many – maybe most – small businesses are afraid to get too specific with their sales and revenue goals: “If we concentrate too much on one area,” they fear, “we’ll miss opportunities in other areas.”

And it’s true that the nimbleness of small businesses – their ability to respond to changes in the marketplace and adapt their service offerings accordingly – can be a tremendous advantage.

However, when it comes to marketing, this strategy usually just results in chaos, overspending, and an inability to judge whether a particular marketing initiative has been effective.

Marketing isn’t like accounting. But you have to at least try to make the columns add up.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that marketing is often more art than science – and even the science bit is often alchemy. It’s tough to draw a straight line from $1 spent on marketing to $5 in revenue.

Big-data types can talk all they want about profiles and predictive modeling and one-to-one targeting, but until they figure out that I don’t actually live in Ottawa and that I am not interested in hiring a painting contractor in Virginia and that I am definitely not buying anything from Zulily, I am going to continue to believe that successful marketing consists of gathering all the information you can, then making some choices.

6 steps to setting marketing goals that are more likely to get results

1. Pull your actual sales data so you know exactly what you sold. Anecdotal sales stories about that one time you sold a whole bunch of random stuff to that healthcare center in Boston aren’t good enough. Most of the time, your sales data will tell you that, in fact, your best, easiest sales are of your top 3-4 product/services.

2. Figure out what’s driving customer acquisition. This is, in my experience, the biggest unknown for small businesses – and yet it can be the greatest source of information for marketing purposes. If 90% of your customers are referrals from other customers, then you should probably use marketing to encourage more referrals, instead of spending a zillion dollars on a fancy website that no one visits anyway.

3. Segment your customers. Again, stop relying on anecdotal information and look at the list of people/businesses who’ve actually bought stuff from you in the past 12-24 months. You’ll almost always discover that 85% (or more) of them fall into 2-3 easily identifiable categories (same industry, same function, same location, etc.).

4. Identify your high-margin products/services. It’s (usually) more profitable to sell $50k worth of stuff at a 50% margin than $200k of stuff at a 5% margin. So why focus marketing efforts on both?

5. Articulate the business goals – and be specific. Yeah, okay, you want to sell more stuff. But why? And what? Maybe you want to drive gross revenue because you’re looking at an exit strategy; maybe you want big profits because you want to give your employees a raise; maybe you want to push a monthly service because you want to stabilize cashflow; maybe you want to build the brand to attract investors. The more you know about your business goals, the better you’ll be able to determine what your marketing should focus on, how much to spend – and what marketing tactics will get you there.

6. Go after the low-hanging fruit first. Seems obvious, right?  Except, like I said, most small business owners fear that if they focus on the obvious, they’ll miss out on the mystical unicorns of untapped customers. But here’s the thing: I promise that if you spend 12 months focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the mystical unicorns will magically appear. Business is funny that way: The more successful you are selling your core products and services to your core target markets, the more likely it is that you’ll start selling to everyone else, too. Plus, you’ll be so profitable that you won’t have to go chasing unicorns any more!

 

I know, I know – all this talk of business analysis and goal setting means I’m taking all the fun out of marketing, which is supposed to be about Big Ideas and cool websites and getting a YouTube celebrity to endorse your product. It can be like that – as long as you’ve done your homework first.

 

Tips from the seamy underbelly of Twitter (mostly for SMBs)

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

Things the ‘social media gurus’ won’t tell you

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

The other day I wrote about why almost all small- and mid-sized businesses should have a Twitter presence.

But let’s face it: The world didn’t need another blog post about why Twitter’s so great for SMBs. Every day, my own Twitter feed is clogged unto bursting with articles by supposed marketing geniuses (if they call themselves  ‘guru’, it must be true!) promising that if you’ll only follow their 23 Foolproof Steps, you too will achieve business success via Twitter.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that all these “Top 10 tips for succeeding on Twitter” pieces littering the web seem to be written by people who’ve spent about 2 hours on Twitter, put quantity over quality, and who are too busy driving traffic to their keywords that they don’t actually tell you anything useful, like “If someone whose profile pic is a possibly-underage girl in a bikini follows you, do not follow back.”

Avoid disaster by following these simple rules

1. Don’t go more than a week without logging into your account or tweeting. Dormant accounts, especially if they have 1000+ followers, are targets for hackers/spoofers who take over the account and start tweeting spam. You don’t want to discover that your long-ignored account has been tweeting porn for 3 months without you noticing (true story).

2. Do not follow anyone with a US flag as their profile pic backdrop.  95% of the time, this person will turn out to be a super-right-wing conservative who will, sooner or later, tweet something unbelievably offensive, which will lead to two problems: Either (a) you will want to tweet a response, which will end badly; or (b) you will get associated with a whole community of offensive types that are not good for your brand. Prevention is the only cure.

3. Almost anyone who tweets more than 5 times a day is going to be boring – or worse.  Yes, you should tweet every day. But almost any non-celebrity/non-genius who tweets every 5 minutes is just going to clog up your feed with Inspirational Quotes or a zillion links to their Free Ebook – Download Now! page. Follow back if you want to keep your numbers up – but then see #4.

4. Use the ‘mute’ option liberally. Putting someone on mute means you don’t have to unfollow them (if you think that would cause offense and/or a mutual unfollow, thereby reducing your numbers), while still avoiding their incessant Maya Angelou quotes. Here’s where you can find the mute function:

MuteTwitter1

5.  To grow your base, you have to follow 25-50 new people a day.  Here is what hardly anyone will ever tell you: Unless you’re famous, or really super-hilarious, no one is going to seek you out on Twitter. I’m sorry, but they just aren’t. So you have to follow a whole bunch of people and then hope that some of them follow you back.

6.  A half-naked profile pic is not someone you want to follow. There is a lot of crap on Twitter – the sheer number of accounts focused on pantyhose fetishists alone is astounding. To avoid falling into the Twitter slough of despond, do not follow, or follow back, anyone whose profile pic shows more skin than you’d see at the office on a normal day.

6.(a) Don’t follow anyone doing an elaborate duck-face, either. For mostly the same reasons.

7. Beware of secret religionists.  #6 notwithstanding, there are a startling amount of religious types on Twitter, and my personal philosophy is that religion and business do not mix. People who include ‘Christ-follower’ in their profiles are easy to spot – it’s the ones using secret code you have to be careful of. Religious tip-offs include using the word ‘servant’ in a list of personal adjectives (“husband, father, servant, SEO master”); Bible verses (any numbers separated by a colon, like 3:11); use of the words ‘saved’, ‘believer’, ‘disciple’ and ‘Israel’ are also problematic. And I’m always a bit dubious about anyone whose bio includes ‘family first’.

8. More hashtags = more spam. A person whose bio and/or tweets #consist #of #almost #nothing #but #hashtags is not interested in anything but promoting their own, probably spammy, website. Don’t follow them; don’t follow them back – they will do nothing for you, your brand or your business.

9. Don’t retweet a link you haven’t checked. Twitter-scammers are smart: They can make a headline sound great, so you retweet not realizing the link actually goes to some ad-filled clickbait or malware site. At best, you look lazy; at worst, you lose followers who think you too are a scammer. Check every link you tweet.

So there you are: 9 handy tips that should keep you out of the morass of mediocrity that Twitter can seem to be if you aren’t careful. Social media is not for the faint of heart.

 

 

7 practical reasons your SMB should be on Twitter

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

Yes, Twitter is probably a good idea as part of your marketing strategy.

First, my Twitter bona fides: I have been managing Twitter accounts for clients (yes, for money) since 2009 and I have had my own Twitter account since 2010.  These days, I’m running 15-20 Twitter accounts for various clients at any given time, and most of those clients are small-to-mid-sized B2B businesses which run the gamut from professional services, IT and finance, to retail, hospitality and even building trades. I have about 6800 followers of my own; each of my clients has between 1000-9000 – and those followers are rated 95% real, not just spammy #teamfollowback types.

In other words, I’ve had to be serious about Twitter for quite a while now (6 years practically qualifies me as an eminence grise in social media terms) and I’ve had to do it for a lot of different types of businesses.

7 pragmatic reasons your small/midsized business should be on Twitter

If you follow me on social media or know me in real life, you’ve probably heard me say, dryly, that some days I’m convinced that 85% of all non-1Direction-related tweets are generated by me and about 11 other social media managers, diligently tweeting away at each other. (The other 15% are a combination of Chris Brown defenders, mommy bloggers, and whatever spambot operation that JabberDuck company got to promote them on Twitter.)

There is a lot of noise and nonsense on Twitter.

However.

Twitter won’t instantly generate a zillion sales for an SMB company, especially in the B2B space. But here’s what it can do as part of the marketing strategy for almost any SMB:

1. Help boost your SEO: Google (and other search engines) indexes Twitter. Because tweets are updated (ideally) daily, they look current to search engines, which means they give them a decent ranking score. What’s more, they increase the sheer volume of content attached to your URL or business name, which makes Google think your company is more relevant than companies mentioned less frequently.

 

2.  Helps keep your other social media channels looking current: By automatically feeding your tweets from Twitter to your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile or other social media, you can keep those channels looking up-to-date without actually having to create additional content.

 

3.  Keep your website from looking dormant:  Many SMBs don’t have the time, resources or inclination to update their website very often, so it can start to look a little cobwebby. Setting up an automatic feed from Twitter sends visitors the message that you’re very much an active, going concern.

 

4.  Raise your profile among your target market, vendors, supplies, competitive set and prospective employees:  Sure, people who aren’t on Twitter aren’t on Twitter. But I guarantee you that plenty of your stakeholders are paying attention, and a consistent Twitter account does drive awareness.  And don’t underestimate the role of people like me: I may be ‘just’ a ghost-tweeter, but my clients depend on me to identify the key players and trends in their space, and I notice who’s doing what.  Yes, it’s hard to measure ‘awareness’ and ‘profile’ – but they do matter and Twitter can make a difference.

 

5. Support your content strategy. How the heck are you going to promote your new blog post or media release if you haven’t built an audience on Twitter?  I promise that almost no one is just going to accidentally stumble on it by going to your website directly, and only 323 people like your Facebook page.  Twitter gives you access to an audience you just can’t get elsewhere without spending a lot of money.

 

6.  Improve the thought-leadership profile of your CEO (or equivalent): In my experience, most CEOs (or presidents, founders, etc.) of SMBs actively look for speaking engagements or opportunities to expand their sphere of influence by networking.  I can’t tell you how many small-business leaders I’ve seen get tapped for speaking engagements or keynote addresses because someone has noticed their Twitter/social media presence.

 

7.  It keeps you on top of your game: Twitter, for all its faults, has the advantage of immediacy. Finding articles or information to tweet about forces you to keep up with what’s going on in your industry, and following the right people means your Twitter feed gets filled up with hot topics that are relevant to you. Both of these things mean you’re better informed and better able to spot trends in your industry earlier than you would otherwise.

 

Yes, there are certain SMBs for whom Twitter doesn’t make sense – but in the past 6 years the only times I’ve recommended against Twitter for SMBs was for companies in the B2B space who sold a highly-specialized product/service with a very limited target market, whose resources would be better spent marketing directly to those targets on an individual basis.

Now, go find your Twitter password.