How ‘Customer Marketing’ Leads To Improved Content Quality

A few weeks back, when Melissa Fach wrote “Focus on the Outstanding: Write Less and Write Better,” I rejoiced. No, I mean REALLY rejoiced, so much so that you likely heard me clapping and screaming from north Texas to whatever part of the world you live in. Hers were words content marketers needed to hear but, sadly, don’t hear nearly often enough. She was saying what all of us know yet have largely been too timid to write: “Most of what suffices as writing is actually crap. Go do something great, or don’t do it at all.” (My words not hers, but you get the point.) Harsh but true.

However, before you put away the keyboard, recognize that it’s not entirely your fault. What’s more, the situation can remedied, provided you’re willing to focus your energy more narrowly and quite a bit deeper, which will enable you to connect with your core audience in myriad ways. Additionally, you’ll find the process accessible and easy to replicate.

How Did Content Marketing Become Such A Mess?

A lot of content folks like to blame SEOs for the lack of quality in content marketing. After all, before Google unleashed the menagerie, the web was loaded with crap content, some of which ranked quite well. However, as the Penguins and Pandas began to gnaw away at the drivel, content marketing and inbound marketing became a game ruled by content writers and content strategists, two groups who were happy to see their day arrive. Now we can ensure that the content crap onslaught subsides,  as audits, inventories, governance and the like become the filters by which the web is cleansed, right?

Well, not exactly. Look at the web. No, do it. Right now. By conservative estimates, 97% (indulge me here; I’m taking liberties) of the content being published in the name of content marketing would make my eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Byrd, blush. It’s estimated that more than 700,000 blogs are published each day worldwide. But we don’t stop at blogs. There’s…

  • Ebooks
  • Podcasts
  • White papers
  • Infographics
  • Case Studies
  • GIFs

And on and on and on….

What content marketing looks like to most of our audience.

What content marketing looks like to most of our audience.

The Miasma Of Content Rubbish Is On All Of Our Hands

Even if you think SEOs screwed up content marketing (I don’t), we can all agree that us content writers and content strategists sure are proving slow at fixing the mess. What gives? We did come bearing processes, but many of those processes have proved difficult to execute, time-consuming, resource-intensive and not immediately viable. We’ve focused too much on the problem and not enough on the solution.

The example I love to use comes from the fitness and nutrition world. When someone needs to lose weight and get in better shape, the first thing they typically hear is “You have to eat less and move more.” Fewer calories in and more calories out creates a deficit that melts off the pounds. At first. Once they hit a plateau, we tell these folks to start exercising more vigorously and more frequently, adding in weight training and some “cardio.” Bam! More pounds come off. But soon, they’ve hit another plateau, and they turn to friends, magazines, the web and online groups for advice. The fusillade of information is unbearable:

  • Cut calories
  • Don’t eat after 6 pm
  • Start sprinting
  • Don’t eat carbs with fat
  • Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Delete starchy carbs
  • Incorporate muscle confusion
  • Eat only salads and fruits
  • Try Paleo
  • Abolish all grain
  • Do two-a-days

You picking up what I’m putting down? Any of this advice could work (though much of it has very little merit), but for someone who just needs to get into better shape to improve their health, the information overload typically leaves them confused, frustrated and on the path to backtracking.

How 'Customer Marketing' Leads To Improved Content Quality

A diet of fruit and salad might be a short-term solution, but it’s not a viable long-term fix for most of us.

 

Sounds a lot like content marketing, doesn’t it? When we don’t clearly know what to do, we revert to doing what feels natural. The aggressive content marketer, like the overeager dieter,  often mistakes efficacy with viability.  Like the dieter swimming in a sea of information from a sources far and wide, content marketers are getting a lot of the “what” but very little “how,” “why” and “when.” And without understanding why certain content-related efforts work better than others, they’re left to blindly assume that what works once will work again and again and again. Let’s stop the madness.

Customer Marketing Must Be The Way Forward

I’m a huge proponent of “if it’s not feasible, it’s not sustainable,” a philosophy I apply to to training and nutrition, in addition to frequently sharing it with content marketing clients as well. For example, if I’m working with the CEO of a 15-person company that needs to start increasing its digital footprint, I’ll share two things right off the bat:

  1. Only commit to producing as much content as you and your staff can commit to doing well
  2. Choose no more than two social platforms to be active on for the first 90 days

This makes content marketing manageable (i.e., feasible) and allows her to see what’s doable (i.e., sustainable) long-term.

How can your company start producing quality content?

Focus on who you are talking to, not what you’re going to talk about or the form that information should take. It’s hard for a marketer to produce crap content when she knows her audience. Much of what we call low-quality content is actually misguided content—information created without a clear audience, so it says a lot of nothing to no one specifically.

To ensure you don’t fall into this trap,  think of talking to one person with every piece of content you create. For example, when sitting down to write a blog, imagine yourself as the person reading it. Who are they? What problem can you solve for them? What are they trying to accomplish?

When you do this, you make the process of writing easier and, most important, the format (i.e., ebook, infographic, blog) takes care of itself. [To aid in coming up with these ideas, keep a running list of questions and comments you receive about your product or service. Create content that answers these questions.]

Value feasibility over frequency. We hear all the time that you must blog every day. That’s complete B.S. In fact, some of the most successful blogs publish only a couple times a week or a few times a month. You’ll need to experiment to find out how often your audience expects to hear from you. However, quality trumps quantity.

A rule I believe wholeheartedly in is to only publish as often as you can do a job you are happy with and would be proud to share. To further drive home this line of thinking, I tell clients to answer this question: “Would you feel comfortable doing outreach to some of the top thought leaders in your space, asking them to share this content?” If not, don’t create it.

No, every piece of content won’t be a home run, but to be successful, you must develop a reputation for producing content that gets noticed. [Instead of focusing on the writing, spend more time brainstorming, note-taking, then begin to piece the content together digitally. Once you're done, "massage" it and share with your staff. When it meets their approval and yours, it's ready to be shared. Take a look at how much time it took from conception to delivery. That's your new content frequency schedule.]

Communicate, don’t replicate. We live in a monkey-see, monkey-do world. If one blog a day works for the competition, then dammit, that’s what we need to be doing. But like the dieter, we quickly see that blindly following others’ advice only gets us so far. Worse still, we’ve learned nothing in the process, so when the progress stalls, our hopes are dashed along with it. Don’t be a blind follower.

Get to know your audience. Devote time to learning from and communicating with your existing clients and prospects. Then, commit to producing content that engages them, meets them where they are in the information-gathering process and that delivers real value to their lives. Notice I wrote “information-gathering,” not “buying” process.

You  must earn the right to serve them. [Each week, set aside a few 15-minute slots to call (not email) some of your existing clients. Ask how they are doing, what, if anything, you can help them with, and let them know you're available anytime they have a question. You'll be amazed at how simply opening this door leads to them sharing information that could better enable your company to serve your entire customer base, while attracting new clients as well. Creating content based on the information shared likely puts you in front of the right audience with the right message.]

Target-Customers

As you can likely tell, I’m not a big fan of “content” marketing. I prefer the emphasis be on the customer, not the information thrown at him or her. In my opinion, we can disagree all we want about what suffices as quality, but one thing is inarguable: Caring enough to create the right content for the right audience positions your business closer to success. Lest you get the wrong idea, consistently producing quality content is not an easy task.

It takes focus, discipline and the willingness to do the little things better with each new effort. The points outlined above have been used successfully by a number of clients. I’m convinced they can do the same for your business. Please drop a comment below. I’m interested to know your thoughts.

Why Mozcon 2014 Made Me Proud, And It Has Zero To Do With Inbound Marketing

Why Mozcon 2014 Made Me Proud, And It Has Zero To Do With Marketing

My head is still swimming from all the information I took in at Mozcon 2014. As someone who has attended hundreds of shows and conferences in the last decade, it’s says something that Mozcon has become my favorite event ever after just two visits (2013 and 2014). The comradery, the information, the people, the setting (Seattle rocks!) and the spirit of the affair serves to light a fire that continues to burn long after the event is exhausted.

This year, however, Mozcon went quite a bit further, by making me proud.

The event opened (after Rand’s official opening) with a strong female speaker, Kerry Bodine, who delivered the goods on customer experience, then never let up, with three other awesome female presenters—Lindsay Wassell, Cindy Krum and Lexi Mills—rounding out the first day.

The pride I felt had to do with the number of women presenters, the substance of their talks and knowing they’d killed it, shutting up the critics (not likely, but hopefully) who normally huddle after such events and nitpick every damn thing. As each female speaker owned the stage that first day, I was continually saying to myself, “What you got now?” to critics real and imagined.

Let me be clear: This isn’t a male vs. female thing, and I’m not grasping at straws trying to make something out of nothing. What I’m voicing is an opinion based on my own observations. Is it scientific? No. Do critics nitpick men? Yes.

And this isn’t a Mozcon issue. It’s a some-of-us-are-jerks issue.

I’ve continually heard the whispers about females delivering “fluff-filled” presentations that aren’t data-driven or tactical enough for a given audience. These “assessments” have always struck me as odd, especially since the presentations being attacked were often some of the strongest of the event, quashing any notions that the comments were merit-based.

It’s About The Substance Of The Information, Not About Who Is Delivering The Information

Last year’s Mozcon featured a strong lineup of women as well, including Dana DiTomaso,  Aleyda Solis, Karen McGrane (one of my content strategy crushes), Lena West, Annie Cushing (the inimitable one), Brittan Bright and Mackenzie Fogelson (my sister-from-another-mother), among others.

I was blown away by each of the presenters, women and men.

However, when Brittan Bright spoke about how relationships are essential to building a strong business, my internal dialogue was visceral, emotive and unfiltered: “I wonder if this audience is picking up what she’s putting down? This stuff is important. Relationships are ultimately what sinks or floats a business. It ain’t SEO or content or PPC.”

Later, during the party at the EMP, I overheard an interesting comment: “Yeah, today was good, but some of the stuff was…a little soft, squishy, not really applicable to what I do. I’d rather it have been more technical, or tactical. That’s just me.”

He gave no real indication of the specific talk he was referring took, but my ears perked up, given that Bright’s presentation was titled “Building Your Business: Relationship and Other Critical ‘Soft’ Skills,” and she had spoken earlier that day. The words incensed me.

As someone who’s spent the better part of a decade advising businesses in the areas of product design/innovation, PR, branding and content marketing, I’ve seen firsthand what elements of a enterprise places it closer to being a success: people, not products or services.

And the better a company is at managing those critical relationships, both early on as the company is expanding and later as the team has swelled to multiples of its original size, the better chance the enterprise has of being a success.

Again, I have no idea who, exactly, this person was singling out with his comments. Also, his was not an opinion that was shared by the larger group, in my opinion. It still grated on me.

The Marketing Community Should Build One Another Up

Earlier this year, I was privy to several Twitter conversations where people were discussing the dearth of women presenters, especially in technology. None of the reasons, er, excuses, given sufficed.

The ongoing discussion served to remind me of past conferences, where it always seemed that the women were being judged by a different, harsher standard than the men, even when the former delivered the same level of depth and analysis as the latter.

While I’m not convinced such feelings will subside anytime soon, those conferences and events that feature women presenters do pique my interest and arouse a sense of pride in me. First, I know the hosts don’t fall for the “we-can’t-find-women-presenters” B.S.

And most important, I know the audience is likely to gain a different perspective, one they may not hear otherwise.

As marketers, we have enough problems to deal with, whether from Google, clients or the overall pace of the industry we serve.

Shouldn’t we be actively building up one another instead of nitpicking every damn thing?

At any rate, I’m happy Mozcon once again delivered an amazing event, one that did not perpetuate the stereotypical crap experienced elsewhere.

I’m very interested to know your thoughts. Please share in the comments below.

Articles That Did Really Well in Our Twitter Stream This Month

great stuffThe AuthorityLabs Twitter account shares great articles every day, but obviously some do better than others. We are going to share with you the articles that have gotten the most clicks and favorites! Check out the list below and don’t miss out on the fantastic information our followers have enjoyed.

Content

25 Brilliant Tools for Content Curation by Kyle Kirkland

23 Tools for Repurposing Content by Yael Kochman

SEO

The 10 Worst Link Building Assumptions by Julie Joyce

Seven Free SEO Tools You Should Be Using by Neil Patel

69 Amazing SEO Bookmarklets to SuperCharge Your Internet Marketing by Razvan Gavrilas

Essential Skill Sets for the Modern SEO by Ruth Burr

5 Powerful SEO and Content Marketing Techniques that Took My Website to 320k Visitors Per Month by Marcus Sheridan

Social

How To Use Pinterest For Brainstorming by Ann Smarty

10 Surprising and Important Social Media Stats You Need To Know by Kevan Lee

Using Zapier and Google Spreadsheets for Twitter Contest Management by Brian LaFrance

10 Time-Saving Social Media Tools for a Productive Summer by Kevan Lee

Video

5 Tips for a Winning Youtube Custom Video Thumbnail by Ann Smarty

Email Marketing

17 Insanely Actionable List Building Strategies That Will Generate More Subscribers Today by Brian Dean

Web Design

The Art of Peripheral Persuasion: Visuals in Web Design by Shane Jones

How to Create a Stock Photo Library for a Few Hundred Bucks a Year by Melissa Fach

PPC

Exploring 5 Essential Baidu Tools For B2B Online Marketers by Lena XU

Why Losing Money on PPC is a Good Idea by David Melamed

Tools

Enrich Your Data With These Free Visualization Tools by Destinee Cushing

News

How Google Map Hackers Can Destroy a Business at Will by Kevin Poulsen

Google Starts Deleting Search Results in Europe After Ruling

The 10 Most Important Paid Search Developments So Far In 2014

96% Of B2B Marketers Suck At Content Marketing

If you read the headline and squirmed a little in your seat, chances are you’re part of the “content struggle contingent,” that group of would-be content marketing practitioners who knows they should be engaged in content marketing but remains stuck in neutral when it comes  to doing something that adds value to for their prospects and existing customers. You’re doing content for content’s sake.

The Right Kind of Content is Hard

confusedYet, if the latest research is any indication, you have plenty of company. A recent study conducted by Forrester Research in partnership with the Online Marketing Institute and the Business Marketing Association found that B2B content marketers are not only struggling mightily to produce content, but they are also woefully lacking in the ability to create content that resonates with their core audience as well.

Fully 87% of the 113 marketers polled for the study find producing content that engages buyers to be a major challenge. To those of us who have been engaged in the practice of content marketing for some time now, that figure is surprising, but not startling. But consider this: Of those same marketers, some 51% consider their content marketing efforts mature—that is, they see themselves as doing a solid job in relation to what their competitors are doing.

“While creating great content is something even the best marketers and agencies toil over, we feel that this disconnect reveals a more fundamental problem with content marketing today,” writes the researchers in “Compare Your B2B Content Marketing Maturity.”

The researchers use the word “disconnect,” but I think they are being too kind. I think it’s delusion. No matter how talented their staffs are, how can any company or agency expect to create meaningful, resonant content without first making a commitment to understanding their prospects, including the types of information they normally consume and engage with, in addition to identifying those places they frequent to find such information?

In some ways, as the research further reveals, content marketing is becoming a failed practice primarily owing to content marketers intransigence at being willing to discern what works, then refining those efforts as the move forward.

Content Marketers Have Plenty Of Work To Do

While the entire study is valuable, the area that drew my attention, and elicited the greatest amount of sadness, centered around how well content marketers thought they were doing in relation to how well they are actually doing.

image 4

Your eyes are not deceiving you. Only 4% of the respondents would be categorized as doing content marketing effectively.

Content executors. Take stock of current practices and see what’s working. With the longest road ahead of them, marketers in this first stage of maturity should audit online and offline content and ask sales and customers what they find useful and why. Review downloads, shares, and views—or get this data if you don’t have it—and correlate this with your qualitative feedback to assess weakness and gaps in your content.

Aspiring editors. The majority of B2B marketers surveyed are not as mature as they think. Most are in the early stages of assembling a content strategy and executing against it. While practices are often inconsistent or not fully embraced across the organization, these marketers are laying the foundation upon which to build an editorial point of view that gives buyers something that they find useful and valuable.

Proactive publishers. Almost two out of five B2B marketers we surveyed have graduated from aspirational to practical, having developed a consistent approach to content planning, production, and publication. They have clearly defined their best practices around creating content, the practices are well understood across the organization, and they follow them most of the time.

Content masters. At the far end of the spectrum, only 4% of those we surveyed are true masters of content marketing. They have formal editorial oversight and documented processes in place, incorporate customer issues and feedback into their content plans, invest in technology to help cross-functional teams leverage key themes, and can demonstrate the impact that the content creation activity has on their

It’s easy to dismiss these failing grades as the result of content marketing being so new. Maybe many of you are thinking, “What do you expect? To do content marketing right takes time, not just resources.”

Hmm…

I don’t buy it. Let’s call a spade a spade. Marketers jumped into content marketing well before they were ready and with flawed, incomplete plans, then when the results they desired weren’t fast in coming, many have looked to jump ship and call the effort a failure. Think that’s being harsh? Riddle me this: How many marketers do you know who began with a plan of attack that includes content strategy? Not content marketing strategy. Content strategy. <crickets> The answer is very, very few. As I have written before, content marketing, like so many other areas of life, is filled with folks/companies who want to do something often before they learn how to do it well.

Yes, content marketing takes time, but consistent success will only come about when we lead with the strategy, not implementation.

Content Marketers Must Rise Above The Noise

The sheer volume of content being produced daily makes it incredibly difficult for any one brand to get heard consistently. And the noise is approaching a cacophony daily, no matter the vertical your company serves. The way to get heard and define relevance for your brand is to do content marketing better and more consistently than the competition. That process begins, however, with marketers caring enough about their customers to produce the content the latter wants, needs and begins to actively seek.

Unfortunately, as this study elucidates, there are not many brands playing in this sandbox.

The researchers singled out three reasons content marketing isn’t producing the expected results.

Because marketers…

Focus on producing content simply to fill channels. Marketers’ content efforts center on outbound campaigns that tell buyers what they should buy. Sixty-two percent admit to producing content on a campaign-by-campaign basis, a practice that fails to address how buyers experience this content over time. And 47% said that they focus primarily on creating content for distribution channels like their company website, online advertising, email, and social media. Another 16% mainly develop sales materials and collateral, and 12% said that their content chiefly helps prospects understand and navigate their offerings. Altogether, this data shows an acute focus on acquisition that practically ignores the rest of the buyer’s journey.
Downplay the importance of content as marketing’s main job. At its core, marketing is about communication, and content is the principal way that marketers communicate to the market. However, a startling 72% of our respondents said that less than half of their marketing staff plays a primary role in content marketing today. When marketers don’t recognize that their charter is to produce content buyers want, then content marketing quickly degrades to talking about products, features, and what the company has to offer.
Struggle to link content activity to business value. While almost all marketers say that content marketing is important, an overwhelming 85% admit that it is only somewhat effective—or less so—at moving the needle on generating revenue, retaining customers, or winning customers’ long-term loyalty. In fact, when we asked survey respondents to look back at the past 12 months and rate the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts, only 14% gave their content practices high marks for delivering value back to the business.

As many of us have known for some time now, a huge part of the problem is mistaking activity for efficacy and engagement, as illustrated in the graph below:

Image 1

The Content Struggle Is Real

On the plane ride home from Mozcon, a sentence popped into my head that applies here: “The content struggle is real.” I coined the term after having numerous conversations with marketers during the event who talked of the difficulty in producing content that adds value to the bottom line. My words to those marketers was “You’re thinking of content all wrong.”

Content shouldn’t be created for your business to sell more products or services; content should be created to meet the needs of prospects and existing clients.

The more we think of serving and not selling, the better off we’ll be, and the sooner we’ll realize the true potential of content marketing.

This line of thinking is buttressed by the study’s findings:

To run campaigns that guide buyers through their purchase journey, marketing must produce more content to fuel lead-to-revenue systems and engage prospects in a valuable exchange of information. B2B marketers have more work to do to deliver this type of value consistently, because our survey shows that their content production should better:

Highlight how services help customers become successful. Prospective buyers want to know how your products or services will help them. Learning how you’ve helped other buyers just like them demonstrates this capability. Marketing execs need to refocus their team’s efforts in this direction. While 71% of respondents say that their content frequently features case studies or customer stories, only 3% admit that they’ve made this a primary focus of their efforts.
Include more forward-leaning insights that buyers can turn into action. New ideas and provocative points of view show buyers that you understand the market and how emerging trends affect their business. They also help create those high-level conversations that catch the eye of prospective C-suite clients. However, developing content focused on features and functions leaves little time to craft these forward-leaning insights. In our survey, only 12% of respondents make publishing research and perspectives the main focus of their content marketing, and no one said that they engage external experts to validate those ideas.
Build relationships beyond closing a deal. Great content expresses ideas, shares best practices, and delivers insight that builds long-term loyalty among highly fickle and empowered buyers. Facing tighter budgets and more demands on resources, marketers keep the focus on acquisition instead and let communications with their current customers languish. While more than three- quarters of respondents say that they frequently communicate to their customer base, only 5% make this a priority, proving that this trend is difficult to resist.

The message in all of this is not “content marketers suck” or “content marketers suck but don’t realize it.” Rather, the real message is “content marketers have a ways to go to be successful, but some of them are on the right path.”

This blog provides a snapshot of the study, which I suggest you read. There are several important areas I do not touch on here.

I’m eager to learn your thoughts about this research as well. I think it contains a number of important insights that the entire content marketing community can profit from. Keep your eyes on the AuthorityLabs website, for we’ll be providing a more nuanced, in-depth look at many of the aspects listed above in the coming weeks and months.

(A huge shout-out to NewsCred for bringing my attention to this story.)

Excel Tool to Automatically Format Your CSV Export

Have you exported a csv from AuthorityLabs and looked at it like, “What now?”. Don’t worry, every marketer has had this moment before.

whatnow

That’s where we come in! Now all you have to do is copy and paste the data you want to format into the template and run the macro we developed.

What are Macros?

According to Microsoft, “a macro is a series of commands and functions, a pre-written formula that takes a value, performs an operation, and returns a value.”

Which basically means you are able to record actions in Excel that can be played back later to take care of repetitive tasks. In our tool, we use macros to take away some of the intimidation of formatting your cvs export.

There are a few prerequisites:

Show Developer Tab

  • Click the Microsoft Office Button , and then click Excel Options, PowerPoint Options, or Word Options.
  • Click Popular, and then select the Show Developer tab in the Ribbon check box.

Enable Macros in Excel

  • Click the Microsoft Office Button , and then click Excel Option.
  • Click Trust Center, click Trust Center Settings, and then click Macro Settings.

Download the example files.

Now what?

Watch this short tutorial where I run you through how to run the macro in Excel. Enjoy!

Skimmers?

Here I will cover the step-by-step process with screencaps for you skimmers out there. Pro Tip: Select the “Enable Macros” prompt when you first open the file.

1. Select the Data

I held down ctrl+shift+down arrow and right arrow to select this data from my csv.

step 1

2. Paste the data into template

I recommend you also paste in your account, domain and start/end date data. (Which are cells A4-A11.)

step 2

3. Enable Developer Toolbar

File > Options > Customize Ribbon > Developer

step3 - developer

4. Navigate to the Macros

(Or just hit Alt + F8)

step 4

5. Run the macro

Make sure A1 is selected before running the macros. Then select the FormattingMacro and hit Run.

step 5

6. Finish!

You now have a fully formatted table and account data. Feel free to take it one step further and add in charts! Do you not know how? Well, funny you should bring that up. I have Excel 101 tutorial videos for you to watch!

step 6

Educational Presentations from #Mozcon You Don’t Want to Miss

Mozcon just ended and I found four truly outstanding, educational presentations that will help me with my daily work, so I thought I would share them with you. All four presentations can teach marketers a lot. I recommend taking the time to really dig through them and get some great ideas that can help you with your clients/work.

1. Mad Science Experiments in SEO & Social Media by @Randfish

This presentation has some really important information for anyone in the SEO/social realm. It should be reviewed and re-reviewed. The experiments will give you a lot of insights you need.

2. Digital Body Language by @iPullRank

What do you know about your digital fingerprint and how it is being used in marketing? Find out in this presentation and discover new ways to reach the customers you want and need.

3. You Are So Much More Than an SEO by @wilreynolds

Are you focused on the user or the SEO? What should you be focused on? Wil explains in this great presentation.

4. YouTube: The Most Important Search Engine You Haven’t Optimized For via @philnottingham

Want to be successful on YouTube and at video marketing? Check out these great tips by Phil Nottingham