Five reasons your business needs content marketing now

The art and practice of content marketing has become an important trend in the last few years. You’ve probably heard this term used in conjunction with SEO (search engine optimization), inbound marketingand social media marketing. But what exactly do we mean by content marketing ?

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What is content marketing?

Here is a definition from the Content Marketing Institute:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” 

Using content for marketing is not a completely new idea. It’s the way we think about content (or define it) that has changed, along with the tools we can use to make it available to others. As the Internet and social media become ever more important to people’s lives, the way they seek and gather information changes. Putting your content out in the world where people are looking for it helps them find you.

Why would you want to do that? Because you’re an expert and your customers need to know that. No matter what business you’re in, chances are you got into it because you’re an expert in an area or because you saw a chance to make a difference, and you’ve become an expert as a result of your hard work. By sharing your knowledge with your prospects, you’re not only improving your reputation, you’re helping your prospects in their journey to learn something new.

In fact, 88 percent of B2B marketers reported using content marketing as a part of their online marketing strategy. 

Why you should use content marketing

If building your reputation and sharing knowledge aren’t enough to convince you to consider upping your content marketing game, here are five preemptive reasons you should do it.

1. Old-style advertising is dead.

You may have heard this one before and thought “hog-wash.” But listen, I’m not trying to jump on a bandwagon here, and probably not saying what you think I am saying, so before you dismiss this, hear me out. Promotional ads aren’t enough anymore. Banner ads have been losing their efficacy rates for years. (Bannersnack).

The average click through rate of display ads across all formats and placements in the USA is now just 0.07%. (Display Benchmarks tool).  On the newspaper end, total ad revenue in 2013 was 49% lower than it had been a decade earlier, according to the “State of the News Media 2014” study by the Pew Research Center.

You have to bring more to the table. No one method will be enough to build your brand, develop leads and position your company in the minds of prospects. You need to offer something of value and, in the information age, that means — you guessed it — information.

Ads may help drive traffic to your website, or your storefront, but will that be enough? Probably not. To convert them into leads or sales, you need content that tells a story or promotes knowledge. Use advertising to boost your content, and you’ll be playing a different game.

2. Selling is dead.

Yep, another one that’s probably making you groan. But again, the way selling used to work — with cold calling and sales reps pushing a product that customers had never heard of — isn’t how it’s done anymore. Consumers are out actively seeking information to help them solve their problems and to understand what questions to ask before considering a new purchase. They have their own agendas, pace and options for how they want to receive that information. They don’t want anyone to “sell” to them. (Inc.)

Instead, modern sales reps need to form meaningful relationships with consumers – to provide information and guidance. If you wait for the phone to ring before you to start educating them about market differentiators and what they need to know to make a choice, you’re too late. Your competitors have probably already framed customer perspectives by offering information about the questions they should be asking.

In B2B, especially, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier. (Corporate Executive Board).

Content marketing can help you generate thought leadership, an important part of ensuring that your company makes it into your prospect’s frame of reference for consideration, and can help you get information in front of your audience at the right stages in the buying cycle.

3. Old-style SEO is dead.

Did I get you again? That’s right…the old-fashioned form of stuffing your web pages with keywords and paying for links on other websites no longer impresses Google. What matters is content. Good content that makes people stay on your site and click through to more pages. (Once upon a time, we called this “sticky” content). Organic search engine ranking is increasingly about creating content that people actually want to read, and it’s measured by how long they stay on your website doing just that.

That’s not to say you should ignore keyword research… you still need to create your content based on the search terms your audience uses, not the ones your internal organization uses, or it will be virtually invisible to your potential audience. However, optimizing your website needs to be less about tracking keywords and rankings, and more about engaging visitors once they’ve landed on your website. For that, you need valuable content that impresses and inspires. High converting landing pages are what matter.

4. Google is dead.

Just kidding. But creating a website primarily for Google has lost its potency. Don’t focus your efforts on “gaming” Google to appear at the top of search results. Furthermore, what is “top” for each person is different, based on location, past search history, and even the type of device being used. There’s no “one right page structure” or “one right keyword” that will win you the Google prize. It’s really all about knowing your audience, planning content that appeals to each of your target “personas” and offering what they need to make their experience on your website, or with your brand (whether in a store, event or elsewhere) meaningful. And then you need to make sure your content is where your audience is – whether that’s on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or at tradeshows, industry journals or online media. Promoting your content through social media, PR and yes, even paid advertising, is an essential element of content marketing.

5. Print content is NOT dead.

(Did I throw you a curve?) In fact, content in all forms, offline, offline, mobile, video, TV, is in more demand than ever. Print is still a top-of-funnel medium. Print isn’t dead, experts say.  According to the AMA, “Print circulations are down, but in many cases, that means that publications’ readership has been culled to only the most engaged, which is a desirable trait, from an advertising standpoint.”

What’s even more in vogue than Vogue is customized content (content for a specific audience) produced by businesses. (Money CNN). Businesses are once again finding increasing success in printing their own publications, and, in fact, customers are responding to print simply because it’s so unusual to receive it now.

Plus, according to Allbusiness.com,  56 percent of all consumers trust print marketing more than any other advertising method.

And the majority of Millennials (45%) in a 2014 survey by Androit Digital say a combination approach of digital ads and traditional ad channels is equally or more effective in influencing their brand decision making, compared to either as a standalone channel. Furthermore, 3 out of 4 small businesses use both print marketing and online efforts combined. This strategy usually offers the best return on investment and gets the best response rates.

So what do you think?

Is content marketing in your plans for 2016? What made you decide to do it? Leave a comment or click to tell us what you think.

5 Essential Differences Between Marketing Software and a CRM

The era of marketing automation has brought new and powerful tools to the hands of sales and marketing teams. Our arsenal today includes a means to collect customer and prospect data (we never use the term “spying” *wink*), personalization of offers and even the all-important ROI analysis.

But there may be some confusion or overlap in the minds of marketers about the differences between various kinds of software tools. You may wonder, “How do I compare apples to apples? Or am I lumping in grapefruits?

Compare CRM to marketing software tools for sales funnel
CRM software and marketing software are meant for different stages
of the sales and marketing funnel.

The comparison may get even more complicated when you consider that some marketing automation tools, such as HubSpot, may seem to overlap with tools such customer relationship management (CRM) systems. In fact, HubSpot recently added a CRM directly into its marketing software system. So where do you draw the line?

What is a CRM?

First of all, it’s important to consider that definitions of these tools can be highly subjective depending on who is using them. In fact, a CRM (typically considered a sales or customer support tool) could even be considered marketing software, because the marketing team uses it.

That being said, it might make sense to create a broad definition of what each of these tools are:

  • A CRM – is a repository (database) of information for managing customer relationships
  • Marketing software (and in particular, marketing automation software) – is used to take actions toward customers and leads

To make the distinction more clear-cut, we’ve outline five essential differences between CRMs and marketing software.

Five essential differences

  1. What it’s used for: Database vs. control center.

    A CRM is a repository of customer history and information such as addresses and phone numbers, while marketing automation software is used to perform specific actions. A marketing automation tool allows you to create workflows and send emails or offers to particular customers at a particular time, based on the information they have asked (opted-in) to receive.

  2. How it’s used: Sales interactions vs. website tracking.

    A CRM is useful for tracking sales and customer support interactions with a customer by logging individual email contact and phone calls. It keeps track of all customer purchases and preferences. A marketing system, however, will track a broader set of data about prospects BEFORE they become customers, such as web pages they have viewed, social media sites they have interacted with and ads they have viewed.

  3. Who uses it: Sales vs marketing.

    Again, there can be some overlap here, but a CRM records every instance of contact with a particular customer into one aggregated dataset. (Every sales, customer service, and marketing touch can be recorded). Marketing software is a tool designed to measure and collect information about marketing campaigns: which emails generate leads and clicks, which ads pull in the most website visitors, which blog posts get the most readership and conversion on offers, which social media posts or Tweets got responses and views.

  4. When it’s used: After conversion vs before.

    A CRM primarily collects information after a lead is known and helps identify the best customers. Marketing automation software aggregates information about the customer that begins before the person has any sales contact by using website forms and online analytics to gather data.

  5. Why it’s used: Customer maintenance vs lead nurturing.

    A CRM is used to foster and maintain customer relationships while a marketing automation system is primarily used to nurture leads at the top of the funnel in order to convert them to customers. Marketing software provides personalized content to the prospect in order to CONVERT the prospect to a lead, which is why it is primarily used by the marketing department.

As we mentioned, many of the tools in both a CRM and marketing automation system can overlap. And in fact, often both Sales and Marketing departments have access to and may use both sets of tools. The difference will be the kinds of information and actions they want to get from the systems.

Marketing will be more focused on using the tool to generate leads at the top of the funnel, and Sales will be more concerned with the activities that happen to convert the leads into customers –and what happens with the customers after the sale.

Marketing systems may increasingly be useful in the later part as well, because they can manage email campaigns and content that help upsell customers, support re-engagement or get customers to share information with their own friends and contacts.

Want know more?

Want to know more about how a marketing automation system could help you? Download this inbound marketing presentation.

Tips and ideas for better visual storytelling

If you read my first post on Eight reasons your brand needs to use visual storytelling, you may be wondering if I have any advice about how to make visual storytelling work for you?

I do. Here are some tips and ideas for putting visual storytelling to work in B2B.

Stay on brand.

You’ll get two times the level of engagement with visuals on Facebook. But they need to be relevant and recognizable. Create a visual standard so people know it’s your image (this could mean using a certain camera angle, type of cropping, logo treatment, color filter, etc).

Use images with text overlays. (Memes).

Creating a graphic out of an elegant saying or useful bit of advice to your customers may resonate with them. Pick a saying or tip that they’ll want to share and remember. Then make it share-worthy by turning it into a graphic. (Like the example below).

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Be consistent.

Your visuals need to tell an overall story. Make them original, but also follow a standard format for timing, style, message and objectives.

Create infographics.

Publishers who use infographs grow traffic an average of 12%. Select some interesting quotes or statistics, facts or tips to create something visual to spread your brand story further.

Infographic for Gemalto Netsize

Use Pinterest.

Pinterest drives traffic (for B2B too). For example, 25% of retail traffic from Sephora comes from Pinterest and the brand found that Pinterest followers spend 15% on their products more than Facebook followers. Pinterest is not just for consumer brands. Even medical device brands (like Thermo Fisher Scientific) have found that their product and user graphics on Pinterest have generated thousands of followers. Find the content that appeals to your audience and post it.

Add value.

Pull images and graphics from your other marketing materials such as ebooks, webinars, presentations or tradeshow posters. Give useful ideas and information away for free. It will build your brand following.

Entertain.

Don’t be afraid to show a humorous side. Even in straight-laced business areas such as life science and healthcare, content with an entertainment value is appreciated. The key here is to know your audience – well. What will they find entertaining? Never be off color or offensive, but poking fun at yourself (or your market area) can be appreciated.

Customize for every platform.

Every network is different. Don’t use the same images across all media. For example Tumblr is very .gif focused (Animation). Pinterest is great for infographics. Post video links on Facebook.

Use video effectively.

Video is a highly consumable format, and is a very underutilized tool. Video doesn’t always have to be film, but can be created as animations from stills as well. Use animation in a creative way. Tell a story using words and pictures.

Consider a video response (or parody).

Video “responses” to the viral sensation for Gangam Style grabbed attention and even brands were able to get in on the buzz. News clips or popular ads in your area can be inspiration. Consider this video response created by IKEA parodying the Apple ads.

Share your presentations.

Slideshare is a go-to network for business info and education. Be creative and to do your best to give audiences what they are looking for. The value of this channel is lead generation, because it can so effectively drive traffic to your website. Post not only sales and company presentations, but also useful “how to” and “step by step” slides.

Use cartoons.

You can boost your newsletter open rates with cartoons. Walter says that Intel’s newsletter open rates went up to 45% (from 5%) when they started using cartoons. Just ask Hugh MacLeod (Gaping Void) or Stu Heinecke. (Literally, ask them, they offer customized and syndicated cartoons).

Hugh MacLeod Gaping Void cartoons
Gaping Void by Hugh MacLeod offers customized cartoons.

 

Activate your passionate advocates.

Create a way to let them get involved, share their comments or stories. Ideas: have a Fan of week contest, let customers submit photos, or have them post their video tips and messages about using your product.

Be inspiring.

Don’t just create marketing campaigns. Build tribes. Inspire movements. Visual content inspires audiences.

Images stand out

Keep in mind, every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003, according to Eric Schmidt (as reported by TechCrunch). Visual storytelling is the way to stand out from noise.

 

Have any more ideas? Leave a comment below.

Eight reasons to your brand needs to use visual storytelling

At INBOUND14, Ekaterina Walter, an innovator who has led companies like Intel and Accenture to success with social media, discussed why visual storytelling should be an essential element to any brand story, and certainly any story that hopes to make an impact on social media.

Why? Because, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And when you have only 140 characters (such as on Twitter) to make your point, then linking to a photo is a better use of space trying to squeeze in 1,000 words.

And that’s just one reason. Here are seven more.

1. Images get shared.

Using images to help tell a story not only does it more effectively, but also with more viral impact. It’sproven.

People are much more likely to share posts with images (photos or videos) than without. And in social media, sharing is the name of the game.

Content is King- Visual Storytelling

Overall, on Facebook, for example, photos make up 87% of all shared posts, according to eMarketer.

Photos can also boost retweets by 35% (according a report by Media Blog).

social media facebook posts

2. Images catch attention.

According to KISSMetrics, photos get 53% more likes than and 84% more click-throughs than posts without images. When you’re scanning your social feeds or a web page, what do you stop to look at?

 

3. Images appeal to emotions.

Videos and images are also more likely to appeal to emotions…and as any good marketer will tell you, the key to engagement and action in marketing is getting to the emotion.

 

4. Images transcend cultures and boundaries.

You can tell a story with a single picture. Images make subtle connections that can be lost in translation. If you have a international audience, images (pictographs and drawings) can be useful and easily understood. Consider the universal sign for the men and women’s room.

Male Female universal pictograph restroom

 

5. Images make the point quickly.

A single image (or an infographic) can make a point much more quickly that a long post. On social media where attention spans are measured in fractions of a second, quick is good!

(Image Source: Charity Water)

 

6. Images get priority space.

On Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and many website home pages, images are given more physical space than similar text messages. This may seem counter-intuitive to the part about “getting the point across more quickly” but the fact is that social media sites (and other websites) allocate premium space to images. If you want to stand out in a crowded space, you need an image.

Tweets on Twitter

Tweets on Twitter images get more space

 

7. Pictures are memorable.

It’s easy to forget facts you’ve read, even when you’re interested in a topic. But visual images stay with you for a long time.

 

Not just babies and kittens

It’s important to realize that visual storytelling isn’t just about about cute pictures of kids and animals. It’s about telling B2B stories as well.

To use Intel as an example, one of the most shared images Intel ever experienced, was a post that internal marketing managers initially thought was a bad move. Turned out it wasn’t. The post was an image of a messy desk, showing an actual behind-the-scenes look at what happens at an Intel development center. The caption was “Inside Intel”. It received more views and shares that any single post they’d ever place on Twitter up until that point (according to eKaterina Walter).

More facts

Here are some other interesting facts about images (from INBOUND14):

  • Pages with images get 94% more total views than those without
  • Sharing goes up 30-40% on pages with images
  • Press releases are viewed 50 percent more often with image or video attached
  • Viewers spend 100% more time on webs pages with videos
  • Publishers using infographics grow their traffic 12%

 

Visual storytelling is the way to stand out from the noise.