Creating good content is tough. Really tough—especially when you’re trying to meet B2B demand generation deadlines. How many of us have created me-too pieces of content that we aren’t proud of—content pieces that have been blasted to the world in the hope that we will get a few more leads?
Content Marketing Institute performed a survey recently that showed 88% of B2B marketers use content marketing as part of their strategy but only 30% of those programs are effective in driving conversions.
Only 30%! You know why? Because to inspire your readers you have to care about them and what you say has to come from a place of truth. In fact, your top challenge shouldn’t be about generating mountains of content, but creating content that inspires your readers. And you can’t do that if you’re not thinking strategically.
Here are some things to consider when creating a content marketing strategy:
Understanding the Why
Before you create another checklist of assets, ask yourself why does the world need another piece of content? The answer shouldn’t be because I need more leads. It should be more along the lines of how that asset will make a difference in the lives of your prospects. Will it be relevant to them? Will it provide solutions to their needs? Will it uplift them and inspire them?
Thinking through these questions helps you move away from reacting to your company’s short-term requirements to focusing on a strategy that allows your prospects to connect with your brand. Rather than creating half-hearted standalone content pieces that are disconnected from your brand identity, you can create a list of assets that map to your messaging, reflects the voice of your brand and more importantly, solves your client’s problems.
Identifying Campaign Themes
Rather than creating a piece of ad-hoc, one-off content quickly in the hope of mediocre results, think about how your content fits into your campaign themes. Hopefully you have some campaign themes defined.
Once you know what themes your content will fit into, you can make sure that it is tailored for the message and persona associated with that campaign. This way, you will have a series of content pieces that you can use to nurture your customers. You can then take advantage of the psychology of repetition to gain traction in the market place.
Knowing Your Audience
Not every asset will appeal to every person. You have to assess whether your audience will enjoy the asset you have created. There are two main things to take into consideration. First, does the messaging appeal to the audience and if it doesn’t how can we improve it? Second, what type of content would the audience be interested in? For example, a CEO might be willing to take a quick look at a 30 second high level video whereas a developer would be more interested in an article covering tips and tricks. Know your audience so you can create the right asset for them.
Mapping to Demand Generation Funnel
Think about your buyer’s journey as you layout the content. How will they consume your assets? Nowadays, most people do their own research online before they even talk to a sales representative. When you create a content plan make sure that you highlight where an asset fits into the demand generation funnel and the nurture stream. For example, a Gartner report which is a thought leadership piece would fit into the awareness phase, whereas a how-to video about your product would be later in the funnel, most likely the consideration or even the purchase phase.
Once you map your content to your funnel, it will be much easier to use it for nurturing purposes, online, and as part of outbound and inbound campaigns.
Remember Your Existing Clients
Sometimes startups seem to be so focused on getting the next big enterprise deal that they forget that their existing clients matter too. In fact, existing customers can be the lifeblood of your business as they continue to renew and refer your services.
Providing useful content to existing clients is invaluable to ensure that they are satisfied with your services and continue to subscribe to them. Content that you create during product launches, helps your customers stay in tune with your innovations and continuously upgrade.
Having educational and thought leadership blogs that customers could refer to can work well in keeping your customers engaged. You can then send a monthly newsletter to update them on the recent industry news and product updates.
If you provide your existing customers with valuable content you will see better retention rates and ultimately more upgrade and up-sell revenue.
Educating Your Free Trial Prospects
If you have ever downloaded a free trial of a product to get absolutely no help in setting it up you know how painful of an experience it can be. You probably ended up frustrated and abandoned the tool. If you have a product that can be downloaded as a free trial, then your content strategy should include a series of helpful emails that provide guidance on how to get started with the trial. Your emails can include tips and tricks, links to demos or webinars, and support contact information.
Once you have created a list of all these types of assets, how they fit into the demand generation funnel and the buyer’s journey, and how they can be utilized, you can create a checklist which can be used to increase brand awareness and ultimately conversions.
How effective is your marketing message? Creating a marketing message that differentiates your company’s product and services is one of the hardest things you will have to do, but formulating a highly differentiated message is essential in beating your competition, successfully swaying analysts and influencers, and making your online presence more compelling. When done well, highly differentiated messaging will drive demand and increase your market share.
In this blog post, we’ll go over 5 key things your B2B technology startup should consider when creating a message that will be compelling enough to be effective.
Knowing what your company stands for
Shared values build relationships and are the power behind purposeful action. Of the consumers surveyed by Harvard Business Review 64% cited shared values as the primary reason to have a relationship with a company. This applies as much to B2B as it does to B2C and is the very essence of a strong brand. Before you even start creating your message, you have to know what your company stands for. Why? Because those values will reflect in your voice, your visuals and your interaction with customers.
Steve Jobs once said, “To me marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, a very noisy world and we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember us. No company is. So we have to be very clear about what we want people to know about us.”
B2B technology companies are so focused on getting the enterprise deal, that they often forget that their buyers are human beings with their own desires, passions and beliefs. How you communicate your values, creates a window into the soul of your company. Without getting metaphysical about it, you probably already know who you are, and if you don’t, someone in your organization does—most likely a founder who put her soul in creating the product. You have to dig deep to find those values, to find your best selves, and then translate that into messages to use to interact with everyone—from customers to vendors to partners.
Marketing is not just about a piece of content you blast to the world, or the one-liner you put on your homepage; it’s about your customers experiencing the brand philosophy at the heart of your organization.. For example, if you are selling to developers, but your message is full of marketing buzzwords that programmers can’t relate to, it is likely that you haven’t figured out who you really are. If you cite customer satisfaction as a priority but your sales representatives take three weeks to respond to a prospect call, there is a gap between the truth and your perception of truth. The entire organization has to encompass the same values in order to give customers the experience they truly want.
Understanding your customer
Before writing your value proposition or tagline, you have to go through a series of logical steps to understand why someone would choose your product over your competitor’s. This requires not only knowing your product’s strengths but having a deep understanding of your buyers and competitors.
This might sound straightforward enough, but we’ve realized that many B2B technology startups struggle with this important step. It’s because when we start a business, we often think we know the answers when we really don’t. We have to learn from trial and error. Larger organizations have the luxury of relying on an established sales and marketing track record to pull solid analytic from their CRM and marketing systems, or conduct thorough customer and market studies. As a startup, knowing your target audiences’ personas can be difficult but it’s important in helping you formulate messages that talk to their needs. Depending on your situation, here are a few practical things you can do to get a better understanding of your customers:
Listen to your prospects and customers
Do you have a list of prospects and customers? Even if it’s only a handful, whoever is creating the message should set up a time to speak with them directly. Performing a win / loss analysis is invaluable in understanding the logic behind a decision to purchase or not. Taking detailed, structured notes allows you to identify patterns not only for refining your message but product enhancements that you can later on feed into your roadmap.
For example, we had a software client who believed that their user interface was the key to their success. However, when we did a win/loss analysis, there was no difference in UI likeability between those who had bought the product and those who hadn’t. In fact, it turned out that they all had liked the UI but the UI had not necessarily been the motivator to purchase the product. On the other hand, customer support were rated as one of the biggest reasons customers had decided against partnering with the company. So while the UI was an important aspect to ensure a prospect would consider the product, it was the customer support that made the real difference. As a result, fixing the customer support experience made a much bigger difference for their market share than making the already appealing UI even better.
The key is to listen to your customers. Don’t put words in their mouths, and if they voice criticism, don’t get defensive or try to still sell them if they have decided not to buy. The point of these conversations is to understand their motivations and objections. And then analyze the patterns.
Listen to your sales team as if they are your customer
Sales representatives are usually the first group of your employees to hear from prospects and customers about what they do and don’t like about your company or products. Therefore, they usually have a keen sense of what sells and what prospects resonate with.
To understand what your prospects find compelling about your offerings, and what really moves them to a purchase decision, start by watching your sales representatives present the sales deck in a meeting. Besides providing useful feedback on sales’ ability to actually deliver a compelling, customer benefits-oriented product and company pitch, it is very helpful in tweaking the message, as necessary.
Search your CRM tool for purchase patterns
Do you have a CRM tool like Salesforce? Is your sales team using it? If so, you’re in a much better shape than many startups. You can pull a report that can show who your sales team has worked with in an account, who has signed the PO, and who has influenced the opportunity. Analyzing this data and identifying patterns can be useful in testing your assumptions about who you think your buyers really are.
For example, if you think that the VP of Marketing is your main buyer, but then you realize that more often than not, it is the Director of Product Marketing who is making the purchase, you realize that you might want to create new messaging that targets that persona. However, the accuracy of the analysis relies on the accuracy of the data in your systems, which is why it’s essential that the sales team is trained adequately in using the CRM tool.
You can run your messages by those who could be a potential buyer within your network or online. You can find luminaries and thought leaders from your targeted industries who would be more than willing to work with you for a fee or a free license. Either way, their input, more often than not, is extremely helpful in formulating your message.
Knowing your competition
Often companies drink their own cool aid, thinking their product is the best in the market, but your competitors exist for a reason. They have their weaknesses but they have their strengths too. Do you know what those strengths are? And more importantly, do you know how to beat them? Also, do you know what they say about your real or perceived weaknesses, and do you know how to disarm those arguments with credibility and impact?
Once you have this information and comparisons, write them in a format that can easily be shared with sales. We often see founders conveying differentiators verbally via a team call. You need to write down concise and memorable statements about your differentiators so sales can refer to them when needed. And your prospects can repeat them to their colleagues when they’re building consensus internally around whether or not they should consider purchasing your offering.
Also, as you write your marketing message, keep those differentiators in mind, so you can address them. Talk about your differentiators as your strengths, without mentioning your competitor by name or disrespecting them. Educate your potential customers through differentiated messages that you feed to marketing and sales, and allow the buyer to make their own decision.
Answering the "so what?"
Many times we think we know why our company and product is the best in the market, and write our messaging from our own perspective. As you write, you have to ensure that your messages are answering what I like to call the “so what?” question. Why would the buyer care about what you are telling them? Make sure what you convey directly addresses their needs and isn’t only about what’s cool about your company.
The technologists in a company are often the ones that create the first version of the marketing and sales collateral. When this happens, some of the early pitches though accurate technically, are focused on product features. This type of messaging might appeal to technical and junior level buyers, but if it doesn’t address important customer business issues, it fails to excite the senior business buyer.
A clearly differentiated statement that reflects the soul of your company, while addressing customer issues is the goal of effective messaging. Creating this statement often takes weeks or even months, but when done correctly is a powerful, engaging summary of why someone should buy your product and services.
Keeping it concise
Have you ever visited a company’s website, read their brochure and still aren’t sure what they exactly do? Keep your messages concise. Avoid buzzwords and technology jargon. Communicate in few clear sentences exactly what you do and how you are different. This respects the reader’s time and guides them to take the action you want them to take, faster.
Once you have formulated your messaging, you can create value propositions, positioning statements and messaging pillars. We’ll talk about each of these in a subsequent blog post. We’ll also about how to create marketing campaigns with focused messaging that are effective in driving demand and can accelerate the growth of your sales pipeline.