Content Marketing

eagleWhether you call it Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing, Branded Content or even Brand Journalism, it’s hot and getting hotter, and that’s kind of surprising, really, because none of it is working for most companies.

Still, many companies–especially B2Bs and particularly B2B technology companies–are determined to make Content Marketing work, mainly because they just have no other choice.

Thanks to the wild variety of marketing channels and barrage of messages stuffing them, traditional Outbound Marketing–where you try to reach out to prospective customers, has become unmanageably  complex and costly.  Just to be heard in the din requires the frame-breaking creativity of a Quentin Tarrantino. Then, you have to figure out where most of your prospects can be found, knowing full well that is likely to change momentarily.

Increasingly, you will find your prospects in closed or heavily moderated discussion groups, sharing tips and experiences about your products and those of your competitors.  Influencers especially love the fast, easy and honest information available through these groups (instead of hours spent in vendor presentations, why not just ask past and current customers and users?)

Hence, the rapid growth of Inbound Marketing, in which you try to engage people who are actively in need of, searching for or interested in, whatever it is you sell.

It’s a new field and there is some disagreement over this, but Content Marketing is essentially the process of designing, creating and distributing content that will attract and engage a target audience.  Inbound Marketing is a subset of Content Marketing that is more focused on digital media–the web and email especially–and data-driven analytical strategies and tools.  Branded Content is yet another subset focused on the marriage of advertising and editorial approaches.

Which is right for you?  We’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s tackle the really hard question: Why is so much Content Marketing failing to make an impact?

Why do nearly 70 percent of the people using Content Marketing  say it isn’t working for their company?

Because their content isn’t valuable enough.

Here is the thing: engaging prospective buyers is extremely difficult today–and we aren’t talking about message strategies yet.

We’re talking about simply getting them on the damn phone, then trying to set up face-time for a substantive presentation.

The trade publications and shows you used to depend upon now seem to cost more while providing significantly less value.

While your cost-per-lead is increasing, your lead-to-close ratio is out of sight.

Finally, those leads you’ve been pursuing return your calls, but all they are interested in discussing is your best price.

Welcome to B2B marketing in the 20-teens. As our Scottish friend likes to say, “it’s a shite state of affairs and there’s bloody hell you can do about it!”

One thing that is being done is a vigorous pursuit of Content Marketing strategies that aim to attract highly qualified, actively shopping, money-in-hand leads right to your door.

It’s logical and popular. Everyone is doing it. Yet, nearly 70 percent of those people report that their Content Marketing efforts are having a negligible bottom-line impact, according to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute.

Not surprisingly, some are already starting to describe Content Marketing with the “F” word.  The truth is, for many companies, Content Marketing is, indeed, a Fad.

It is being viewed as a simple, one-size-fits-all cure for what ails them. In fact, Content Marketing is like branding, Customer Relationship Management, supply chain management and other business innovations that profoundly change businesses for the better when they are implemented with sufficient resources and accommodated with changes to organizational structure.

But, just as companies that believed a successful branding initiative could be accomplished simply by trotting out a crisp-sounding Mission Statement, businesses that think that producing slick content or mass quantities of semi-slick content will make a difference, will soon be reaching for a new fad.

Effective Content Marketing requires an effective messaging strategy.

Yes, you will need a clear understanding of your “buyer personas” to inform your messaging.  But, if your messaging is entirely designed around your buyers, how in the world will you stand out against all of the competitors who will be designing their own content around those same personas?

Your content must differentiate you in the eyes of prospects. For that to happen, you must have a clear message strategy.

Find out how to get one in the next tab.

Messaging Strategies


Why do nearly 70 percent of the people using Content Marketing  say it isn’t working for their company?

Because their content isn’t valuable enough.

That is the root cause for the nearly 70 percent of surveyed marketing people who told the Content Marketing Institute that Content Marketing efforts are having a negligible bottom-line impact.

Effective Content Marketing has to have real value to the customer.  

If your content does not share valuable information or perspective to your prospective customers, then your Content Marketing strategy will be ineffective at best and damaging to your business as worst.  If your content puts your business in a bad light with thin, laughable material, greasy claims or idiotic arguments, it will do nothing but move prospective customers away from you.

If your content presents you as honest, open, and authentic, well, now you’re getting somewhere, but you still need more.  You need unique or hard-to-find information, passion-raising narratives, or a sensationally compelling argument that will hold your prospect’s interest long enough for you to sell what you’re selling.

Great examples of this are not hard to find.  Consider one of the very first Content Marketers–way back in the 19th Century–the Spalding Company.  In the late 1870s, it began producing sporting guides and rule books to help people learn, organize and play baseball, basketball and other sports.  In the doing, the company established itself as the go-to expert on sports and a logical source of all sorts of sports equipment.

Publishing and distributing hard-copy books and guides was a serious undertaking for Spalding way back then.  Today, content can be quickly and efficiently shared around the world simply by starting a blog or an email newsletter.

Even small, regional businesses can benefit from an effective Content Marketing strategy, the messaging can simply be everyday stories and advice.

Do you have a small-town cheese shop? You surely must know and love your business. Share your knowledge and you will establish yourself as a knowledgeable, credible expert.

Or, perhaps you build decks or install swimming pools in your town.  Share your expertise, tips, stories, cautions and all the latest news about materials and techniques, and prospective buyers searching for information will be irresistibly drawn to your business–first to be informed, and then to buy.

What is your business?  What do people need to know about it? What “insider” tips do you share with friends and family? Why not share those tips with all of your prospects? You will be giving them something of real value, and you will be receiving something of real value–credibility.

Perhaps your business is a bit more complicated. That’s even better!  Start explaining away that complexity.  Your prospects may not even read all the way through your explanations. And that’s OK!  If you present your content clearly, honestly and generously, they will only read enough to decide that you are a credible and trustworthy expert worthy of their business.

If your business is built around a hobby or popular activity, contribute to the passion for it by providing evocative descriptions of the joys and benefits that can be derived from it. Share your passion! There is no better way to connect with like-minded people than by celebrating a common love.


Customer Acquisition & Retention



Aristotle was a bright guy but he really blew it when asked to explain why sunflowers turn and face the position of the sun throughout the day.

The great philosopher-scientist concluded that it was a passive response to the warmth of the sun simply causing a physical shifting of fluid in the plant, making it appear to be actively following the sun.

Botanists would later discover that Sunflowers are actually pretty crafty. They determined that sunflowers employ a process called phototropism that allows them to face and follow the light of the sun, making them more attractive to the bees and other pollinators they need to thrive.

Businesses would do well to become more “buyer-tropic,” in order to attract what they need to thrive: sales.

This is not just a sales and marketing thing. Efficiently attracting, acquiring and retaining customers requires a consistent, organization-wide understanding of the real value the business is offering.

Call it a positioning statement, Unique Value Proposition or Key Value Proposition, or better yet, call it The Promise We Make To Our Customers.

Most businesses never get this essential keystone created and in place. Why? Because it’s an impossible task when it’s simply considered a small piece of a Marketing Plan.

In fact, The Promise shouldn’t be thought of as a task.  It should be a foundational part of the business. It should be created with lots of sparks, passionate debate and rational deliberation.

It will be complete when it’s honest, believable, doable and valuable; but its completeness will be understood to be require constant monitoring.

But, in many companies, The Promise amounts to little more than meaningless marketing pap or worse.  It’s not unique. It’s not a promise. It’s just blather and bullshit that puts prospective customers on guard and distracts them from what’s really important and substantive about the company.

When it’s solved, The Promise helps you develop extraordinary messaging that attracts prospects, converts them to customers and keeps your business constantly focused on keeping their business.

The consistent execution of that messaging–in sales scripts, collateral material, the website, Social Media, and every customer-facing piece of the company (including sales forms and contracts), will help your business fully exploit every sales opportunity.

Instead of worrying about which lead generation strategy should be employed, businesses should first spend time fully understanding what they are selling.

When businesses have that, they not only will clearly see the message strategy they need, they will also get better-informed product development, and more informed and effective sales teams and customer service. That will make it easy for prospects to choose them and stay with them.

Cause Marketing

Many companies quietly answer requests for help from local, regional and national organizations, from local schools to United Way or the American Red Cross.  Sometimes, businesses are reluctant to publicize this help because it will result in even more requests.

Yes, lots of people and organizations need help. Businesses that embrace that need will be viewed more positively by customers, the community and by their own employees.  That doesn’t mean you have to write a check for every request. Companies can also allow employees to create a collection or run a small fundraiser. That’s just a part of being in a community.

Cause-related Marketing is more focused and more intentional.  It’s about partnering with a charitable or nonprofit organization for specific promotional value.

There are two great reasons for pursuing cause marketing:

1) It Works

Companies trying to get in front of key audiences will find it much easier when they start talking about the things that audience cares about. Cause-related marketing gets your name recognized and can also put your business in a good light.

2) It’s Needed

There are many worthy causes out there. Picking one for your business will not be difficult.

Chances are, your team will have several candidates to consider. Just remember that good cause-related marketing requires more than writing a check. It means actually teaming up with the organization and understanding how you can best help.

Typically, the best cause marketing raises awareness as well as resources.  Indeed, if you really want your cause-related effort to succeed, make sure it communicates more than “look how much money we gave to charity,” which suggests that you only care about getting credit for helping.

Just as important as cash and in-kind (non-cash) contributions involved in cause-related marketing, is the promotional support it provides.

Instead of simply providing cash and in-kind contributions,  find something truly interesting and meaningful to which you can call attention.

For example, Hanes For Good, the cause-related marketing campaign by HanesBrands, has enabled the Winston-Salem, NC-based apparel company to increase public awareness of critical needs of the homeless.

The campaign has provided millions of pairs of socks to homeless shelters.  But in doing so, the company inspired hundreds of media reports and countless social media reports, calling attention to the seldom realized fact that donations of used clothing to shelters never include socks and underwear.

Instead of boring grip-and-grin check-passing photos, publicity about the campaign could focus on a stark, compelling and easily remedied problem.  Hanes For Good has inspired people to think about the homeless differently.  It become not just a broad social challenge. It becomes an issue of human dignity.  People can relate to that and they want to act on it.

Companies that inspire positive action get so much more than “their name out there.” They get people who want to do business with them.