Sunday, December 22, 2013

Is differentiation overrated?

At our fancy and not fancy MBA schools, we're taught about marketing fundamentals like positioning, the 4 Ps, value propositions, value chains, perceptual maps, differentiation ad nauseum.  Don't get me wrong, I believe most of these principles are essential for good business growth and success.  The one principle I'd like to think about and discuss critically is 'differentiation'.

I recently came across this white paper authored by Jenni Romaniuk, Byron Sharp and Andrew Ehrenberg titles, 'Evidence concerning the importance of brand differentiation'.  In the white paper, which, by the way, is a true white paper and not one of those self promoting pieces masquerading as a white paper, the authors challenge the importance of differentiation as a piece of the marketing strategy.  They argue and present empirical data demonstrating that differentiation plays a very limited if not inconsequential role in competition between brands.  They make a compelling case.

It is important to note the context of the paper is around product attributes and not brand perception.  In fact, they argue that there are differences in the eyes of the consumers, but the perceived difference is in the brand itself, not the product features.  Thus, if you do read the paper, keep in mind that differences are relevant, but differentiation with relation to the product is minimal.

As a prelude to my next post, consider this question:

What if we started planning our marketing strategy with the premise that our product is not differentiated?  How would we proceed?

Clue:  Content Marketing plays a big role.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Convert Content Marketing to Revenue - The 7 Pieces of the Puzzle

Originally published December 5, 2013 on the Content Marketing Institute blog here.

How to Convert Content Marketing to Revenue - The 7 Pieces of the Puzzle

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According to the B2B Content Marketing 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends survey published by CMI,  93% of B2B marketers are using content marketing and only 9% consider their efforts as “very effective”.  Although we are not sure what the term “very effective” means to those responding, it is safe to assume that revenue generation influences whether or not the effort is effective at some level.  In the B2B world of marketing, if our content and associated content marketing efforts are not generating revenue, then we should fix it or stop the effort altogether so budget and resources can be diverted to those tactics that are generating revenue.

The framework I am presenting is highly effective and measurable.  I present the solution to converting content to revenue as 7 pieces of a puzzle rather than a linear series of steps because the process is best viewed in a linear fashion, but not necessarily executed in a linear fashion.  If you put together each piece of the puzzle with the whole in mind, you will generate revenue with your content.  I have employed this framework at a global electronics manufacturing company resulting in growth rates of 20% to 30%.  It works.  For every piece of content you intend to create, you should visualize how it will churn through the 7 Pieces and out the revenue end.

Caveat:  Basic Content Marketing 101 presumes you are creating content that is relevant and useful to your target audience so they can do their jobs better because of the content your organization is providing.  This 7 Piece framework works based on this premise.  If you produce a bunch of content masquerading as education, for example, that is really a product promotion, it won’t work.  To put it bluntly, if your content is crap, this process will not work.

Puzzle Piece 1 – The Fundamentals.  As mentioned above, this won’t work without effective content, an effective creation process or having the tools necessary for distribution and measurement. The first fundamental task is creating effective content.  It’s not all that easy as we see with only ‘9% very effective’ CMI survey result.  Those companies who excel at content marketing that generates revenue have worked hard to gain executive sponsorship, a ‘content’ based culture in the sales and marketing organizations, and resources supporting a content marketing strategy. 

The second critical fundamental piece that must be in place before this process is effective is a proper marketing plan.  Make sure you have written a proper marketing plan for your business before proceeding.  Every step in this process requires that you have a thorough understanding of your business and the target market.  There is a lot of information available about how to create effective content as well as an effective supporting environment.  A great place to start is on the CMI website.

The third critical fundamental piece is a proper toolset.  You will need to have the following apparatus in place for this process to work efficiently and effectively:
1.      Website
2.      Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)
3.      CRM integrated with the MAP
4.      Alignment with sales around lead management, definitions and who does what when
From this point on, I’ll assume you have a good content creation machine in place, a written marketing plan, and a robust toolset in place.  Now you and are ready to move on to the next piece.

Puzzle Piece 2 - Distribute and Make it Find-able.  Content will not significantly drive revenue by just sitting on your website.  I suspect many of those companies who deem their content marketing efforts less than very effective are creating good content, but only parking it on their website hoping for improved SEO.  Don’t get me wrong, good content parked on the website will improve SEO, but it is not enough by itself to measurably affect revenue.

Content distribution must be integral to your marketing strategy and tactics.  The content you create must be used extensively with both outbound and inbound tactics.  Your outbound ads must promote the content and your inbound tactics like pay per click (ppc) must promote the content.  Stop promoting your products!  Instead, promote your content!  Promoting content is a far better way to engage with your target audience than telling them about your product or service.  Sorry, but it’s true, your audience perceives your product or service as a commodity.  The sooner you embrace that idea, the sooner you can start generating 20% and 30% growth rates.  Offer your content via all outbound channels where your target audience congregates; emails, print ads, email ads, digital ads, direct mail, social media, etc.  Inbound SEM ads should also promote the content.  This idea of promoting content in place of product is sometimes hard for the organization to understand. You are likely to get strong pushback at this point.  This is where the preparation of your organization comes into play.  You must have strong executive support and a content marketing culture or at least a strong understanding in place.  Otherwise, your product managers and sales people will freak out and possibly hinder your content marketing strategy.  They may even force you back to a product based strategy and back to those dismal growth numbers of 1% to 5%.

Puzzle Piece 3 – The Conversion Point (landing page).  It is imperative that all outbound and inbound activities drive to a custom landing page.  DO NOT send them to a regular web page!  Even more importantly, DO NOT send them to your home page!  Once they take the action step (click or typed URL), they should be directed to a custom designed landing page.  The landing page must be designed specifically around the offer of the content.  If you send them to one of your regular web pages, you lose, especially if you send them to a product page.  The more relevant you can make the landing page, the better chance you will have at earning their engagement.

You’ll have to make some decisions about how they acquire the content once they are on the landing page.  Will you gate it or offer it with just a click?  The harder it is to get the content, they higher will be your abandonment rate. Conversely, the easier it is, the more broad your reach.  I love to give away content for free without any strings attached because it gets wider exposure and still builds awareness and credibility within your target audience.  The three components of your landing page are:
1.      Offer the asset.  This should be perceived as the main function of the landing page.
2.      Tell them about your value proposition or what you do.  We want to offer content they find valuable and we want the visitor to connect the goodwill generated by the asset to the brand offering (awareness + credibility).  Present the offering as a side panel, not as the main focal point of the landing page.
3.      Make it easy for them to find out more about your company.  You want them to think to themselves, “who is this company giving me this valuable information? I want to know more”.  Always give a visitor the option to ‘raise their hand’ and make a direct connection.

Remember, your outbound ads and your ppc ads should both drive to the landing page.  Do not fill the landing page with product based information.  The last thing you want is for your visitor to feel like they were victim to a bait and switch tactic tricking them by offering valuable information, but directing them to a product page.

Puzzle Piece 4 - The Call to Action Step.   Although the CTA is integrated to Piece 3, it is important enough to merit its own section.  This is where the quality of your content matters.  If you have created something that is of interest to your target audience, they will take an action to learn more.  You have to tell them what you want them to do!!  In the digital realm, it usually involves a click.  Again, you have to tell them to "click here to get the paper" or "Register here" for example.  Don't leave it up to the reader to figure out what they're supposed to do.  If it isn't really easy, you might lose them.  If you don’t make it clear about what you are offering and how to get it, you’ll lose a great deal of effectiveness.

Puzzle Piece 5 – Qualification. At this point, a person from your target audience has clicked or responded to the CTA in your ad, arrived at your custom landing page, has been delighted to easily obtain a useful and helpful piece of content, put your brand top of their mind, associated value with your brand and associated your company with a particular offering.  Additionally, they may have explored your website, shared the content via their social media channels, forwarded the email or even requested a contact action from your sales team.  At this point, it is important to decide what happens next.  Are they a marketing qualified lead (MQL) that is sent over to the sales team for direct action?  Are they sent to a nurturing program? Are they left alone until they see your next great piece of content?  Each of these choices are valid actions and will depend on your particular business practices.

Regardless of your business practice, you must consciously decide what happens next.  Your work as a modern marketer is not over at the point of click or the download.  Assuming you are fishing in the pond where your target audience resides, I suggest only two options:  pass them to sales as a MQL or send them to a nurturing program.  This is where your marketing automation platform is a critical component of the content to conversion process.  Throughout the nurturing process, your contacts will be receiving more great useful information (content) and getting to know your company and the associated offering through regular website visits.  As they visit and interact with the content, you should be measuring that activity ideally with some type of lead scoring program. 

Success of the qualification step depends on close alignment with the sales team.  You should have an agreement in place specifying the point at which any of these contacts should be considered ready for a call.  Your decision may be to just let the contacts decide for themselves when to proactively reach out to your sales team.

Puzzle Piece 6 - Pass the Contact Information to the Sales Pipeline.  If your content is educational and you've complied with all the best practices of offers, ppc, landing page, etc., you'll be flooding the top of the funnel and the sales team with qualified leads as well as filling the nurturing funnel with tons of future buyers.  I would like to re-emphasize the importance of collaborating with sales on each campaign.  They need to understand what's happening and why it's happening as the leads start flowing into their in-boxes. Those contacts that do not qualify are sent to a content based nurturing program.  While in the nurturing program (where you offer them even more great content you've created) they are engaging more deeply with your company and its value proposition.  As they engage, you are increasing awareness and credibility in their minds.  When the day comes around and they finally are ready to buy what you offer, your firm gets the call because of this awareness and the credibility you have achieved. 

Step 7 - The Purchase - The final step is, of course, the purchase and, hopefully, many future purchases.  After the contact is passed along to the sales funnel, content can be used to move them along in their decision process towards a positive outcome for your firm.  Sales people should be trained how to use your 'later funnel stage' content to help close more deals.  Late stage content is where you talk about your products, case studies, application notes, etc.

Keep in mind these seven pieces of the puzzle for each and every piece of content you create. You should never create content without having a plan for conversion clearly specified. Effective content marketing is heavily interwoven with the marketing strategy and tactics as well as the sales process.  Cultivating your target audience so they become life-long customers is all about engagement.  You want them to place your brand and associated offering top of mind and with a great deal of credibility.  If you are able to achieve this position in their minds, when the day comes around and they are ready to purchase the thing you are offering, your firm gets the call.  Competitors who are not using this type of framework may get a call, but they will have minimal credibility and only be used for a price comparison.  This 7 Piece framework makes your firm the winner of market share and accelerated revenue growth rates.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Your Firm can Win because of The Greatest Communication Revolution in 570 years!

We’re in the midst of the biggest communication revolution in the history of the world.  The internet is revolutionizing our access to information and it's affecting your business every minute of every day. The last communication revolution started 573 years ago when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. His invention, like the internet, revolutionized how people got access to information and the amount of information that was available.

Because of the revolution, your buyers have access to instantaneous in depth information.  The access to information is causing a secondary revolution, the buyer's revolution.  Your firm and your sales people no longer control the critical information.  Your customers don’t need to call you any more to get information. This fact should have a dramatic effect on how your business goes to market.

Buyers behavior has drastically changed and it is critically important for business people and especially marketers to understand the difference between buyer behavior to day compared to buyer behavior 10, 15 or 20 years ago:

  1. In a study by Sirius Decisions, a leading business to business research firm, they found that on average buyers don’t reach out to suppliers until they are 70% through their buying process. This 70% phase is where your firm can gain an edge.  As an example, back in the 1990s, buyers would have to engage at the 10% point. At the 10% point, your firm would know there was a need, have a point of contact and get a chance to send in their crack salesman to make the sale.  Typically, the best salesman got the sale.
  2. The days when your firm and its sales people controlled the information are long gone.  The information is available with a quick Google or Bing search on anything, anytime, anyplace.  Your buyers are investigating your offering, your firm and your competitors without your people ever knowing about the investigation until it's too late and you're fighting a price war.
  3. Buyers don’t care about your firm, your products, your service or your CEO.  They care about WIIFM (what’s in it for me).  This is a subtle but hugely different way to approach sales and marketing.

In the olden days of say 1990, when we made a considered purchase (as opposed to an impulse purchase), it went something like this:

  • Pull out the Yellow Pages, look up Copiers and take down a few phone numbers.  “Hello, Acme Copiers, I need to get a new copier for my office.  Could you tell me about the latest technology in copy machines?  Yes, that sounds good.  I’ll see your salesman John, a copier expert, first thing Monday morning”.  This would be repeated 2 or 3 more times and more meetings with a sales person would be scheduled. In this scenario, you engaged directly with the company at about the 10% point.  The copier company and the salesman controlled the information.
  • Today, in the modern age, when we make a considered purchase, 98% of us go immediately to a web search.  We search for office copiers.  We may click on an ad or we may click on the organic search results.  We explore web sites. We might download specifications, technology white papers, attend a webinar or print out an infographic.  These actions are repeated by most of the decision influencers. The investigation does not require any direct interaction with the sales team.  We might even make up a short list of final contenders without ever directly contacting any of the firms.  We get the information we want without having to deal with the company or the salesman.  In most cases, the buyer is incognito as far as the company knows.

Many firms are still selling and marketing like it's the 1990's.  The problem is that the buyers are making purchasing decisions in the modern information rich age.

The savvy firm whose people understand how to take advantage of the 'new buyer's revolution' can gain a significant edge over those firms stuck in the 1990s.

This is the secret to gaining an edge:
You've got to engage with the prospective customers during this 70% investigative phase.  The engagement needs to offer the buyer something they value.  They don’t value product brochures or anything that tells them about your firm which is what most companies are doing.  The buyer values WIIFM.  They value the firm that helps them do better.  Offer educational or entertaining information created by your experts and sharing your expertise.  By engaging in the early phase of the buying process with helpful, useful information, you will gain two significant and critical components; TOMA and credibility.   If you are able to accomplish TOMA and credibility, you will get a place in their minds. When the day comes and they are ready to make the purchase, your firm will get the call first and already have a privileged position on the short list.  The rest will be hopelessly fighting to catch up.

There is a window of opportunity now open.  Most firms don’t understand the new buyer’s habits as it relates to their firm.  The firms that are able to leverage this incredible communication revolution and the buyer’s revolution will win in their market space.  Winning means strong growth rates of 10, 20 or 30%. You've got to be first or second in your market space to take advantage.  As soon as your competitors learn about your success, they will level the playing field once again.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The 6 Essential Components of Modern Marketing 2.0

First of all, what the hell is Modern Marketing 2.0?

There's the Old Style Marketing 1.0 where Marketing is nothing more than a mystery and a cost line item to the C-suite.  Marketing 1.0 reacts to sales or product teams by saying 'yes sir, when do you want it?'  Marketing 1.0 is made up of designers, event coordinators, brand managers, email spammers, and other task slaves.  Marketing 1.0 teams love to talk about clicks, opens, views, exposures, cost per this, cost per that and every other type of vanity metric.  They have no idea about how Marketing 1.0 is contributing to business goals (revenue for example).  The website is just a dumping ground for brochures and product specs.  The database includes much crap (obsolete information) and little critical current information.

Modern Marketing 2.0 is a revenue generating team and function.  The fundamentals are current and maintained in a written living Marketing Plan.  Marketing 2.0 partners with sales, business and product to align strategy and tactics around business goals.  The people of Marketing 2.0 are metrics obsessed and value obsessed.  They talk with the C-suite about things like contribution to opportunities, revenue contribution, return on marketing investment, and net contribution.  They understand modern marketing technology and how to fully leverage it for efficiency and scalability.  Modern Marketing 2.0 is about engagement with the target audience early in the buying cycle to earn top-of-mind awareness and credibility.  Modern Marketing 2.0 adds 10, 20 or 30% to the top line.

Now, on to the 6 Essential Components of Modern Marketing 2.0:

  1. A formal marketing plan
  2. A tech savvy, content savvy marketing leader
  3. A Marketing integrated business culture
  4. Modern technology and tools
  5. A content based marketing strategy
  6. Sponsorship by the Executive team
Read more about the 6 essential components in this slide deck and call me in the morning if you want to chat about the details.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Learn how to grow your manufacturing business with Modern Marketing 2.0

You’re under pressure from owners, the board of directors, shareholders, Wall Street and others to grow your manufacturing business.  You’ve tried increasing spend on R&D, commissioning market research studies, customer satisfaction surveys, changed out business unit leadership, and any number of other schemes to push your products in order to increase revenue.  Nothing seems to work.  You target 5% to 8% growth year-on-year, but you only seem to be able to deliver 1% to 3% at best.  Your sales team seems to be in a reactive mode and they’re missing deals in spite of the high dollar sales management system you brought in last year.

Times have changed.  At one time your products were unmatched in the marketplace.  But now, due to massive globalization in all markets, your product has become commoditized easily available from any number of competitors around the globe.

Your customers have changed their buying habits but you haven’t changed your go-to-market model.

This book is about how to match your go-to-market model to your customer’s buying habits enabling growth and taking market share from your competitors with a marketing framework I call ‘Modern Marketing 2.0’.