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30 Mar 2011

Expert Content Creation Interview with Ardath Albee

Have you heard about our upcoming webinar,How the Google Panda Update is Driving Content, on April 14 at 11:30 a.m. EST (8:30 a.m. PST, 10:30 a.m. CST) featuring Arnie Kuenn? If you haven’t yet done so, you should register now! Because of this recent update there has been even more talk surrounding content strategy and content marketing best practices.

To get warmed up for the webinar, I (virtually) sat down with one of the most respected eMarketers in the business, Ardath Albee. She is CEO and B2B marketing strategist for her consulting firm Marketing Interactions, Inc.. She taps over 20 years of business management and marketing experience to help her clients create customer-focused eMarketing and content strategies that produce more sales opportunities. She also writes the ever insightful Marketing Interactions blog involving substantial marketing, sales, industry and customer conversations.

Elise Redlin-Cook: Hi Ardath! In your book “eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale” you mention using a buyer synopsis to develop your content strategy. Can you tell us how to properly create one of these and/or some resources you’d recommend to get our readers started?

Ardath Albee: The easy answer is to say it’s in my book. But that wouldn’t be any fun for your readers, so here goes.

A buyer synopsis is the combination of a persona with what I call the buyer Q & A. I believe that personas must be used with intention and how to actually do this is confusing to many marketers. Essentially, you create your buyer persona and then try to step into their shoes and brainstorm what all the questions can be that they’ll have across their buying journey.

Start at the very beginning and ask questions like “Why should I care about…?” Finish that question in relation to whatever you sell. Obviously, this is a very early-stage question when the buyer hasn’t decided that solving the problem is worthwhile. Other early stage questions include things like “What will happen if I do nothing about…?”

Marketers need to strategize how they’ll continuously help leads make progress, not just get them through a couple of activities then toss them over the wall.

The answer(s) to the question is the premise for content development. Then, as the buyer, you have that knowledge, so now your next question might be, “What are others like me doing about this issue?”

And so on. The idea being that the questions will help you determine which information to provide at each stage of the buying process. For example, if the buyer’s question is “What are best practices?” – He’s not interested in content that discusses why the problem is important enough to be solved. He’s already decided that or the information on best practices wouldn’t be what he’s looking for.

Elise : You’ve also talked openly about the need to naturally nurture leads. Can you elaborate on this concept and maybe share some examples?

Ardath: Absolutely. I think this is a critical point that hasn’t occurred to many marketers. The gist of natural nurturing is that Click to Tweet this Quotebuyers do not have to be in your database to be nurtured by your content. Just because you send an email with a relevant content offer once a month to all CIOs in your database doesn’t mean that others who have not opted in are not interested in your content.

An excellent example of this is the use of blogs or social media that helps others in your target market connect with your content. What about all those RSS feed subscribers that you can’t identify? Isn’t every update to your blog landing in their feed readers and sharing your content with them? This is when using hyperlinks within blog posts that lead to gated content or to webinar registration pages can help you encourage them to opt in. But, even if they don’t, they’re still being influenced by your content and engaging with your company. When the time comes, they’ll reach out and contact you to learn more.

The idea of natural nurturing means that marketers should be as focused on building relationships with people who haven’t yet identified themselves as with those who have. Even better is when your content is recommended to a buyer by one of their peers or colleagues. That can jumpstart a conversation that might not happen if we only think of lead nurturing in relation to our databases.

Elise: That makes perfect sense! So…around here, a good deal of time and effort is involved in the promotion of great content. What are some of your favorite tactics for promoting engaging content online?

Ardath: Hmm. It depends on where your buyers are. This said, here’s a brief list:

  • Using Twitter can be very powerful if done well.Click to Tweet this QuoteHashtags are important, so is the message.
  • LinkedIn groups offer a number of ways to promote your content by starting a discussion about a topic supported by that content, not just posting a link to it. Be creative and be interested in the others in the group, not just in getting them to click on your link.
  • Link your content together in a way that builds ideas. Don’t just think about getting them to read one piece, but how you can offer additional, related content via hyperlinks within the text or even sidebars that feature extension ideas from the piece they just read. In other words, use content to promote other content.
  • Get your network to help you promote your content to their networks. This is one of the true benefits of social networking in business. Help others improve their standing with their peers by providing great content they can share.
  • Another idea is to reinvent the same content using a variety of formats – video, blog posts, Slideshare, eBooks, webinars, etc. Think about this before you develop your content so you plan for the different versions while you’re writing. There are many different community sites where you can promote content by uploading it there based on version. Obvious examples include YouTube! and Slideshare. Less obvious examples include Focus.com, BX Business Exchange, and community sites like The Customer Collective and Social Media Today.
  • Add a post script (PS.) line in your employee’s email signatures that rotates every week or two and offers a link and brief description to a piece of content.
  • Curate content on a subject and include your content that addresses the topic along with the group of content you’ve tagged from others. Think themes like “5 Posts on How to…” or “3 Interesting Takes on…” In essence, reinvent how you use lists. If you do this well, it can also result in others returning the favor by including your content in their lists. So choose who you include carefully based on their audience. This idea can also be used effectively as a compilation eBook on a specific subject. Those included will help promote it, as well.
  • Find relevant blog posts and leave a comment with a link to your piece. Make sure you’re contributing to the conversation and offer it up humbly by making the connection. Do not do this repeatedly on the same blog. Use this technique sparingly and sometimes it helps to ask the blogger for permission before you do so. Listen for a while and see if it’s acceptable. If the content you share helps to expand the conversation, sharing your link will usually fly.

Elise: Great Advice! Can you help our readers understand how content can help progress the prospect to sales readiness?

Ardath: Sure. Good question. This is about planning your calls to action and building a story over time that answers a buyers questions at each stage of buying – See #1 above. One of the things I see most often is that great content is presented without a next-step plan. If you don’t tell prospects what to do next, they likely won’t think of it on their own. If you do, and you’ve engaged them with great ideas already, they’re more likely to do what you ask because they see it as a move in their favor, not just doing what you want them to do.

This is one of the reasons that I’m such a big fan of marketing automation software. It’s about visibility and being able to gauge interest levels by seeing the patterns for how your prospects access your content to build their own story over time. Some systems also track activity for anonymous website visitors so that when they do convert, their profile history converts along with them. That can be really powerful if you’re embracing the idea of natural nurturing.

The main thing to consider is that a next-step plan must cover the entirety of the buying process, not just three clicks and toss them to sales. Marketers need to strategize how they’ll continuously help leads make progress, not just get them through a couple of activities and then toss them over the wall. Without a continuous engagement plan, a lot of leads get wasted and allowed to fall through the cracks when they may just be taking longer to buy.

Elise: Ok. Another part of the content marketing process that seems to be a struggle is aligning return on investment metrics to key business objectives. Can you share any tried and true tactics for making this process more seamless?

Ardath: The answer to this question is dependent upon what can be measured, as well as if the objectives are defined well enough to measure against them. It’s also dependent on how long-term a company’s view is in relation to the buying process. If the company only measures based on quarterly results, yet their buying cycle is averaging 9 months, it’s hard to make the case.

If they attribute conversions to last point of contact/activity prior to engaging with sales, they’ve dumped the value of the entire process put in place to get that conversion.

If they cannot track a lead’s progress from interest to sale, it’s hard to prove what contributed to that end result. If salespeople won’t pursue marketing leads, that’s also an issue that needs to be rectified.

There are many more examples, but one of the things that’s helping is to focus beyond clicks. How much time are prospects that buy spending with marketing content? Can you show progression metrics between stages to prove pipeline momentum? For example, if you had 500 leads in status quo last month, can you identify how many of them moved to the next stage in your process?

Is there a feedback or SLA process with salespeople that helps marketers know the continuous disposition of leads after handoff?

I know I’m adding more questions here, but the important thing is for marketing and sales to work together to determine a standard practice for identifying buying progress. What makes the struggle harder is that many companies don’t have any benchmarks to measure against. They look outside their companies to analyst statistics and reports and then try to align themselves with those stated as best practice results.

And, when it doesn’t happen, they consider the project a failure. If they’d used their own benchmarks, they’d likely see improvements they’ve missed or be able to identify a slip and fix it before it keeps them from achieving their goals. Click to Tweet this QuoteWhat makes a great ROI for one company might be considered a failure for another.

Thanks Ardath for sharing your thoughtful responses! Do you have anything to add to the discussion? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments below!

2 Comments

  • TrafficColeman Mar 30, 2011

    Content is and will continue to be the cattle of the internet..people still need fresh info to carry on with gaining information.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • verwijderde bestanden terughalen Apr 06, 2011

    Thank you for this post! I was searching for the right topic for my upcoming thesis until I came across this post. You gave me a great idea, I just had to let you know.

    Thank you