If marketing is a tasty trail mix, then branded content marketing represents the raisins - essential to the marketing mix, according to a recent survey of brands and agencies. A survey of over 600 online marketing executives shows that 66 percent of brands and 65 percent of agencies believe that branded content marketing is very important to the marketing mix. Hence, the raisins.
Meanwhile, 70 percent of brands and 77 percent of agencies have used branded content marketing in the past year.
So what is branded content marketing? The most extreme example is from energy drink maker Red Bull. Their Red Bulletin
magazine includes a plethora of articles for their target audience, ranging from information on sports like skateboarding and mountain biking to profiles of up-and-coming musicians. It's useful content for a target audience carrying a company's name, but it's not an advertisement for the company. The keyword is useful: something that helps them do their jobs better or is interesting to them. In the case of the Red Bulletin
, that branded content is interesting to people who might drink Red Bull: generally younger, active people who listen to new bands. It creates an image for the company and implies that by drinking Red Bull, the average consumer can live a fun, active, cool-person lifestyle.
While most companies don't have the resources for a Red Bulletin
, they can create their own e-newsletters, blogs, video series, or e-books that don't sell but inform. Branded content marketing puts companies on the tip of customers' tongues, which helps them when making decisions. Even B2B companies can do this: HP generates e-newsletters that offer business and technology tips. While they're thinking like publishers, they're also promoting their brand, which is the ultimate goal of branded content marketing.
According to IDG Enterprise
, 6 percent of B2B content marketers aren't creating their own content for their content marketing efforts from scratch. They're repurposing content or curating content.Those are the content regurgitators, and they're not known for originality or innovation.
Meanwhile, the other 94 percent are creating their own content: white papers, case studies
, infographics, e-newsletters, articles on their websites, and more. They know that effective content marketing is about creating interesting content and sharing it. They also know that effective content is often written: 83 percent use articles on their websites, 78 percent use e-newsletters, 77 percent use blogs, 71 percent use case studies, 70 percent write articles for other sites (establishing themselves as experts), and 61 percent produce white papers.
Since 91 percent of B2B companies are
using content marketing tactics, if you're not, you're behind the eight ball. Here's the secret many of the successful ones aren't telling you: while they may have a dedicated content marketing director in their organization, they often hire freelance copywriters, white paper writers, or case study writers to create their content.
This is the one time where it's okay to be a part of the herd. Find a former journalist who knows your industry, contract with her to start writing white papers, case studies, and contributed articles, and start watching the leads roll in. Your salespeople will thank you for not only getting them leads but providing them with leave-behinds and collateral they can use to explain your offerings and close the deal.
© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
On Saturday, I ran my PR of 27:44 at the Westfield Fast Flat 5K. True to its name, it was a flat course that surely helped my speed. But for me, hitting my PR wasn't just about running fast. It touches upon everything I do, even for my clients.
You see, writing is a solitary pursuit, as is running. Even when I'm running in a crowd, pushing toward a finish line, I'm by myself, listening to my iPod, doing everything I can to beat my last time. (I know that I am not going to beat the wiry elite runners at the front of the pack. It was a point of pride to be a "seeded" runner this time.)
It's the same with content marketing and copywriting: every white paper, every case study, I'm pushing myself to do better than the last and make my clients even happier, usually as I sit by myself in my office or even work at a cafe - surrounded by people, yet focused on the end goal. I'm competing against myself, striving to exceed expectations and provide even higher quality work than the last assignment.
And just like with running, I surprise myself at times: a wittier phrase than I intended passes through, or I nail a concept neatly. As one client put it, "It's right on the money content-wise and clean as a whistle."
When I ran Saturday, I surprised myself as I passed the first mile marker in a little over eight minutes. I surprised myself because I had no knee pain (I was diagnosed with Runner's Knee in November) throughout and after the race.
But the end result, whether it's a well-crafted piece of content or a 5K, is the same: I feel exhilarated and ready to take on the next challenge.
In the logical world of B2B technology, stories can transform the way you sell your solutions. Most buyers are used to the logical arguments: they'll save money, they'll be more efficient, they'll go home early. In fact, it's practically a requirement when you're selling B2B technology to include references to increased productivity and decreased costs.
What they don't tell you is that a story can be worth much more than a logical argument. In addition to publishing white papers, providing data sheets, and populating your site with well-written copy, you also need to include case studies in your marketing mix. Case studies tell those critical stories of how a company with a similar challenge got from Point A, total confusion, to Point B, harmonious operations. They illustrate - not tell, but illustrate - how your solution actually made it possible for their company to increase their profits and operate more efficiently.
It's one thing to talk about how amazing the solution is. It's worth a lot more to have a customer who is immensely satisfied singing your praises and offering advice to companies in similar situations. In fact, your prospects may discover that you can help them with a problem they didn't even know existed, just from the way a case study tells another customer's story.
The bottom line is that, whether you're selling systems integration, cloud applications, or software for a specific vertical, prospects want to know that you can solve whatever ails them. If you tell them a story of a company with a similar conundrum and show them how you solved it, you're that much farther ahead of the pack.
For web visibility and search engine optimization, you can't beat content marketing, according to SEO experts at Mesasix. For years, link building and using keywords has been very beneficial for companies that want to get found, but because search algorithms are changing, that's no longer the best method.
Instead, companies need to approach SEO as part of their content marketing strategy. Consumers are looking for quality information: white papers, case studies, and meaty pieces that will help them solve problems. A web page stuffed with keywords isn't enough, and search engines - particularly Google - have wised up to this.
Businesses need to take action today. Instead of building links or keyword stuffing, consider commissioning a white paper (also known as a special report or ebook) to answer your customers' biggest questions while subtly promoting your business. Publish case studies that show how customers are using your product or service to solve problems and achieve results. Become an educator, not a salesperson - and you'll see your search engine traffic as well as sales increase.
Custom content is here to stay, according to the Custom Content Council
. In 2012, branded content increased to 13 percent of the marketing pie, with no signs of slowing, and 79 percent of marketers are shifting to branded content. Even more importantly, 52 percent of companies have outsourced their custom content.
For companies dabbling in content marketing, this underscores the need to create custom content immediately. Companies use these custom content pieces for educating customers, fostering brand loyalty, up-selling, and retaining customers - and the meaty nature of content marketing means that customers and prospects have solid information to use when choosing providers.
For 2013, expect content marketing in the form of custom content to take center stage. Think case studies, white papers, branded special reports, and more that foster thought leadership and increase ROI - and companies do see solid ROI from their content marketing.
Case studies don't have to be unsolvable puzzles.
Marketing with case studies
can be very effective, but if you don't set up your client well in advance, you're setting yourself - and your writer - up for a great deal of frustration. Your client needs to know what's coming, and your writer needs to be able to interview your client to write the case study.
First, start nurturing the case study early in the process. Once your client has committed to purchase your product, start prepping them for the idea of being featured on your website and in your marketing materials. You don't have to mention being a part of case studies right off the bat, but let them know that when the project succeeds, you'd be interested in writing up the results.
At each phase of the project, involve the sales team at your company. Your sales rep should be following up at each step, making sure that the client is happy and documenting the client's successes. Once the project is successfully completed, the the client may not see immediate results. You can either do a case study right then while the project is still fresh if you want to focus on implementation, or you can wait until the client achieves ROI.
Either way, make sure the client knows what they're about to do and what's involved. Get clearance from the client's PR department and legal department to participate in the case study, then determine who the best person to interview is. For example, if you're trying to reach the director of analytics in your target market, have your case study writer interview the director of analytics at your client's location. Also have your case study writer send over preliminary questions. There may be follow-ups that your writer has to ask during the interview or interviews, but overall, your client will know what to expect during the interview.
But the most important thing to do is get approval and clearance from your client before
you hire a writer. Otherwise, both you and the writer will be frustrated as your client jumps through corporate hoops to get the all-clear.
As a B2B marketer, are you being left in the dust? A new study from The Content Marketing Institute
, and sponsored by Brightcove, indicates B2B marketers realize that content marketing is at the core of their success. It doesn't matter what size or industry you're in - 9 out of 10 organizations now market with content.
In particular, articles on a company's website (83 percent), e-newsletters (78 percent), and blogs (77 percent) are the most popular tactics for B2B marketers. On average, B2B marketers spend 33 percent of their marketing budgets on content marketing, up from 26 percent last year, according to Joe Pulizzi, Executive Director of The Content Marketing Institute. Even more important, 54 percent of B2B marketers plan to increase their content spend over the next year.
Not sure where to start? Don't just hire someone and expect fantastic results. Think about who your audience is, what your goals are, and how you're going to track your content marketing spending. If you start running without knowing where the finish line is - or what the course is, you'll end up wasting time and money and have nothing to show for your efforts.
Remember that you don't want to burn your budget too quickly, and you don't want to produce too much too quickly if you're new to this. If you're not new and have your pace down, but you're not getting the results you want, re-examine your goals, messaging, and audience.
And if you don't have the in-house resources to write all this content, don't fret. You can outsource to a content marketing copywriter who can write articles, e-newsletter, blogs, case studies, and white papers that create the warm leads your sales team needs, build thought leadership, or meet the goals you've set for your content marketing program.
My actual running shoes.
Back in April, I really wanted to start running again. So I dug out my running shoes and hit the road (and treadmill, on rainy days). In the process, I discovered some truths that apply to content marketing:
- Set a goal. For my running, that was to hit 5K without having to stop to walk or rest. For your content marketing, it could be to pull in a certain amount of warm leads with a white paper, or get a certain amount of hits on a new case study.
- Get the right tools. In running, you really only need one main tool: the right pair of shoes. In content marketing, you need a great white paper writer or case study writer - or a great writer for the type of content you're creating. You'll also need a graphic designer to create charts and lay out your content.
- Don't try to do everything at once. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, but I knew that trying to run 5K on my first time out would not end well. It's the same with content marketing: start with smaller goals, like getting two new case studies posted or one really great white paper. It will give you a chance to get accustomed to content marketing, especially if it's new to your organization.
- Track your progress. I bought a new Nike+ chip for my running shoes and fired up my iPod so I could track my distance and speed. For content marketing, make sure you're tracking through web analytics, social media monitoring, and every other channel you can think of. Track how visitors are entering, where they're exiting, and how they're getting there, as well as how long they spend on your site.
- Don't give up. There were some mornings that I didn't want to get out of bed and run, but I did. There were times on the road that I wanted to rest, but I pushed on - and I reached my goal. If you're not getting the results you want with your content marketing, don't give up - re-examine your goals and content, evaluate what can be tweaked, and push on. You will reach your goals if you stick with your content marketing strategy.
- Set more goals. Once you hit your initial goals, strategize on bigger, bolder content marketing goals. When I hit 5K, I didn't stop there. I'm now training for Rugged Maniac. When you hit your downloads or page views or sales goals, what's the next step? The sky's the limit.
One of my clients, Silver Screen Design
, sells promotional materials, mainly to college organizations for the many events and awareness activities these organizations promote on campus. About four years ago, Silver Screen Design put out a paper planning calendar for its customers with tips in the sidebar next to the calendar for creating fresh, exciting promotions. The calendar was well-received, and Silver Screen wanted to replicate the success of the calendar for the 2012-2013 school year.
The Challenge: A Fresh, Modern Look
One of the new top calendar pages.
Silver Screen Design contacted me to update the calendar. They wanted a more modern look for the calendar, something that would entice the student leaders to actually open it, hang it by their desks, and refer to it when they were planning events like Homecoming, Orientation, or Senior Week.
Silver Screen Design also wanted short articles - around 200 words each - that would help the student leaders plan their events and promotions. These articles would range from the principles of good graphic design to how to make the most of social media. They had to be bite-size, because Silver Screen Design knows how busy their customers are.
The Solution: Independent Graphic Designer, Copywriter Partnership
The first step for Silver Screen Design was to find a graphic designer to create a new layout. Silver Screen Design wanted a clean design that left enough space on the page for the students to not feel overwhelmed. I immediately suggested Allison Biggs | Graphic Designer
, my go-to graphic designer on client projects. Silver Screen Design agreed that her designs were modern and fresh, and in June, Allison and I commenced work on the calendar. Since Allison and I were tasked with a lot of the planning, we met to sketch out design and layout, come up with themes, and determine other content for the calendar. (I told you we work well together!) We then held a conference call with Silver Screen Design before we officially started work to get approval.
Allison designed the entire calendar, using Silver Screen Design's product images and stock designs. I suggested a list of topics, like leveraging public relations and ways to utilize guerrilla marketing tactics, then wrote the articles to a college audience, using a slightly informal voice and more conversational voice than I'd use for white papers.
The Result: A Fun, Fresh, Useful Marketing Piece
Calendar bottom: useful tips, room for planning
We finished the calendar in early July - Silver Screen Design needed it to go to press as soon as possible. The client loved the way it all came together, from Allison's design to my writing.
Silver Screen Design will now mail the calendar to its customers, who previously praised the idea of a calendar as a helpful, practical promotion. The company has its designs in front of its target market every day and has given them ideas to promote events and their organizations.
The lesson in all this is that you don't have to be a B2B software or hardware company to harness the power of content marketing. For B2C markets, white papers and case studies may be complementary, but atypical content marketing, like calendars or other useful tools for your customers, may work even better.
If you're interested in seeing what well-designed content marketing can do for your business, contact me.