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Brand image should be grounded in brand origin.

By that I mean, the foundation or “genealogy” from which a brand draws its image and differentiation.

This thought came to mind as a colleague and I sketched on a white board possible solutions to a client’s marketing challenge. Marketers at this company believe their brand owns a premium position in a crowded category. Their advertising is all about clothing their products in that premium image.

But when we talk with people who know the category well, they tell us buyers and specifiers regard the brand’s products as “pretty good.” Better than average, but by no means best in class.

If that’s true, then one of the brand’s challenges, it seemed to us, is that its image is not converting into audience influence. And we think we figured out why:

The brand has neglected to articulate its origin.

Brand Origin: Underpinnings to an Image

We tested the half-baked thought with a few examples.

Pick a German auto brand. Say Audi, or Mercedes-Benz. In the minds of consumers, it might seek to own “precision” as a brand image. The origin of that image? It wouldn’t be shocking if the brand’s marketers pointed to “German engineering.”

Now, I don’t know if German engineering qualifies as legendary. But based on bits and pieces from history and present-day global business, I have a general perception (accurate or not, I’ll confess) that Germans as a society and economy do a pretty solid job manufacturing, running government, and building and driving the Autobahn.  So, to some degree, there’s a “back-story” on which the auto brand’s image is based.

How about IBM? Computers and consulting services. IBM is telling me with its marketing that it’s about empowering a “smarter planet.” Behind that, at a more fundamental level, I have this sense that IBM has spent, and continues to spend, a fair amount of time and energy pondering the intersections of human and machine intelligence. Let’s consider that the origin of its “smarter” positioning. So I might be inclined to go along with the idea that if IBM is making it and selling it, it’s probably a fairly smart solution.

One more: Apple. Personal computing, communication and media devices. In our white board exercise we had to choose a word that Apple wants to own as its brand image. We chose “usability.” Apple products are renowned for being so easy to use, a user manual is superfluous. We’ve all heard stories of precocious toddlers quickly learning to operate an iPhone or iPad.

The origin of all that usability? Steve Jobs.

Uh oh.

For all the great achievements of Jobs and Apple, were they ever able to establish that the origin of their brand’s image and products was something other than Jobs’ brilliant vision?

We’re not sure they did. And with that, we had two takeaways from our little white board exercise around branding and positioning.

One: If you want to own a brand image in the minds of your target audience, it has to be based on something other than: “Believe it because our advertising shows and tells you it’s so.” Your position and image must be grounded in something more fundamental. Something original.

Two: If the origin of your brand resides in a single human being, even a brilliant founder, that might not be enough to sustain your brand image when those underpinnings pass away. ___

Does this simple “origin” thought model resonate for your brand? Have you pondered your brand’s origin? Is your content marketing strategy informed by that origin? Comments and discussion welcome.

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing

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Content marketing and advertising are sometimes presented as either-or.

Creating your own value-adding content and “channels,” some people argue, means you don’t need to “rent” others’ media to reach your target audience.

In other words, you can reduce or eliminate the need to advertise.

If you’ve taken that approach, you might have discovered that audience development is no easy task. One of the reasons marketers advertise, it turns out, is that there are a bunch of smart media companies already in the business of publishing great content. Very possibly, one or more of those media firms has already developed the audience you, as a corporate marketer, wish to reach and engage.

In other words, advertising can be an effective way to make a target audience aware of your content.

Publisher’s Online Platform + Sponsored Content = Native Advertising

If that idea makes some sense to you, then as you look for ways to jump-start a new content strategy, or to extend the reach of an existing content program, be sure you check with the media companies that serve the audiences you wish to reach. It could be they are making it easier and more attractive than ever for you to reach their audience with your content.

Some marketers are attaching a relatively new label to this idea: Native advertising.

Depending on the publisher, a native ad program might include the ability to “own” your own content microsite or stream within the publisher’s broader online editorial platform. To contribute sponsored posts to the publisher’s blogs. To benefit from a program of display advertising within their websites and e-newsletters. Maybe even to participate in the social media conversations they are creating with and among the audience.

One of the highest-profile native ad programs is Forbes’ BrandVoice, where the publisher is reported to be charging marketers a minimum annual fee of $1 million to showcase their content within Forbes’ broader online editorial environment.

Hanley Wood, parent company of Hanley Wood Marketing, serves multiple construction industry audiences with first-rate B2B trade magazines, trade shows and websites. One of those sites, architectmagazine.com, offers marketers the opportunity to sponsor an “Industry Center” and populate that microsite with content on a particular industry topic or solution category.

Here are four recent posts that provide informative looks into native advertising:

  • Eric Wittlake’s post, “The Intersection of Content Marketing and Advertising”
  • Digiday’s post on Forbes’ BrandVoice program, and another on what Zynga is doing in the realm of native advertising.
  • AdAge’s recent post in which Buzzfeed’s native ad program gets a closer look

Evolving How We Think About and Use Advertising

Some of us never believed content marketing and advertising are mutually exclusive. Instead, content marketing lets us evolve how we think about and use advertising.

Rather than “rent” media to deliver purely promotional messages at an audience, we can leverage those channels to invite the audience to consume content we’ve created for them.

Native advertising isn’t a panacea. But if you’re a content marketer, it doesn’t hurt to see if the media companies serving your most important audience offer “native” opportunities to grow awareness and reach for your content.

And if they don’t?

Maybe you can partner with them to invent one.

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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Do you avoid the word “sales” in your marketing communications?

I don’t mean “sales” the noun, as in “Sales were up 12 percent year over year.”

I mean “sales” the adjective, as in “sales representative.”

When you publish your 800 number and invite prospects to call, who do you say is standing by to take their calls? Customer service agents? Or sales associates?

Have you decided, at some basic level, that labelling the people who call on your prospects and customers “sales reps,” and the work they do “sales,” carries a negative connotation?

The Age-Old Debate: Is Sales a Dirty Word?

If it’s true that sales is the world’s second oldest profession — and maybe even the oldest, come to think of it — then the debate about whether to call a spade a spade, and a sales rep a sales rep, has probably been going on for eons.

On one side, there are the con arguments. Where at some level it seems smarter, maybe cleaner, not to remind customers and potential customers that you are out to sell them something. Better, instead, to call members of your selling force “consultants,” “business developers,” “relationship managers,” “account directors” — anything but sales reps, for heaven’s sake, on their business cards.

Then there’s the pro perspective. Where nothing happens until somebody sells something. And where, let’s face it, nobody’s fooling anyone with touchy-feely euphemisms. After all, sales is an honorable profession. Done well, it has little to do with fast talking and high-pressure tactics. Instead, it’s all about attentive listening, adding value and solving problems.

As I said, this is not a new argument. And if you Google around the topic of “does sales have negative connotations,” you’ll find any number of interesting and entertaining perspectives, including this article by Roger Bostdorff, titled Why Customers Hate Sales People, and this post by Andrew Rudin, headlined: Stop Selling! Trendy Idea but Bad Strategy.

One Rep’s Take

So where do I come down? It so happens this very question jumped out at me today, on my way to catch the afternoon bus.

Strolling past a downtown hotel, I noticed a sign touting the hotel’s banquet and meeting services. The sign offered a phone number, with a call to action which said I could speak to one of the hotel’s “sales representatives.”

It was as though the word “sales” was suddenly presented as a Rorschach test.

And in that split second, as my mind went searching for the essence of the word, along with any emotional or intellectual attachments, what flashed to mind — right or wrong — was the image of “sales” as a mostly one-dimensional, uni-directional value exchange. Value moving from the person buying the service or product (me, need-to-plan-a-meeting guy), to the person pitching the service or product (hotel sales guy or gal).

So I reflected a little more on that visceral reaction (because, after all, you’ve got time for such weighty matters while sitting on the bus).

Were I to call a hotel, looking to plan my next meeting or banquet, would I look forward to speaking with a sales rep? Or would I feel more motivated and optimistic at the prospect of speaking to an “event manager”? A “meeting specialist”? Maybe even a “certified meeting planner”?

I have to admit, despite being a sales professional myself, I think I’d prefer talking with someone who’s title seems to promise that they will help me solve my problem first (value coming my way), knowing full well they will eventually want my money (value going their way).

Maybe that’s why, some years ago, I asked that my supervisor allow me to use the self-fashioned title “VP, Solutions Development,” as opposed to “VP, Sales.”

Granted, it might sound a bit high-falutin’, even egg-headish. And most definitely it’s a bit namby pamby, judging by red-meat, there’s-nothing-wrong-with-the-word-sales standards.

But what I hope the title signals, to people I meet on behalf of my organization, is that they can expect me to focus, first and foremost, on seeking to understand and be of value to them and their business…before I try and sell them on mine.

So I guess that puts me in the anti “sales” camp, at least when it comes to using the word as an adjective in a job title.

But again, Boss, if you’re reading this: I’ve got absolutely nothing against the noun. Just the adjective. Just the adjective.

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Where do you and your organization come down on the word “sales”: Negative connotations, or a non-event?

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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What’s the secret to getting Marketing and Sales alignment on your message?

Here’s a thought: Forget about the message for a while.

Focus instead on content.

Recently a firm called Corporate Visions surveyed more than 700 B2B marketing and sales pros on the subject of messaging development. They asked respondents whether their companies had a collaborative, repeatable process for creating their “message.” Further, the survey asked which of their organizations’ stakeholders were typically involved in message creation.

You can see the survey results here, but I’ll summarize  the two key findings:

  • 33 percent of those surveyed said they do NOT have a collaborative messaging process, while another third said their process is only “semi-collaborative.”
  • Of those involved in message creation, field sales reps — the people who presumably know customers and prospects best — were least represented in the process.

As marketing and sales challenges go, coming to alignment on a message is not a new challenge. Chalk it up to egos, silos, or honest disagreements. Whatever the cause, aligning around a message is a persistent struggle for many organizations.

But let’s take a closer look: Alignment around a message. Put another way…

What’s the best way to describe the benefits of our product? How can we position ourselves most effectively against the competition? What can we say to customers or prospective customers that will make them most likely to become aware of us, consider us, and ultimately decide to buy our service?

In short, coming to alignment on a message requires that Marketing and Sales agree on the answer to this question:

What can we tell you about us that will make you want to do business with us?

Try Alignment on Content

Therein, perhaps, lies the alignment challenge.

For starters, it’s a complex question. There might even be several good answers. But the thing to remember is this: More and more, your “message” is a fairly deep-in-the-sales-funnel consideration. By some estimates, today’s B2B buyers might get two-thirds of the way toward making a purchase before they are interested in, or ready to hear, a “what can we tell you about us?” message.

To help them arrive at that stage in the buying process, there are plenty of questions you can help them ask and answer. Questions that call not for your message, but for relevant information. Useful insights. Case studies. Research. Content.

Content that, done well, speaks volumes about your organization and its ability to understand and solve customers’ challenges, long before you have to come up with a message that tells them you understand and can solve their challenges.

Assuming your Marketing and Sales teams will spend time getting in alignment this fall, consider: It’s conceivable that the more time and effort you devote to understanding your audience, and then planning and producing great content, the less time you’ll spend sweating and struggling over a sales message.

Value your audience enough to provide them with great content, and don’t be surprised if they get your message, loud and clear.
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What say you, marketing and sales pros? Have you found the secret to achieving Marketing and Sales alignment on your message? Or are you spending more time focused on content, and not worrying quite so much about message?

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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As a marketer, do you sometimes find yourself more frustrated than illuminated by what passes for research about the practice of marketing?

Colleagues will attest to seeing me pulling my hair (what hair I have left) and hearing me bark colorful phrases at my computer after reading the results of yet another study that left me more infuriated than informed.

Often the source of that consternation stems from one, two or all three of the following:

  • Loose language. The terminology on which survey questions were based is so loosely defined, you have no earthly idea how to interpret and apply the results. In fact, you’re pretty sure the respondents had no clear (and, as important, shared) understanding of what they were being asked.
  • Quirky questions. The question(s) seems so poorly thought through and formulated, you wonder if the sponsor had any true insight or empathy for the information needs and gaps their audience might be facing.
  • Blatant bias. Sometimes you can just tell which response a survey’s sponsor was hoping for by how a question were framed. Then, when the responses come in as you might have expected they would, you start to look askance at the legitimacy of the entire study, and the sponsor behind it.

I had one of those hair-tugging spells early this week, while reading an article by eMarketer about a new piece of research conducted by SEOmoz. Let me say, before levelling this critique, that I’ve found both of these organizations to be extremely valuable sources of information about online marketing trends and emerging best practices. So I’m going to chalk this particular instance up to someone having an off day.

But if you read the article, and take note of the first survey question it reports, I think you might share my frustration:

Judging by how the results are reported, this question apparently asked more than 4,000 marketers how frequently they “use select inbound marketing tools,” including SEO, site analytics, social, content marketing and conversion rate optimization. Optional answers included “daily,” “2-4 times a week,” “once a week,” “monthly,” “quarterly.”

Now right there, as a marketer, aren’t you stopping and shouting at…er, politely inquiring of your computer monitor: “Wait a minute. We don’t think about or approach marketing that way. Social media. Content. SEO. Conversion. These aren’t things we pick up and put down sporadically, like exercise equipment. These are integrated activities. Things we’re thinking about and doing — or at least trying to do — holistically, pretty much 24, 7, 365.”

If so, then don’t you wonder how any of the marketers being surveyed could have formulated an intelligent “choose one” response to that question? And don’t you then tend to doubt what value there is in learning that of more than 4,000 SEOmoz readers surveyed, 8.7% “use” conversion rate optimization twice per month?

Do they schedule doing it on the same days payroll checks come out?

There’s actually some potentially valuable information to be found in the survey results, such as which types of content are used most often by survey respondents. But then, two questions later, another hair puller: Reasons that online marketers use select social media channels. Glance at these results, and you might be suprised to learn that the reason 79.1% of marketers surveyed use Facebook is for…wait for it…”social media.”


Ground Research in Audience Empathy

Look, I’m an absolute advocate for research as a content marketing asset. Done well, it can be hugely valuable in almost any content marketing program, especially for BtoB audiences.

After all, what you’re trying to do with your content is create and serve a community, right? Typically, a community that shares business or personal interests, challenges and unanswered questions.

If any one of those community members had the time and the resources to commission their own research study, to get answers to those questions, they would probably do so. But by taking on the task of conducting research on behalf of the entire community, you can demonstrate that you understand them, value them, and are willing to invest in being a partner and a resource for them. And that you are willing to use your scale and resources to develop content that benefits the community.

But if you’re going to do research, then for the sake of your brand’s reputation, and your audience’s affinity for your brand:

  • Make sure your research study is grounded in empathy for the information gaps and needs your audience actually has.
  • Define your terms, both for people answering the questions and people reading the results.
  • Evaluate questions and answers on whether they are likely to produce information your audience will find valuable, even actionable.
  • If there’s any doubt, be sure and work with a professional research firm to craft your questionnaire.
  • Maybe even vet the draft questionnaire with a few members of the audience you seek to serve with the research findings. “If we ask this question, and ask people to choose from these answers, would the responses we get back be interesting and relevant to you and your life or business?

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Are you using proprietary research as a core asset in your content marketing program? Are you seeing some of the same frustrating marketing research I’m seeing, and is it driving you just a little crazy, too? Comments welcome.

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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If you lead a marketing team, you know how challenging it can sometimes be to get contributions to your content marketing program from internal subject matter experts (SMEs).

Here’s what I often hear from corporate marketers on this subject:

You ask SMEs to contribute an occasional content asset, or even simply to brainstorm some meaty topics. Suddenly the most competent and confident engineers, consultants, scientists, technicians — experts and highly articulate in their respective disciplines — become wallflowers. Ghosts. Invisible men and women. Seemingly too busy, bothered or bewildered to contribute much (or at least as much as you’d like) to your content marketing effort.

Why is that?

For starters, most of your colleagues are busy with their day jobs. So unless content planning and creation suddenly gets added to their job description and performance objectives, it will often take a back seat to other assignments and priorities.

But there’s another reason: Like engineering, medicine, architecture, supply chain management or any discipline around which a person might have SME knowledge and insight, content planning, creation and curation is a specialty, too. It draws on remarkably diverse know-how and skills, including some mystical combination of strategic thinking, problem solving, creativity, storytelling, research, reportage, writing, editing, design, art direction, business acumen, audience empathy, and maybe dozens of other ingredients.

Sad to say, because someone is an outstanding SME, doesn’t automatically make them a prolific, skillful content creator.

Research by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs finds that the biggest challenges B2B marketers face when it comes to content marketing are generating valuable content, and generating enough content.

I’m convinced a major factor underlying those twin challenges is this: Corporate marketers who absolutely want to execute a robust, ongoing content marketing strategy, but find themselves unable to get enough SMEs to contribute on a consistent basis.
 

A Content Marketing Secret Advantage

The bad news? This post won’t help you solve the problem of getting SMEs involved and contributing. Although we’ll keep working on it, as it’s one of the problems we’re often called upon to help clients solve. Follow Content Is Marketing for future posts on and around that topic.

The good news? There’s at least one way CMOs can use content marketing, starting now, to get the right people on board and contributing effectively. It’s an advantage in this case for the same reason content marketing can be such a challenge for SMEs: Because being able to generate and execute content ideas isn’t something everyone can do, do well, and do consistently.

So, what’s the secret edge CMOs can gain from content marketing?

Use it as a screening tool when hiring.

That’s right. As you sort through candidates for that next opening — looking for something by which to separate one from the other, and on which to predict their future performance — consider giving them a homework assignment.

Challenge them to come back to you with a description of a big-idea content strategy and program, one that would set your organization apart from the competition and engage your most important audience(s) as never before.

Or, if you’ve already got a significant content strategy up and running, ask them to pitch you four or five ideas for new content assets. What would the topics be? Where would you find the subject-matter expertise on which to base the content? In what format would each asset deliver? Where would they fit in the audience’s consideration and buying continuum for your product or service?

I’m convinced one of the best ways to know whether a job candidate has the ability to understand a company’s value proposition, target audience, and the sales and marketing dynamics of your category, is whether they can imagine content that would engage your audience while complementing your brand and being a catalyst for growing your business.

Theoretically, using content marketing as hiring tool will help you build a staff that is better equipped to support you in at least three important ways:

  • Solicit, edit and manage what contributions you can get from those busy (reluctant?) internal SMEs.
  • Generate content on their own.
  • Manage external content marketing resources and partners.

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What do you think — good idea? Have you used this sort of approach to get a feel for a job candidate’s content marketing abilities and potential? If so, tell us what sort of assignment you gave them and how it turned out.

This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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If you haven’t noticed, marketing automation is on a steep adoption curve.

Yesterday came news from marketing consultancy Raab Associates, reported here in BtoB’s e-newsletter, that marketers are expected to spend more than $500 million on marketing automation (MA) systems in 2012, with vendors Eloqua, Marketo, Infusionsoft and HubSpot to account for more than half of that spending.

Interestingly, the MA boom forecast for this year comes after an almost-as-robust 2011, when MA spending climbed 50 percent above 2010 levels, according to Raab, which advises clients on making MA purchases.

Marketing Automation Warnings and Worries

In light of MA’s popularity, what’s interesting is just how much online hand-wringing exists regarding MA — especially cautions to corporate marketers about how not to make a big mistake when investing in MA software.

Do a quick search on a term such as “marketing automation mistakes” and you’ll find plenty of posts, discussions and top-10 lists of things to beware of and avoid. It starts to sound as though MA should come packaged with a warning label.

And that might not be such a bad thing.

Because if you boil down all the pros, cons and concerns, the theme that tends to repeat is this:

Be prepared, or you’ll likely regret the purchase.

What cautionary voices seem to be saying (including some of the MA vendors themselves, to their credit) is that you’re asking for trouble and disappointment if, before you adopt MA, you’re not first squared away on such fundamentals as:

  • Business strategy
  • Audience personas and buying process
  • Market positioning
  • Content strategy
  • Lead qualification criteria
  • Lead management process (especially the interplay between sales and marketing)

In other words, some rather big, hairy marketing considerations. 

Prepare for Marketing Automation, then Purchase

Basically, it’s a get-your-ducks-in-a-row-or-else caution that persists around MA, despite it’s growing adoption. A warning that even the greatest technology can’t salvage weak or absent strategy, alignments and processes. A heads-up that without content, even the best marketing engine will lack fuel to generate the lead-management horsepower needed to drive a brand and business forward. 

I like the way Forrester analyst Jeff Ernst put it in this interview with Marketing Automation Times: Essentially, Ernst says, it comes down to having a handle on lead-to-revenue process, content, and measurement. Get those ducks in a row. Then, by all means, you might be ready to make the most of MA.

And what if it’s too late? You’ve already implemented MA, and it’s not delivering the ROI you expected?

Strategy and content are probably more to blame than technology.

Time to reverse engineer.

Time to start wrangling some ducks.

This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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