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Posts Tagged ‘Content’

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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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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If you’re looking for a “True North” around which to orient content planning, consider this advice from Marcus Sheridan, one of the keynote speakers at last week’s Content Marketing World 2012.

But before I share Sheridan’s secret, first know that about 1,000 marketers and technology providers were gathered at #cmworld. Something like 40 seminars and keynote speeches were delivered, by some of the leading corporate marketers, agency professionals and technologists in content marketing today. 

Which means hundreds of thousand of words — ideas, best practices, tips, techniques — were expressed, discussed and debated during the three-day event.  

But after a week of digesting notes and reflection, it was four simple words — articulated by a swimming pool contractor from rural Virginia — that just might be the greatest bang-for-the-buck takeaway from the entire event.

Ready for the four words? Here goes:

They ask. We answer.

 

Content Planning Under Duress

To understand the value and utility of those few syllables, it helps to have a little background on Sheridan.

Marcus is a swimming pool contractor who nearly saw his company, River Pools & Spas, go out of business during the recent historic downturn in the residential construction economy.

In the nick of time, Sheridan discovered and began aggressively practicing the principles of content marketing and inbound marketing. Today, just a few years later, his company dominates search results for almost anything you might wish to know about swimming pools. Largely as a result, his pool business is going well. So well that now he has a second business and professional persona, as a content marketing blogger, consultant and speaker (aka, The Sales Lion).

If you haven’t seen or heard Sheridan speak, imagine someone who combines the in-your-space urgency of a Marine drill instructor with the upbeat energy of a cheerleader. Then throw in a pinch of pulpit-pounding Baptist preacher for good measure.

In other words, Marcus is a piece of work. A dynamic speaker. And an insightful content marketer.


Words to Plan Content By

With the four words noted above, Sheridan shared what he considers the core content planning strategy that propelled his content, and with it his company, to rapid success. Here, in a nutshell, is what they did:

Sheridan and his employees made a list of all the questions they could think of that consumers might have about swimming pools. Questions customers and prospects had asked over the years. Queries they might have on their minds when they go online searching for information about pools, and pool contractors. 

  • “Concrete vs. fiberglass pools, pros and cons”
  • “How to choose a swimming pool contractor”
  • “Above ground vs. in-ground swimming pools”
  • “How much does an in-ground swimming pool cost?”

The result for Sheridan’s team was a list of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of questions. Then they simply set out to answer those questions, primarily by writing blog posts. They topped each post with a headline that, rather than sound cutesy or flowery, was written simply and directly. In a way that spoke directly to the consumer’s question (and, in doing so, spoke directly to search engine spiders). Incidentally, here’s a post from Marcus on blog headline writing for effective SEO.

Content Planning for Business, Enterprise or Otherwise

If you’re marketing a small business, you’d be wise to follow Sheridan’s advice.

But if you manage content marketing for a mid-size or enterprise business, you might be saying to yourself: “That’s fine for a small company. But that won’t really work for us. Our business and marketplace is more complicated than that.” And you’re probably right. But only partly.

Because it’s hard to imagine any business that wouldn’t benefit from having “they ask, we answer” at the heart of their content planning. It will keep you on track, when it comes to creating relevant and useful (vs. purely promotional) content. It’ll keep you coming back to True North, in terms of  focusing on customer pain points and opportunities. And it will keep you listening, so your content topics keep pace as your audience’s needs evolve.

In fact, the bigger and more complex your organization, I would suggest, the more systematic you can and should be about making “they ask, we answer” central to content planning.

Why?

Because the bigger and more complex your business…

1. The more complex your distribution channel, which means the more “theys” you have out there who are asking questions. Keeping those audiences and their needs and priorities straight is fundamental to organizing and executing an effective content marketing strategy.

2. The more likely you have competitors who are looking to beat you, with content as a differentiator. Marcus was able to catch his small-business competitors flat-footed. But if you’re not pushing yourself to be THE marketer in your category who’s best at anticipating and answering customers’ questions via content, it’s likely someone else will gladly seize that position.

3. The more probable that the answers to many of your customers’ questions are going to be complex and technical, helping put your content out where long-tail searches happen. Ideally, put you out there relatively alone.

4. The greater the ability and resources you have to identify what it is customers are wondering about, puzzled by or deciding based upon. Because, if you choose to be systematic about it, you can get that intelligence (often deep-in-the-sales-funnel insight) from your sales force. Or from your customer service reps or field technicians. From dealers and distributors. Through social media. By mining organic search metrics. By listening in on conversations at trade shows and conferences. Conducting surveys and focus groups. Or from a content advisory board that you recruit and manage, made up of people who represent  your sweetspot influencers, specifiers and buyers. 

They ask. We answer.

In four words or less, a pretty darn good strategy around which to launch, focus and continuously improve content planning.

Whether you’re marketing swimming pools. Or enterprise software, technology and service solutions.

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Curious to hear what you think. As a content planning technique, does your organization seek to be systematic about anticipating and answering audience questions? Feel free to share tips and best practices on how you accomplish that.

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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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The world got a little less zany yesterday with the death of Phyllis Diller at age 95.

If you’re old enough to have grown up watching the “Queen of Comedy” on TV, in movies or on stage, you’re probably of one of two minds: She was either great or grating. Hers was that sort of polarizing style and talent.

Perhaps because of that, she made an enduring impact on the entertainment business and is credited with paving a path for later generations of female comedians. She also became a uniquely memorable character to audiences she reached and touched, whether while entertaining troops overseas in USO shows, or making one of her frequent appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. 

In reading news reports and media tributes, I was struck by a few themes that defined Diller’s comedic persona. It dawned on me that there are hallmarks to her career that can serve as lessons and inspiration for us marketers, as we strive to create memorable impact and differentiated positioning in a crowded, noisy marketplace.

Here are a few of my takeaways. Perhaps you’ve got some of your own. If so, please share them in a comment.


Short and punchy works — but also takes work. 
Especially with the rise of social media and community management, balancing long-form, value-adding content with plenty of concise, well-crafted, information-rich tweets, comments, updates and replies is a critical ingredient in today’s marketing mix.

What bears noting is that these short-form snippets deserve as much strategic thought and professional care as your e-books, webinars, white papers and infographics.  

Skim through these Phyllis Diller quotes assembled into a slide show by the Huffington Post. Diller clearly had a knack for the punchy, high-impact, 140-character comment long before Twitter.

Now picture that behind each line was (I’m assuming) a team of talented, professional comedy thinkers and writers, evaluating every word and polishing every phrase until the result crackled and sparkled. You get the sense Diller wouldn’t have entrusted her Twitter stream or Facebook updates to the new intern. This is the work of subject-matter experts. Communications pros.


Dare to stand out
Simply by virtue of her gender, Diller was different for her time, and therefore bound to stand apart from her male comedy contemporaries. But she elected to go one step (OK, several steps) further to appear distinctive and attract attention. From her cackling laugh to the platinum-colored wigs and cigarette holder, you know when she walked through a curtain or delivered a punch line that this was Phyllis Diller.  

Which isn’t to say your content should be packaged and presented in a way that is garish. But, ideally, you have a vision for a design look-and-feel, and an editorial voice, that are reflective of a differentiated brand image and personality you want to establish in the marketplace. And you’re adhering to that visual identity and editorial voice consistently with the content you create. 


Empathize

Much of Diller’s humor was grounded in empathy for issues faced by her audience, particularly women. When she talked about burying her laundry mistakes in the backyard, her inability to cook, her trials and tribulations with fictitious husband Fang, she was signalling to fans: “I know that life, relationships and raising children are full of challenges, hard work and heartaches.”

Based on that empathy, Diller could offer her audiences poignant observation and comic relief.

What you can offer with content is insight, solutions, case examples, tools, peer-to-peer community…and maybe a little humor and fun, as well. 


Embrace the “un-sexy”
With her knobby knees, crazy hair and heavy eye makeup, Phyllis Diller cut a less-than-sexy figure on stage. But that was part of what made her interesting and engaging. Someone able to make us stop and pay attention. Eager to study what she looked like, sure. But also to hear what she had to say.

Let’s face it, many B2B products and services are, purely on their own, not inherently “sexy.” But the best content marketing focuses not on the product or service itself, but on the challenges and opportunities the audience has in their professional lives and businesses. It’s in the context of diving into and exploring those often nitty-gritty, specialized, highly technical issues and objectives that your product or service can eventually emerge as looking smart, sexy and desireable. 

That’s why you’ll see companies such as Indium (which makes solder) and Miller Electric (which manufactures welding equipment) able to exert such a strongly attractive image and presence with their B2B content marketing. 

Because they understand that smart and sexy are in the eye, heart and head of the beholder.

RIP, Phyllis.

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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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A little of the right content goes a long way toward converting a new customer — especially as you get near the bottom of the sales funnel.

I was reminded of this truism recently while researching contractors to perform tree work around my home. A few too many years of growth, nature’s whim and weather wear-and-tear had left my wife and I with a handful of trees in need of either removal or grooming.

The city where I live publishes a list of licensed tree contractors. Plus, I consulted a few neighbors for referrals. Based on preliminary research, I called three contractors.

At this point I’m deep in the funnel. My trees need work. I’ve gone to the trouble of contacting a service provider and asking for an estimate. I’ve spent 30 minutes or more touring the yard, talking through the needs of each tree, asking when the work can be done.

Yet in each case, I was struck by how casual, to the point of lackadaisical, these service providers were about the project scoping and estimating process.

  • No. 1 arrived on a motorcycle, a quote sheet folded in his pocket. I loaned him a pen and a clipboard with which to jot down the work scope and estimate.
  • No. 2 scrawled his estimate across a price sheet, neglecting to use any of the preprinted lines and boxes for labelling the trees to be worked on or entering rate amounts.
  • No. 3 offered me a brochure, which seemed like progress. Then he proceeded to scribble his scope and estimate in the brochure’s narrow margins.

Missing in Action: Bottom of the Sales Funnel Content

I was willing to overlook a few rough edges. After all, these guys are hustling to do estimates in the evenings after long days working hard on current projects. We’re standing out in a breezy back yard, not sitting comfortably across a desk in an air-conditioned office. Theirs is a blue-collar business built more on technical know-how and physical capability than formalities.

But where the sales process truly fell apart, in each case, was when I requested what seemed to me was the barest minimum of content. Content that would give me confidence in them and their ability to perform the work. Content that would help me differentiate one from the other.

  • Their contractor license number
  • Proof of insurance
  • Names and contact information for 2 or 3 customers they’d worked for in the past

Mind you, I wasn’t expecting to get this info on the spot, in a die-cut folder overflowing with four-color sell sheets and glowing testimonials. I was willing to receive it as a follow-up via phone or e-mail. None of the contractors has a website, so directing me online was not an option. Still, if they’d had a typewritten sheet of paper back in the truck (or the motorcycle saddle bags), that would have been fine.

Each contractor made a point of saying he’d been in business locally for decades. But you’d have sworn I was asking for content no prospect had requested before. 

No. 1, the motorcyclist, said he’d follow up with the info but never did. A few unanswered calls leaves me wondering if he is currently licensed and insured. Though I was most impressed with his tree-side manner, he won’t be getting the business.

No. 2 hasn’t responded, but I’m still following up because at least his wife returned my call while he was away on vacation. No. 3 hasn’t called or e-mailed since. Meanwhile, his tri-fold brochure, while speaking to his longevity in business, lacks the information (and assurance) that I’m seeking.

Suffice to say, if any of these three businesses had provided me with the content I wanted, when I was seeking it, they would have had me as a customer. Makes you wonder how many more years they’ll go in business without putting together a simple content asset that will answer the questions I asked, and thus position them for greater success at the bottom of the sales funnel.

Is Your Content Ready to Convert?

Granted, these are local contractors, not mid-size or large corporations. No doubt your company’s resources and commitment to deliver bottom of the sales funnel content about your brand, products, services and people is far advanced from these small — micro, really — businesses.

Or is it?

  • Does the standard brochure and presentation you’ve been relying on for years answer the questions today’s prospective customers are asking as they’re about to make a purchasing decision?
  • When was the last time you systematically surveyed your sales force to learn what might help them close more deals as prospects get down to the wire, ready to decide among vendors and price quotes?
  • Better yet, when was the last time you interviewed customers and prospective customers, to better understand their decision-making concerns and criteria, and then crafted deep-funnel content to address those questions? 

We marketers spend lots of time, energy and resources trying to get more opportunities into the top of our funnels.

Which makes you wonder if we’re focusing enough on the other end, close to the funnel’s bottom.

Where a little of the right content can go a long, long way.
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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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