Posts Tagged ‘customers’

The question came recently from Wayne Tay, a Content Strategy group member on LinkedIn. But it’s a question which could be on the minds of other marketers. Here’s how Wayne put it:

Hi friends, I am wondering what is the process of identifying content gaps for your target audience? Any kind souls to enlighten me?

I don’t know whether my answer qualifies as “enlightening.” But Wayne’s question got me thinking about how my colleagues and I approach identifying an audience’s content needs, or at least content an audience might value, whether they recognize it as an unmet need or not.

Here’s what I offered to Wayne on LinkedIn, saying that we’ll often arrive at a content strategy going down one or more of a handful of main paths.

1) Audience research
It’s remarkable what you can learn talking to just a handful, even 2 or 3, of the people you’re looking to attract and serve with content. Often you can safely extrapolate the content needs and gaps of a few to the audience as a whole.

2) Editorial board

For some content programs we’ll help our clients establish and manage an advisory board composed of the very same personas we’re looking to serve with content. Then we’ll run potential content topics and advanced asset ideas “up the flagpole” to discover which ones they salute.

In at least one case we built an extranet tool that allowed advisory board members to engage with us online and vote their sentiment on proposed content topics.

3) Ask the sales force or dealer network

Often the people who call on and sell to the audience every day have a pretty good handle on that audience’s pain points and knowledge gaps.

4) Beware format fixation

If you find yourself struggling to think of what sort or articles or white papers would be valuable to the audience, shake the Etch a Sketch and ask a format-agnostic question: What sort of high-value interaction or experiences could you create for them? A widget? A video? A game? An event?

5) Curate

Sometimes the answer isn’t filling a content creation gap. It’s filling a curation gap. An aggregated e-newsletter or blog post once a week, featuring the top 10 links, assets and posts an audience member should know about. That, in its own way, fills a gap.

6) Empathize
In virtually every case, begin with empathy. Envision the audience’s mail pile and e-mail inbox. Sometimes an experienced content strategist can make some on-target guesses about what an audience member will find valuable (and differentiated) based on what we imagine their daily information stream looks like.

If they’re a mid-size business CEO or COO in the United States, for example, you can assume they’re consuming the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Inc., Forbes and/or Fortune, maybe Fast Company, some analyst reports and blogs, their industry trade publications, and their local newspaper’s business page. And that’s just before morning coffee. ; )

So where, among all that noise, can your sponsored content be both credible enough, but highly relevant and differentiated, to justify the audience’s time and attention?

Blue Ocean Content Strategy

To some degree, planning to fill an audience’s content gap is a process of elimination. “They certainly don’t need more of this or that. But I have a hunch they’re not getting enough of this, delivered in quite this tailored and focused way for a mid-size business exec.”

We helped one client grow brand awareness nearly 60 percent, and generate tens of millions in new business leads, in just 14 months, largely using this “let’s empathize to envision the content gap” thought process. Sort of a “Blue Ocean Strategy” approach to identifying content opportunities.

Finding and filling an audience’s content gaps can be a frustrating challenge to solve, especially because often they don’t recognize there’s even a gap — until you come along and fill it.

But when you find the answer — or at least AN answer, one that’s highly valued by the audience — frustration quickly turns to fun.

This list of tips on how to think about filling a content gap for your audience only scratches the surface. How do you think about identifying your audience’s unmet content needs? Comments and best practices welcome.

Post first published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s blog, Content Is Marketing.


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If you’re a B-to-B corporate marketer, should you extend your marketing program to Pinterest?

Can we put a pin in the marketing hype around Pinterest?

Dumb question, right? After all, Pinterest is the latest hot social sharing network. And we’re talking hotter than hot.  I recently saw Pinterest described as the fastest growing social networking site ever (Facebook included). 

A HubSpot e-book, How to Use Pinterest for Business, cites data from Hitwise 
which ranks relative newcomer Pinterest the fifth most visited social site,
ahead of more established heavyweights such as LinkedIn and Google+.

And leave aside for a moment the potential advantages of hitching your brand to the latest social media meteor. What could possibly be the harm in adding another social sharing site to your mix? Just dig into the corporate marketing vault. Pull a nice assortment of photos, posters, ads and videos. Create your profile. Put up a pinboard or two. And watch the audience engagement and site traffic roll in.

So, should you extend your marketing program to Pinterest?

I’m going to step out onto Luddite’s Leap here and say “no.” Especially if you’re in a B-to-B relationship with your most important buyer or specifier audiences. And maybe even if you’re B-to-C.

If three or more of the following statements apply to you and your organization, you might want to hold off for a while on “pinning,” and instead put your immediate focus and resources on other priorities:

14: Your e-mail open and click-through rates are plummeting, but you’re continuing to pump out e-mails without a plan for testing ways to turn around those metrics.

13: You’ve yet to blog, post a video on YouTube, explore SlideShare as a content distribution channel, or engage with groups relevant to your audience on LinkedIn.

12: You’re still struggling to “close the loop” between where your online traffic (and leads) are coming from (i.e., sources), and which of those channels are converting into engaged followers or actual customers.

11: Your marketing team is already feeling challenged to sustain regular updates, useful curation and community engagement via the other social sharing sites where you already have a presence.

10: You’re not going to be able to add any budget, staff or outsource marketing support in the near future.

9: It’s been longer than you’d like since your team produced a relevant, differentiating content asset — an ebook, a how-to video, a webinar, a useful widget — for the audience(s) you’re striving to reach and engage.

8: You’ve yet to conduct an A/B landing page test, to see if a different approach to copy, graphics and the registration form can make an impact on downloads of your existing content assets.  

7: You’ve yet to develop a content asset and make it available to all comers, ungated, just to see how far and wide your content can circulate.

6: Beyond “It’s growing like gangbusters!” or “Everyone else is doing it,” you’re having a hard time articulating a cogent rationale for adding Pinterest to your marketing mix.

5: You’ve yet to hear from any of your customers or prospective customers who are using Pinterest to search for suppliers or product information online. 

4: Your lacking a solidly functional mobile website.

3: Your organization’s website is still closer to brochureware than a content-rich engagement hub.

2: You told yourself once that you’re not going to be one of those marketers who chases the next shiny object.

1: You remember that admonition your parents used to give: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

My skepticism about the current hype surrounding Pinterest might stem most from that last one, to be honest. I have no doubt people are discovering all sorts of ways to express and enjoy themselves, and to find others of like mind and interest, on Pinterest. But that doesn’t mean it automatically merits a land rush among marketers to stake out promotional turf on the world’s fastest-growing communal cork board.

In fact, I wonder if we marketers do ourselves, our brands and our customers a disservice if we continually behave as though every last medium, gathering place and community — offline or on — is automatically considered, first and foremost, a marketing opportunity.

Do we run the risk of irritating rather than engaging if people can’t find a place, a moment, to express themselves and relate to one another without Big Marketing poking itself into the conversation?

What do you think? Am I all alone on Luddite’s Leap here? Or do you agree it wouldn’t hurt for B-to-B marketers to consider taking a pass on Pinterest?

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Look around your business. Better yet, conduct an audit: Where in your sales, marketing or service continuum do customers or potential customers get stranded in a content desert?

Where in your marketing continuum is the content desert?

What do I mean by a “content desert”? 

Think about the process of providing relevant, useful or entertaining content as cultivating an “engagement oasis” for the audiences you wish to attract and serve. A welcoming place where they can derive value and feel nurtured by your business and brand.

Now think of doing the exact opposite, either purposefully or unwittingly. Allowing a place on that continuum where your organization makes little or no effort to provide information, interactions or experiences of value. Or, perhaps worse yet, where you bombard y0ur audience with purely promotional, “let us tell you more about us” messages.

A content desert.

Please Continue to Hold While We Fail to Engage You

I survived 10 minutes in a content desert this past weekend, when it was my misfortune to have a malfunctioning dishwasher. When I called the manufacturer and service company (in this case, one in the same) to schedule a repair, I was placed on hold because, according to the automated voice, “all of our representatives are assisting other callers.”

Now, let’s examine this commonplace scenario from the corporate marketer’s perspective: A person who bought your product is having an issue with that product. They reach out to you. You’re about to have five, eight, or in this case 10 minutes of one-on-one, uninterrupted communication with that customer.

What will you do to engage them during this special time? What can you offer that might leave them feeling better informed, entertained, or in some way more connected to or empowered by your brand?

Take thought and care with those 10 minutes, and the potential benefits are clear: That person on the other end of the line is more likely to become a brand advocate and referral source. More likely to buy your products and services in the future.

But here’s what this manufacturer and service provider chose to do with its 10 minutes of uninterrupted communication:

  • Invite me to visit them on Facebook. Why? No reason given in particular. No promise of an entertaining video, helpful information, or even a cheesy contest or sweepstakes. Just a flat invitation to “visit us on Facebook.” Sorry. You’ll need to do better than that.
  • Invite me to join them in online chat. OK, that might be a good idea. And I’m somewhat impressed that they offer this feature. But in this case it meant I’d need hang up the phone and go boot up my computer, surrendering my place in the phone queue, a place I’d already invested some time to earn.
  • Cross-sell another service. In this instance, a free estimate on a particular home improvement service. Not the worst offer or call to action in the world. But how much better would it have been if that service were presented in a value-adding context? Perhaps the recorded message could have spoken to issues and challenges I might be experiencing with my home, rather than merely promote the service the company was trying to cross-sell. Or it could have invited me to visit a website to learn more about financing options that would make the service being offered more affordable. Or a series of videos that showed how other consumers have improved their lives and homes by using the service.  Instead, all I got was an offer to buy something else from a company that was already causing me some grief because of the last product I’d purchased from them.
  • Thank me for my patience, and for remaining on the line. You’re welcome. But then again, what choice did I really have?

Where’s Your Content Desert?

As content deserts go, this wasn’t exactly Death Valley. Probably hundreds, maybe even thousands, of on-hold messaging scenarios play out like this every day, from businesses large and small. The marketing “sins” here, if any, are more of omission than commission.

The larger point is this: If somewhere in your marketing, sales and service continuum you can expect to have a few minutes,  maybe even 10, of direct, uninterrupted communication with customers or potential customers, what will you do with that opportunity?

Subject them to a content desert? Or cultivate for them an engagement oasis?

Where in your marketing, sales and service continuum is there a desert you can transform into an oasis?


Photo credit: www.freenaturephotos.com

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Prediction: Content marketing will increasingly become a strategy — perhaps THE strategy — retailers employ to defend against unrelenting price pressure.

If that sounds unlikely, check out the excerpts below (boldface emphasis added by me) from an article by Iain Thomson, writing for technology news website The Register. Thomson reported on a presentation by eBay CEO John Donahoe, who spoke recently at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco.

Paraphrasing Donahoe, Thomson wrote, “…the concept of e-commerce is dead and buried, since consumers really don’t care about where they buy, so long as they get the cheapest price.

“…Donahoe said that the increasing use of mobile technology had blurred the barrier between e-commerce and regular retail to such an extent that the former term was essentially meaningless.

Now consumers are walking into retail stores, and using their phones to identify better prices for goods they like, and will use either online or offline purchasing to get the price they want.”

The Commodity, Low-Price Death Spiral
Pity the bricks-and-mortar retailer. You go to great lengths to create an outstanding and differentiated shopper experience. Choose a unique and high-quality mix of products. Create clean, well-lit store environments. Do attractive merchandising. Hire and train experienced sales staff.

Now imagine that consumer after consumer enters your store to wander the aisles, admire the merchandise and seek advice from your sales staff. Then, just as they’ve finished shopping and are ready to buy, 80 percent of them whip out their mobile phones, do a quick search, and walk out your door to go buy the product elsewhere, or online, at a lower price.

Frustrating? Certainly.

Images from FreeStockPhoto.biz

Deadly to your business? Absolutely.

Inevitable? Judging by the comments from eBay’s Donahoe, maybe.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe not if bricks-and-mortar retailers get innovative and committed when it comes to content marketing.

Winning with a “C-commerce” Strategy
Let’s say those same consumers visit your store or your website, but you’ve gone to great lengths to provide value-added content, more so than any other retailer they could shop. Content that will help the consumer make a buying decision, experience the product’s features before they buy, or know how to maximize the benefit and enjoyment they get after they take it home.

You’re setting yourself up to be a sucker, right? Investing in providing great, relevant information, interactions and experiences, only to see consumers go elsewhere to buy products at lower prices.

That might be the case. But what if you didn’t give away the content?

In other words, what if you charged consumers a fee for your content? The terrific in-store experience. The expert guidance. The demos. The careful hand-holding that helps them make a smarter purchase and get maximum value out of the product.

And here’s the trick: You credit them for the content fee when they buy the product from your store or website.

That’s right. You build content into your value proposition as a way to not only attract consumers, but also to close the deal. If they choose to go elsewhere to buy, you’ve still made money on the content and customer care you’re using to set your retail business apart.

Sound crazy? Impractical? Maybe.

But only if there’s another way to keep the majority of consumers from walking down the street or going online to find the products your store offers at a lower price. If there is such a strategy, then bricks-and-mortar retailers should adopt it as soon as they can.

If there isn’t a “secret weapon” to keep a retail store from being price-shopped out of business, maybe there’s an answer to be found in content.

E-commerce dead?

Maybe the era of C-commerce is about to begin.


Most of my experience is in B-to-B marketing, so I’m a bit out of my depth here. What do you think? Are lots of traditional retailers already using content to avoid being price-shopped into extinction? Or is this a pipe dream, and we’re destined to live and shop in a lowest-price-always-wins retail world? Comment and discussion welcome.

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content marketing and Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosopher, poet and advocate for credible content marketing.

Should you ever publish content that is less than 100 percent in alignment with your company’s product or service?

Something tells me most corporate marketers would reflexively answer “No.”

As someone who’s been planning and producing content marketing programs for a while now, I’m inclined to answer “Yes.” In fact, to paraphrase German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, I tend to believe “that content which does not kill us makes our strategies stronger.”

A Question of Credibility

The question occurred to me this week while speaking with a corporate marketer about his B-to-B content program. A planned article was intended to help readers understand pros and cons when choosing among two versions of the same product for certain industrial applications. 

If reported and written straight up, with no bias, the article would have reported that, for certain applications, the widget with XYZ feature is the superior solution. For other applications, though not nearly as many, the better solution is the widget with the ABC feature.

It turns out the marketer’s company only manufactures the XYZ widget. So, the marketer approved development of the article with one caveat: “XYZ wins the battle and comes out on top.”

I explained that the article would not be credible if it were slanted to favor the XYZ. I assured the marketer his company’s widget would be the recommended version for several applications, even the majority. But that the ABC widget needed to get its due for the article to be trustworthy and truly useful for the readers.

Guess what? The planned article is going to be scratched from the content calendar.

The corporate marketer and his colleagues did not feel comfortable shining a spotlight on a product their company does not make, even though that same piece of content would have shone an even brighter spotlight on the version they do sell. In the process, the company would have been providing its B-to-B audience with useful information to make more-informed business decisions. In other words, delivering on the brand promise that underlies content marketing.

Tackle Meaty Topics — Or Tiptoe Around Them?

Don’t get me wrong. Scratching one article topic does not invalidate a thought-leadership content program. There are plenty more topics to be covered that won’t point readers toward a solution that is not provided by the company. And there are usually ways to “plan around” topics that might appear to be at cross-purposes with business objectives.

But the broader issue here is one marketers should consider when undertaking a content marketing program: Are we willing to publish content that is less than 100 percent favorable toward our product, service or solution — knowing that content will be valuable and relevant to our target audience.

  • If you’re a remodeling or a plumbing contractor, are you willing to point out projects and minor fixes that consumers might attempt themselves.
  • If you sell customer relationship management (CRM) software, are you helping prospects recognize when they are not good candidates for buying an expensive, enterprise-level CRM system?
  • If you produce a widget that solves 70 percent of your customers’ needs for widgets, are you willing to point out scenarios where a different version of a widget is going to give them the better result?

For my money, a content program grows more credible and engaging the more it’s willing to address topics that are highly relevant and useful to the audience, regardless whether every last topic is 100 percent supportive of the marketer’s products and services. 

After all, we invest trust and loyalty in those advisors — doctors, attorneys, brokers, bankers, consultants — who are willing to give us the good news and the not-so-good. When we’re confident they are being honest in the information and recommendations they provide, looking out for our best interest, not only theirs.


If you’re a corporate marketer or a content marketing agency or consultant, I’d welcome your comments on this topic. Is it too easy for me to advocate for “risky” content when it’s not my career inside the corporation that’s on the line? Or do you think marketers tend to be too cautious with their content, and therefore miss the opportunity to be fully credible and valuable to their target audiences?

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Once you commit yourself and your organization to content marketing, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Suddenly “content” means articles. Or maybe white papers or webinars. And the focus becomes building an efficient, repeatable process for cranking out a steady flow of that particular asset type.

It’s important to avoid this trap, and to look for opportunities to vary the format of your value-adding content. Why? Well, here are two reasons:

  • First, if you focus primarily on producing content in one format, you’re going to consistently bypass a percentage of your audience.

There are people who love learning via webinars, but who lack that same zeal for articles. There are others who won’t take time to watch a video, but will make a point to download or print a white paper and stick it in their “read on the plane” folder.

Punch out just one type of content over and over, and you’re glossing over these differences in learning styles and content-consumption preferences.

  • Second, get into a monoculture mindset around content and you’ll never know how successful you might have been at creating engagement (however you define that term).

Varying formats let’s you test which types of content have a lifting or depressing impact. As the saying goes: “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Content as an Experience

Where I work, we’ve evolved this definition of content:

Value-adding information, interactions and experiences that drive relationship momentum
among audiences critical to an organization’s success.

I like the definition, in part, because those three words — information, interactions, experiences — invite us and challenge us to alway be thinking in terms of developing and delivering content in varied formats.

Yesterday I was treated to three great examples of content formatted as an “experience.” All three were described in an e-newsletter called trendcentral®, published by The Intelligence Group, a self-described “youth focused consumer insights company.”

Trendcentral is a consistently eye-opening and thought-provoking resource. This issue — themed “Fitness Followers” — was no exception. It speaks to a trend toward new tracking technologies that help amateurs and professionals alike monitor their workouts and performances. Three examples cited were:

  • Fitness clothing maker Under Armour partnering with software firm Zephyr on something called the E39. It’s a compression shirt with a built-in sensor that tracks and wirelessly transmits data on an athlete’s motion, heart rate, acceleration, g force and other data points related to performance.
  • Wahoo Fitness, which has developed a device to feed workout statistics for runners, bikers and others to their smart phones.
  • The Ski Track app, which enables skiers to track their number of runs, total miles covered, top speed attained, even visualize the runs they’ve skied via Google Earth maps.

If you’re feeling as though your content program is largely stuck in information mode, take a cue from the world of fitness. Next content planning session, devote some time to brainstorming an experience you could deliver for your desired audience.

Think about their work and life routines. What do they physically do during those activities? What would make their lives easier, richer, more informed? For example, how might you help them keep score of what they’re doing, so they can compare themselves with others, or pursue continuous improvement and personal bests?

In other words, is there a way to equip, empower or entertain your audience with a tool? An app? Content in the form of an experience.


Do  you agree it’s wise to vary the format of the value-adding content you produce for your audience? Have a favorite example of content as an interaction or experience vs. purely as information? Would welcome your thoughts — and experiences — as comments.

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Pinocchio Principle, lead generation, landing pages

Do landing pages bring out our inner Pinocchio?

What would it mean to your lead-generation strategy if you knew that more than two-thirds of the people downloading your white papers and ebooks were lying on those carefully crafted landing pages?

How would conversations about lead generation between your Sales and Marketing teams be different if you knew that, more often than not, you don’t have a prospect’s correct phone number?

Last month Touch Point City posted on Poll Daddy an extremely brief, highly unscientific survey which basically posed this question: “How Much Do We Lie on Landing Pages?” Although survey responses were few (only 26), the findings are still worth a close look by marketing and sales leaders.

It turns out that when we’re asked to exchange our contact information in return for downloading something we find of interest, we lie quite a lot. Perhaps as much as 69 percent of the time.

1. How often do you provide intentionally inaccurate name and contact information when completing a content download registration form?

Always    4%
More often than not    15%
About half the time    4%
Sometimes    46%
Never    31%

When we mislead on landing pages, more than half the time it’s our phone numbers we’re faking. And 20 percent of the time it’s our e-mail addresses.

2. If you sometimes provide intentionally inaccurate information on a download registration form, which of the following are you MOST likely to fake?

Phone number    56%
Email address    20%
Job title    16%
Name    4%
Mailing address    4%
Company name    0%

Why do we shade the truth? Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s to avoid follow-up sales calls and marketing contacts.

3. If you sometimes provide intentionally inaccurate name and contact information, why?

Avoid follow-up sales calls or marketing contacts    72%
Protect my personal data privacy    16%
Chalk it up to the prankster in me    0%
Other (3):

  • I do not give false information because I only fill in my information to companies I trust.”
  • “I don’t do this but if I did, it would be to avoid follow-up phone calls, primarily.”
  • “Avoid being inundated with what’s potentially junk mail afterward.”


The Big Lie of Lead Generation
Again, as surveys go, this admittedly was no Gallup or Roper. Still, let’s concede for a moment that more than two dozen people (adults, presumably) did take the survey and provided honest answers about their propensity to become liars on landing pages.

If their responses are close to what a real, professionally executed survey might find, then what are we to make of this apparent Pinocchio Principle when it comes to leads born of landing pages? I think the clear takeaway is this:

A lead isn’t a lead until someone is engaged enough to be honest with you.

How will you know when they’re being totally honest? You probably won’t. At least not until one of your sales reps actually gets them one the phone, connects with them via e-mail or shakes their hand across a desk. Or maybe not even until they call or e-mail you to say they’d like to have a conversation about your product or service.

For decades, marketing and sales teams have argued about whether someone who visits a trade show booth should be considered a lead. Marketing would often say yes. Sales would often say no, not even close.

Now, that same argument is playing out online. Some marketers are tempted to say that someone who’s registered for a newsletter, or downloaded a white paper, is a lead. Sales is likely to argue that those are mere inquiries. To be true leads, Sales would say, those initial contacts need to be nurtured. Qualified. Scored. To the point where those individuals are more demonstrably interested in the company’s product or service, and thus potentially more ready to buy.

If this is an argument playing out inside your organization, the survey says Sales is right. A landing page registration is not necessarily a lead. An e-newsletter subscription is not necessarily a lead. A discernible pattern of engagement over time (e.g., multiple downloads, an e-newsletter sign-up, a webinar attendance, multiple visits to your website) could well be a lead.

It’s our challenge as marketers to elicit those patterns of engagement from customers and potential customers. And the great thing is, we ‘ve never been more clear about how to do it (relevant, compelling content). We’ve never had more tools and channels by which to do it. And we’ve never been better equipped to measure that it’s truly happening.

So if you’re in the middle of a lead-generation program, or about to embark on one, here’s a suggestion: Assume that people are mostly going to lie on your landing pages. And then go about your business with the mindset that you’re going to earn their honesty. Over time. By offering great information, interactions and experiences. In other words, great content.

The lead numbers might no pile up quite as quickly. But, honestly, they’ll be solid leads when they do.


Where do things stand with lead generation in your organization? Are you still treating trade show visits and newsletter subscriptions as leads? Have you found your way to a more sophisticated lead scoring system and process? Or do you think this whole way of thinking about leads is due for some serious reinvention? Would welcome your thoughts and feedback.


Thanks to Ardath Albee (@ardath421), Achinta Mitra (@Achintamitra), Pam Kozelka (@pamkozelka), Mary Bunnell (@mbbunnell, @ymmlistens), D. Steven White (@dstevenwhite) and Chris Bailey (@baileyworkplay) for sharing our “How Much Do We Lie…” survey with their followers. Voter turnout was light, colleagues, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of your support.



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