Content – What Matters Most to Readers Should Matter Most to You

I needed a new color printer.  My current print-scan-fax model was severely handicapped and had lost its ability to do two out of the three all-in-one things it was designed to perform.  So with a budget in mind, I headed over to Best Buy to pick out the model that was right for me.  Little did I know that when I arrived at the store, I would be overwhelmed with a seemingly endless number of choices.  There are a ridiculously large number of printers available today with a staggering array of features that have cool names and questionable functionality.  I needed help and I needed it fast.  I made a quick exit from the store and on the ride back to my house, I realize that I was facing a similar challenge to the one many B2B consumers face every day:  How to make a buying decision with limited knowledge of a product and many competitive solutions and features available.  I decided that the best way to handle the challenge was to act like a B2B prospect and jump on the web to make a more informed decision.  But a funny thing happened to me as I began my search.  I realized that all content is not created equally.

B2B research has consistently shown that the value of content to a prospect is based on three major characteristics of that content – the source, the topic or focus, and the format (whitepaper, video, podcast, etc).  When I looked at this information in the past it seemed to make sense that source and topic are far and away the most important attributes.  It is clear that people want information that they can trust on the specific topic that they desire, and my printer search only re-enforced this.  Like most B2B consumers, I cared little about the format of this material if it was on topic and offered by a trusted source.  This was important, because as I entered search terms like “Printer Reviews” and “Best Printers” into Google, I was presented with a literally millions of results.  I hadn’t noticed the automatic filtering I was doing as I scanned results targeting my specific search.  I scanned the first couple of pages of results and looked exclusively at information from trusted sources; skipping over advice from questionable sources.

Of course, the comparison of a printer purchase with acquisition of a typical B2B solution is flawed.  The price point is too low and there are testing sites available to do side by side comparisons of printers – something that is not easy to find or simply does not exist when it comes to selecting a server virtualization tool or a process control solution.  So what is our marketing lesson here?  If your market is filled with lots of choices and feature sets with similar names, make sure that you are a part of creating content that prospects can trust and use to make a more informed decision.  Understand their buying criteria and influence it with material that educates and helps move readers ahead in their decision making process.  With a lack of testing and comparison sites available for B2B solutions, you can directly influence buying decisions by being a trusted source of on target information.  For me, a stop at www.consumerreports.org and then a few forums where I could check out support issues left me confident in my final choice – the HP C6380. Now, if I could only decide on which ink to use…

Two Minutes to Save the World: What is the Optimal Length of a Blog?

You’ve been diligent in developing the topics that you wish to cover and now comes the fun part – actually writing your blog.  But how much or how little should you write?  Some of us can go on and on with our coverage of significant topics like how to apply a passive electronic component or process control safety, while others are shorter than short on topics ranging from a selection guide on anti-virus software to book recommendations.  The challenge for bloggers is there really is no practical physical limit to a blog so how do you know when enough is enough?

There are a few guidelines that you might want to consider before you exhaust your next topic.  1) Think about the reader.  The internet has taught many of us to have short attention spans – odds are that I have already lost a 1/3 of my audience because this blog is already too long.  Short attention spans call for shorter, more targeted posts.  Studies have pegged the attention span of an average North American reader at somewhere between 96 seconds and 2 minutes.  2) Write enough to properly cover a topic.  Some topics demand more space.  One never wants to disappoint a reader by not giving them enough of what they came for, just make sure you shed the non essential and try to keep your typical post between 250-1000 words.  If a topic is simply too big to cover in this space, consider breaking a single longer post into two or three shorter posts that cover the topic in natural chunks of information.  3) It has been hotly debated as to whether blog length impacts search engine results.  Search Engine Optimization experts have varying opinions, however most agree that extremely short and extremely long web pages are not ranked as highly as pages that fall between the magic 250 and 1000 words.  Going one step further, some SEO experts caution bloggers to specifically consider the length of their blog title with a recommendation of keeping it to 8 words and under.   Learn more at: http://www.bloggeradda.com/seo-tips/length-of-title-of-blog-post-and-seo/

In the end, it is up to you to balance all of these factors when determining the right length for your blog.  More important than rules, one should consider that if you have something to share with the world to help make it a better place, you should get out there and say it.  Who knows, that post on motor selection might just help inspire the next great break through and that cloud computing case study might just save a company from being hacked and prevent economic ruin.   For 100 simple ideas to help you save the earth, check out http://www.seql.org/100ways.cfm.  Now get out there and do your part,  in concise, valuable and informative blogs that can be read in two minute or less!

Beware of Fad Diets and Marketing Short Cuts

We are surrounded by weight loss gimmicks and scientific “break throughs” all of the time.  Lose weight without even trying, get six pack abs without going to the gym, take this pill and eat whatever you would like.  If only it were so, but unfortunately our experience teaches us there are no such short cuts to long term weight loss.  The same principles apply to building and executing a successful social media strategy.

Social media programs need attention and just like a conscientious dieter, must be adjusted over time to optimize results.  As more campaigns are executed, corporate America is learning that social media programs perform best when they are connected with other media initiatives – just like a weight loss program works better when exercise and nutrition are added.  A recent study by Marketing Sherpa shows the distinct benefits of integrating social media with other marketing tactics far exceed the benefits of utilizing social media alone  http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=31632# This means that those considering a social media program should also consider bolstering their programs with ongoing content creation and easy access to the material they are offering.  In addition, it takes a time investment and commitment to repetition that eventually garners results—not quick fixes.  These simple steps will ensure that you maximize the performance of your program.

So get off your proverbial couch and start your social media program today.  If you need your own “personal trainer” to help you understand the basics and put together a program that will work for you, you can always consult an expert.  At MediaSolve, we’ve helped many companies of varying sizes successfully execute programs that got them the results they craved and we can help you too.  Our advice for a healthier social media strategy is to eat right, exercise, and blog daily.  You will be impressed with the results.

Social Media – When To Jump In

It has to be one of the most popular questions that I hear from marketers – “When should I jump into social media programs?”  Some complain about the ongoing commitment.  They worry that once they start, they won’t be able to stop.  Others are concerned about legal liability associated with what they say.  Still others are concerned about setting guidelines and restrictions for their employees and what they can share.  Guess what, all of these issues are very real and very much a part of the new world of marketing.  While companies are right to worry about these things, many are missing the bigger opportunity to effectively use social media to create a deep connection with customers and prospects.  The strength of this connection is based on one thing – the value of the information that you can share.  Knowledge and the ability to share it effectively is the new currency of the web.  So when should you jump into social media?  The answer is easy – when you have something meaningful to share.

As for all of the detail questions that people tend to focus on, consider this – the audience will show you that they value your material as they connect and read it.  Metrics are easy and as long as you remember that it take time and proper promotion of your social media material to build a following.  Based on these metrics, you can easily and objectively decide if the effort is worth the return.  Legal issues and guideline of what to say are important but certainly not new to marketing.  These guidelines already exist for things like advertising, and consider the restriction that you make around one of your coworkers speaking at a physical conference.  Providing readers guidelines like those found at http://www.shiftcomm.com/downloads/socialmediaguidelines.pdf make it easy to empower your company’s topic experts.

Remember, the new currency of the web is useful information.  If you have it to share, then you owe it to the marketplace to get it into their hands in whatever fashion you can.  Social media makes that access fast and easy and provides you with an objective way of measuring the response to your material.   So test the waters and jump into social media when you are fully prepared.

Increase Marketing Performance by Testing Your Marketing Perspective

A fine painting is best observed from a distance because you gain unique perspective when you can take in the whole picture. As we are all challenged to do more and more in our jobs, sometime this big picture perspective can be lost as we concentrate on accomplishing all of the details. No one faces this challenge more than marketers who are being bombarded with new media options and tough ROI metrics. But taking one step back and challenging our perspective on our marketing programs is essential to make sure that you are getting the best performance out of your marketing investment.

Perhaps the biggest perspective issue facing marketers today is how they view their prospects. Up close we think of them as leads – names and addresses that match a key demographic, but the key to unlocking response from these targets is to understand that they are people trying to get their own jobs done as quickly and completely as possible. Success lies in your perspective and here is a quick test to uncover your views. When you develop and fund marketing programs, do you A) create plans based on your company’s sales cycle or sales blueprint, or B) create programs that consider how your prospects buy and the obstacles that they face when moving through their buy cycle?
If you are like most, you probably answered A, and in many respects it is completely understandable why you would. After all you are creating plans that are focused on helping the sales team close business. Sales can be a vocal group and can be quite specific on what they need …they also are very good on letting you know when you don’t live up to their expectations. The challenge that you will face with this perspective is that the web has changed the balance of power and placed it squarely into the hands of prospects. Your prospective customers now have access to a much broader set of information and peers through the web. It is time to start thinking about their perspective so that you can make your company and its products more useful. This is one of the primary reasons why companies are once again implementing educational campaigns. They know the power of pushing the sales cycle aside to think about how they can insert themselves into their prospects’ buy cycle. Today’s successful marketing programs must be designed to insert your company’s expertise and knowledge into the buyers’ search for information. When you are a part of that loop you are a part of the consideration set. Focusing exclusively on what your sales team wants and not on what your customer wants is a sure recipe for marketing disaster. So take a step back and drink in the big picture. I think you will enjoy the view.