Lee Odden Shares His Secret to Content Marketing Fitness #CMWorld 2019

Let’s face it: Too many of us are yo-yo marketers.

We deploy a campaign the way someone might approach a fad diet: With nothing but our initial enthusiasm to keep it going.

And like a fad dieter, we get results… for a little while. Then the campaign runs out of steam and we’re back at square one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if those initial successes could last? If we could go from “fad diet” marketing to lean, mean marketing machines?

At his Content Marketing World session, TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden laid out a blueprint for how to do just that.

Not only is Lee a champion of always-on marketing that gets sustainable results over time, he’s also achieved a dramatic physical transformation in the past year. He’s lost 65 pounds and just finished his first half-marathon.

Turns out, the same discipline and strategy that makes for great content marketing is fantastic for fitness, too. It’s all about consistency and persistency.

Here are Lee’s 10 Exercises for Content Marketing Fitness.
10 Steps to Content Marketing Fitness
#1: Warm Up with Customer Insights
“Know your customer” is a pretty standard motto for marketers. But most of us don’t get deep enough into what those three words really mean. Truly knowing your customer means having insight into:

Activities: What does their workday look like?
Pain: What are they suffering from/worried about?
Goals: What do they wish they could accomplish?
Influences: Who or what is providing guidance?

To warm up your customer insights, you need to answer all of these questions for each stage of the customer journey, preferably with first hand data.
#2: Strengthen Your Core with Strategy
Before you start creating content, you need to know what that content is meant to accomplish. Most content plans won’t involve jumping straight into driving leads and closing sales.

The first part of your strategy should involve meeting the customer where they are (based on your footwork in step 1), challenging their status quo and inviting a change in perception. Then you can begin the process of capturing leads and driving revenue.
#3: Optimize Your Strategy with KPIs
As you developed your strategy, you had goals in mind: Our content should change people’s mind about X, help them see the benefits of Y, etc. Now you need to put those goals into measurable KPIs with matching metrics, like so:

The most important part? Set benchmarks before you start. Without benchmarks, you have nothing to compare your new campaign to.
#4: Create a Powerful Story
This is my favorite part: Take your content strategy and turn it into the story you will tell throughout your campaign.

That means building a bridge of narrative that connects your audience from their current state – their wants, needs, pain points – to your solution. It means helping them solve multiple problems along the way, even problems that have little to do with your offering.

For example, this campaign from our client Prophix ultimately leads their audience to a solution: Using real-time data with their plug-in for PowerPoint. But along the way, it helps finance leaders level up their presentation skills in many other ways, along with advice from influential experts (more on that later).
#5: Optimize Your Content Mix
With your story outline in place, the next step is to create the framework for your content. Lee recommends a hub and spoke model. Anchor content is supported by crosslinked content about secondary topics.

Get creative as you plan your mix: You can include the standard blog posts, of course, but also look at quizzes, infographics, audio and video. Also think about content with built-in amplification, like guest blogs from influencers (more on that in the next point) and posting your own blogs on third-party sites.
6: Boost Quality & Reach with Influencers
For B2B marketing, “influencer” doesn’t mean someone holding up your product in Instagram photos. It’s more about developing relationships with people who are genuinely influential to your target audience, co-creating content with them, and making it easy for them to help promote the content.

Or, as Lee puts it: “People who invest their time to help you make a thing, are generally motivated to help share the thing, to make it successful.”

The planning you’ve done so far will help make sure that your content is aligned both with SEO and with your influencers’ areas of expertise.
#7: Create Powerful Content
As you’re creating content, Lee recommends a hub-and-spoke model. You have a central, substantial asset that addresses search demand and includes influencer contributions. Then you augment that hub with secondary content that further explores side topics (and meets demands expressed in longtail keywords.

For TopRank Marketing, our go-to hub is the “Power Page.” It’s a definitive guide, optimized for search and for humans to read. It’s specific, lengthy, and goes into deep detail. Here’s a wireframe Lee shared:


#8: Create Your Content Promotion Timeline
When you’re creating content this great, you can’t just graft on promotion after it’s done. Lee says, “The best time to plan your promotion is when you’re planning the content.” Let’s say it again in bold: The best time to plan your promotion is when you’re planning the content.

When you plan in advance, you can build in repurposing like influencer round-up posts, infographics, even capturing audio interviews instead of written so you can turn them into podcast episodes.

Here’s what a well-rounded promotion timeline might look like:


#9: Measure & Optimize
Now we’ve reached the stage that turns all of your effort so far into an ongoing marketing commitment – the kind that breaks free from yo-yo marketing and gets sustainable results.

Instead of publishing, having your initial promotion push, and moving on to the next campaign, keep watching your metrics, make changes based on your observations, and repeat.

Lee points out that we often optimize when content isn’t performing well, but we should also be looking at content that’s performing better than expected. What made that content and promotion mix special? How can we duplicate it? How can we make it even better?

Here are a few metrics to measure:


#10: Repurpose with Purpose
Part of the optimization process is getting every bit of juice out of the content you worked so hard creating. If you included repurposing in your strategy at the planning stage, you’re good to go: Turn your interviews into round-up posts, your blog posts into infographics, infographics into motion graphics, etc.

But don’t just do it to make more stuff, Lee says. Rather, repurpose to suit your content to different audiences. For example, audio content as a podcast might appeal to a younger set of decision makers who wouldn’t read a 2,000 word blog post.

Or think about different verticals: Imagine your audience is both IT decision influencers and executive decision makers. With a few cosmetic changes, the same content can be optimized to target each audience individually. As Lee put it, “Personalization is the best kind of repurposing.”
Content Marketing Fitness for the Long Haul
The hardest part of losing weight is keeping from gaining it back. It’s easy to fall into old habits and lose the progress you’ve made. The same is true of marketing. Your biggest challenge isn’t a disinterested audience or a boss who won’t expand your budget – it’s simple human inertia. And the only way to fight it is to commit to a sustained effort, make sure your whole team is on board, and embark on your content fitness journey together.

Need more Content Marketing World in your life? Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog for more tips, tricks, and live coverage. And follow our team: @leeodden@NiteWrites@azeckman, and @toprank on Twitter for real-time insights.

 

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12 Must-Have Skills for B2B Content Marketers

B2B Content Marketing Skills

B2B Content Marketing Skills

Scene from a dinner party:

“So, Josh, what do you do?”

“I’m in marketing.”

“Oh, like Mad Men? Ad campaigns and stuff?”

“No, it’s content marketing.”

“Oh, like the Wendy’s Twitter account?”

“…Sure… like that.”

I’ve had variations on the above conversation more times than I can count. I’ll usually leave it at “Wendy’s Twitter account” in the interest of changing the subject. No one has the patience for, “I write business-to-business content designed to help people do their jobs better, which also builds affinity for a client brand, with the end goal of influencing purchase decisions.”

So most people think I just write fun stuff all day, that it’s a purely creative job. But my fellow B2B marketers know better. Content marketing requires an incredibly diverse set of skills, and “innate writing ability” isn’t even the most important one.

[bctt tweet=”Most people think I just write fun stuff all day, that it’s a purely creative job. But as my fellow #B2B marketers know, #contentmarketing requires a diverse set of skills. @NiteWrites” username=”toprank”]

Here’s my list of must-have B2B content marketing skills. If you’re looking to get into the career, fill out your team, or, say, hire a marketing agency, keep these in mind.
12 Must-Have B2B Content Marketing Skills
This list is divided into two categories: The “hard skills” that you learn through instruction, and the soft skills that rely more on personal development and human interaction.
Four Hard Skills
#1 – Search Engine Optimization
You don’t have to be a SemRushin’, Google Analytics wizard to be a content creator and strategist. But creating great content does require a solid understanding of modern SEO practices. You should know how to understand search intent, dig into ambiguous keywords, and create best-answer content that meets search demand.

#2 – Social Media Marketing
You may have a dedicated social media person or team, but content marketers should still know how to create compelling B2B social posts that attract attention without breaking the brand voice. You should be up to date on what type of content performs best on each platform.

#3 – Influencer Marketing
Content marketers should know how to co-create content with influencers. That means writing a framework that allows for collaboration, asking the right questions to guide influencer responses, and even conducting intelligent interviews. Content marketers’ expertise makes all the difference in the resulting content feeling cohesive and compelling.

#4 – Measurement
Measurement is what turns content into content marketing. Content marketers should be able to strategize, create goals and metrics that match them, track progress, and ultimately optimize over time.
Eight Soft Skills
#1 – Empathy
The heart and soul of any content marketing is empathy. You have to be able to take the customer’s perspective and make a human connection. Empathy is even more important in B2B content, because it keeps the content focused on people.

It’s easy to lose the human connection when you’re writing about container-based software-as-a-service platforms. That empathy for the people, the buyer, the end user, should be what drives the content.

[bctt tweet=”That empathy for the people, the buyer, the end user, should be what drives the content. @NiteWrites” username=”toprank”]

#2 – Creativity
I would argue B2B content requires even more creativity than B2C. The difference is having to work within strict limitations. Big B2B brands have whole departments concerned with brand reputation, brand voice, standards and practices, approved image libraries and fonts… Content creators have to produce something eye-catching and meaningful without breaking any of these limitations. And they have to know when it makes sense to push the boundaries.

#3 – Communication
The success of B2B content depends on explaining complex concepts in simple terms. You may know all the ins and outs of your solution, but odds are your audience won’t. Clear, jargon-free, conversational writing that offers value is the only way to succeed.

#4 – Organization
This skill is important for any B2B marketer, but especially if you work at an agency. We’re working on a dozen different clients at any one time, each with multiple assets in various stages of development. Without organizational skills, it would be impossible to get everything done on time (even with a dedicated project manager on staff).

#5 – Motivation
I read recently about a man who had been on the payroll of a major corporation for over a year without ever doing any work. Seriously. Somewhere between restructuring and management turnover, he simply got separated from responsibility without losing his salary.

via GIPHY

That won’t ever happen for a B2B content marketer. There’s nowhere to hide: We’re responsible for concrete, quantifiable, and quality deliverables. There’s no such thing as slacking off, and there’s no such thing as writer’s block. The ability to push past obstacles, buckle down and get the work done is vital.

#6 – Confidence
Part of the job description is defending and explaining your work to stakeholders. For an agency, that includes account managers and clients. For a marketing department, that might include the executive suite, too. B2B content marketers need the (justified) confidence to advocate for content and approach they know will be effective.

#7 – Humility
The flip-side of confidence is the ability to put the content ahead of one’s individual ego. B2B content is bound to go through layers of review, with each stakeholder adding their own critique and suggestions. Humility means that you can take in constructive criticism and apply it with an eye toward producing the best content possible. While confidence is key, knowing your way doesn’t have to be the only way is equally important.

#8 – Collaboration
Finally, B2B content marketing is a team sport. It’s not about making a name for yourself — you have blog posts for that. It’s about partnering across areas of specialty to create something stunning. I found that my content got even better when I involved the design team from the start, for example. Working closely with design, SEO, influencer and social specialists only makes the work better. Here’s a shot of the gang I get to work with every day:


B2B Content Marketing Is a Game of Skill
I’ll admit it: Before I got into the field, I thought content marketing was just getting paid to write all day. Now I know there’s a lot more to the job than just filling buckets with prose. Content marketers are writers, strategizers, empathizers, collaborators, and so much more.

Need to level up your B2B content marketing? Our highly-skilled team is ready and waiting.

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How to Rescue Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy

There are few companies out there that don’t realize the necessity of having a strong content marketing strategy. It has become a tactic many marketers and executives accept as essential to compete in today’s markets and build relationships with potential customers.

And recently, the big content question for many B2B companies has advanced from “Should we produce content?” to “How do we produce quality content that can help us increase traffic and ROI?”

As a result of the reign of “King Content,” we’ve entered into a thriving and competitive environment where writers, designers, and managers have opportunities to develop their skills and make a living in corporate environments.

You can see this in the inbound marketing job growth in just one year below:

Showing how seo and content marketing jobs are on the rise

These opportunities also mean the content landscape is increasingly competitive, and targeted audience attention is harder to capture and occupy. If you’re producing written, video, or audio content, keep reading to ensure you’re not leaving money on the table with underperforming deliverables.

And keep your eyes peeled for 3 actionable tips you’ll need to rescue your B2B content marketing strategy.

Why is B2B Content Different?

B2B content pieces tend to revolve around complex decision-making processes, so content marketers have a lot to tackle when it comes to building trust and connection with their audiences.

Because of this, it’s more critical with B2B to provide content that brings actionable advice to your audience that helps them address real issues marketers face.

Common pain points B2B content should aim to alleviate (that are not typically relevant to B2C content) include:

Aligning with stakeholders
Getting internal and external followers interested in new marketing initiatives
Managing skills and talent gaps on your teams
Building compelling business cases for your projects to gain executive level buy-in

So, make sure you are shaping your B2B content to fit these needs.

Comic about the complicated sales process

Why Your Content Marketing Strategy Needs Rescuing

Too often, content failures result from misalignment and not giving your audience valuable materials.

Maybe you’re publishing content in the wrong places, producing mediocre work, not engaging enough with your audience, or you’re missing the mark on what they’re interested in.

Here’s a quick growth snapshot that happened when our team recently rescued a B2B content marketing strategy.

When this client first started working with us, they were averaging about 200 organic users to their blog, per month. After six months of consistently implementing the tips I’ll outline below, they are now gaining over 15,000 visitors per month.

Another chart showing the increase in traffic after implementing this b2b content marketing strategy

Below, I’ve included a hypothetical situation that you may find yourself in. In fact, I’ve based this off of a situation that one of my clients faced. The data included is from a real content marketing strategy that hit the mark (and that you can try out yourself).

The Scene

Picture yourself at your desk. You have coffee in your hand, headphones in your ears, and you bounce between Slack and your inbox, working hard to meet deadlines and deliver great work.

But when it comes time to gather metrics, analyze the data, and prepare quarterly reports, you notice your results aren’t looking like you expected.

Your heart sinks as you discover conversion volume is on a downward trend, organic traffic is down too, domain authority hasn’t risen, and your team is looking to you for answers.

You need a plan of action and you need it now. You’ve been focused on daily workflow for months and didn’t dive into your data to discover if your efforts were working, until now.

Luckily, you find the SEO and content hotline at DigitalMarketer (which you’re reading right now) and obtain actionable tips to find a way through the fog.

(NOTE: Before you get started, you need to know who your ideal customer is, where they are, and what they will buy. Download our FREE proven Customer Avatar Worksheet now and get clear on who you’re selling to.)

Customer Avatar

Get Connected to Get Aligned

Start by clearing your mind of what you think you know about your audience. Instead, ponder what your audience needs when they consume content.

What will your content bring to them that they can’t get anywhere else?

At the top of the funnel, it’s a mistake to be too quick to prescribe specific solutions. Instead, this stage should help people understand the full scope of their problems before diving into a solution.

So instead of “How can I solve their problem,” try asking “What do they want to talk about?”

If the blog is aimed at attracting CTOs who are in the market for ITSM software in the next 18 months, wouldn’t it make sense to consider what else they care about? Or speak to CTOs and ask what they need to know to build a business case or make a decision for their organization?

You’ll have a really hard time fitting that need if your objective is to sell to them right away.

You might ask yourself, “But isn’t selling our product/services the point of creating content?”

And I would answer that the reader is consuming content at this stage to get their generic questions answered. You have to EARN their relationship here, so they trust your actionable content down the road.

(RELATED: Learn about the different stages of a customer’s journey HERE.)

Your objective should be to simply establish a connection. Seth Godin is on the money when he says “…we market with people, not at them.”

Your audience may need specific information on ITSM software today, but many don’t yet. You’re missing an opportunity to get their attention and build your brand by writing only about your services. This brings us to step one of rescuing your B2B content strategy.

B2B Content Strategy Step #1:

Join your audience where they are rather than pushing your objectives on them.

Effective content works to create a bond, and ultimately facilitates a conversation (rather than creating a conversion). Here’s how you can realign:

What your audience cares about is way bigger than your business

1.   Respect the Value Exchange

Remember, there’s a transaction dynamic to respect. The content and value you provide needs to build sufficient trust and credibility with your user, and ultimately betters their perception of your company.
This will improve your chances for them to make an exchange. You can see that here, “47% of buyers viewed 3–5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.” (Demand Gen Report, 2016)

2.   Introduce a Customer Feedback Loop

Talk to your sales team about common questions and objections they receive from your audience. Find out their most effective responses! You can then use this feedback in your content topic ideation and calls to action.
Use social listening. Observe how your brand and competitors are discussed on social media (Facebook groups, Twitter, Yelp) and on forums (Quora, Reddit). What is the buzz around your brand? Do people have questions they need answered?

3.   Tackle Difficult Topics

CXL calls it “Movement First.” Consider offering contrarian perspectives. Go beyond educating and cast a future potential scenario. Help people see a vision for what your industry could become.

GrooveHQ’s Blog shares their vision to help business leaders become empowered to grow and improve their customer service performance, whether they use GrooveHQ products or another solution.

Occam’s Razor deconstructs complex marketing analytics topics into paradigms that are simple and useful. By doing so, it shares their vision for the power of analytics in decision making.

Maybe the basic topics are being covered sufficiently by existing blogs, and a fresh perspective on a particular topic is what your niche needs. Do your research and find out what can help them solve specific problems.

(NOTE: Before you get started, you need to know who your ideal customer is, where they are, and what they will buy. Download our FREE proven Customer Avatar Worksheet now and get clear on who you’re selling to.)

Customer Avatar

2.   Conduct Better Keyword Research

Avoid choosing keywords based solely on search volume. It’s helpful to also consider the intent of the search query and competitiveness based on who’s already ranking when choosing keywords.

Target keywords based on data. We often see pages built for personas or verticals that don’t have any real keyword research behind them, which results in a great article that gets little to no organic traffic. Not ideal!

When you are shifting your content to better fit your audience’s needs, you have an important choice to make. Do you focus on creating new content, or go back and optimize existing content?

If you have quality content that could be optimized to better reach your audience, start there and produce new content when you’re ready.

Dive into your keyword research and find opportunities for each of your top blogs to rank better. Using the techniques we just described, use this strategy to better connect with your audience.

Then, once your existing content fits the bill, you can move on to the next step in saving your B2B content strategy.

B2B Content Strategy Step #2:

Expand the depth of your content to provide a thorough explanation or discussion of the topics.

1.   Obtain a Sufficient Word Count

It’s essential to provide an ample word count to compete with pages currently ranking on page one of Google’s search results. However, don’t simply add fluff words for word count’s sake.
Expand your content to cover additional subtopics with a depth of information that other pages lack. “The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.

2.   Post Quality Content Often

When asked how frequently blog articles should be published, consider this statistic from Hubspot, “B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3 times more traffic than those blogging 0­–1 times per month.”

3.   Expand Keyword and Topic Focus

Target less competitive, longer-tail keywords to start. Long-tail keywords refer to keyword phrases containing at least three words and are narrowly focused on niche topics. This opposes shorter phrase keywords with mass appeal. An example of a short-tail keyword is “CRM Software,” and a long-tail version would be “ERP and CRM Software Solutions”.
After you’ve gained traction from the right audience, pivot to higher-volume keywords and make your mark.

Now, you’re ready to develop a more personalized and relevant funnel path for your readers.  It’s time to start strategically targeting your content to the right step in your customer’s journey.

B2B Content Strategy Step #3:

Go “full-funnel” with your strategy (TOFU MOFU BOFU).

1.   Plan Content for Each Stage of the Funnel

TOFU (top of the funnel) content should bring in relevant traffic and increase brand awareness.

This content answers this general question, “Why is this topic important to me and my goals?”

Sharing related blogs or videos is an effective way to foster interaction at this stage.

MOFU (middle of the funnel) content offers help for people looking to solve problems and to reinforce your expertise to them.

These offers help visitors progress from their entry point to the next level down the marketing funnel.

BOFU (bottom of the funnel) content meets your readers when they’re ready to make a purchasing decision.

How can you share insight that builds trust with your audience and makes them pick you over your competitors?

This is the perfect transition to offer a free trial, demo, or sales call. Seal the deal here!

2.   Offer Relevant Calls to Action

Here’s another perspective on the statistic we shared above, “47% of buyers viewed 3–5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.” If your company doesn’t have lead scoring and marketing automation tools in place, this suggests it would be more effective to “sell” another content piece in your call to action (CTA) instead of some type of “Contact Us” or “Speak with Sales” CTA.
Ensure your CTAs are appropriately placed in your content and not thrown in at the very bottom. You want your audience to have access to them.

The Phoenix Rises

Now that you are freshly-informed about ways to enhance your content marketing strategy, it’s just a matter of trusting the process and continuing to diligently work it.

Remember the traffic growth screenshot above? Throughout those early months we monitored the site for positive signals like consistent relevant keyword rankings growth and modest traffic increases.

We worked diligently, starting in November, and did not start see big traffic gains until the end of February when 10 percent traffic increases started becoming 100 percent traffic increases.

Chart showing increase in traffic after implementing the b2b content marketing strategy here

Follow this process and increase your probability of traffic and conversions growth. Soon, you’ll be looking forward to showing off your impressive reports to your C-suite.

(NOTE: Before you get started, you need to know who your ideal customer is, where they are, and what they will buy. Download our FREE proven Customer Avatar Worksheet now and get clear on who you’re selling to.)

Customer Avatar

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Content Marketing Planning: How to Build Your Editorial Calendar

Building an Editorial Calendar

Building an Editorial Calendar

I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off!

Opening today’s post up with a bit of levity felt fitting, because calendars can cause much anxiety. They bring to mind deadlines, meticulous organization, and time crunches, which are often oppressive realities for marketers with a million things on their plates.

But the truth is that you’re likely to encounter much more dread if you don’t house your content planning within a documented and strategic editorial calendar for blogging. Building out a set schedule (with a bit of flexibility) ultimately makes your life easier because it provides a guiding light, and ensures your content strategy remains cohesive and oriented around your objectives.

In other words, editorial calendars are no joke. Here’s how you can construct one that seriously drives your company’s blog (or any other content initiative) forward. 
Fortify Your Editorial Calendar in Five Steps
Whether you’ve already got a content calendar, which you hope to refine and improve, or you’re starting from scratch, these five steps will put you on track.
Step 1: Crystallize Your Objectives
The biggest issue with many content plans is that they’re aimless and wayward. When you’re figuring things out on the fly, it can be difficult to tie everything back to the same goals and desired outcomes. So the first step is to zoom out and nail down what you’re trying to achieve with the content in question. For instance, if your blog is designed to generate leads with specific audiences, are you tethering each piece on your calendar back to this outcome in some way? 

Placing objectives front-and-center is a key benefit of documenting your content strategy, and making them the underpinning of your planning will help ensure everything you publish has a purpose. 

via GIPHY
Step 2: Chart Your Pillars and Timely Focuses
With objectives clearly defined, you can formulate content pillars that will serve as the cornerstones of your editorial calendar. Also known as topic clusters, these are the general categories that all of your content will nest under. Pillars are determined by the intersection of what you want to be known for, and where demand exists. They should be informed by SEO research around keywords and queries, hitting the sweet spot between search volume, expertise, and buying intent.

Here on the TopRank Marketing Blog, our pillars are aligned with our agency’s core services — content marketing, SEO, influencer marketing — and so pretty much everything we create for the blog approaches these topics from various angles for people who are interested in learning about them and looking for insight.

Don’t view content pillars as restricting; there are a wide range of ways you can address almost any topic, either directly or tangentially. Organizing your calendar around them will help ensure you stay focused, and relevant to your target audience. In addition to identifying a topical mix, you can start to define your content types — how-tos, thought leadership, influencer collaborations, conversion-driven pieces, etc. These can be aligned with various stages of the buying cycle, and mapped back to the key objectives established in Step 1.

At this point, it’s also smart to map out industry events or seasonal milestones that you’ll want to create content around. 

[bctt tweet=”Don’t view content pillars as restricting; there are a wide range of ways you can address almost any topic, either directly or tangentially. @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #ContentPlanning” username=”toprank”]
Step 3: Coordinate with Your Broader Strategy
This is a vital consideration that is all too frequently overlooked. Whatever channel you’re scheduling content for — be it a blog, email, social, etc. — think about ways you can coordinate with other departments or disciplines in the organization. For example, does your sales team experience higher volumes of inquiries at certain times of year? Or are they attending a trade show next month that you could support with content? Maybe one of your executives will be speaking at a conference, and you want to queue up some thought leadership around the subject of their talk in the days leading up.

A strong editorial calendar should reflect the company holistically. In this sense, it can be helpful to make your calendar visible to everyone and not just the folks on your team. 

[bctt tweet=”A strong editorial calendar should reflect the company holistically. @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #ContentPlanning ” username=”toprank”]
Step 4: Plot Your Cadence and Schedule Out Your Content
How often will you create content? And why? We all know it’s valuable to publish regularly, because this is how you build an invested and trusting audience, but “regularly” can mean different things under different circumstances. Is it daily? Three times a week? Multiple times per day? This decision shouldn’t driven by guesswork, but by data. 

Although it’s a little older now, HubSpot has a helpful post on determining how often companies should blog based on variables like company size and B2B vs. B2C. But you’ll also want to dig into your own visitor behavior analytics and draw conclusions on what your audience wants. Test different cadences and compare the impacts. As a general rule, more publishing equals more traffic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be worth your while to create new content each day. 

As Alfred Lua of Buffer writes: “I would recommend experimenting and finding a suitable editorial cadence based on your content goals and the amount of time you have. There is no one right editorial cadence. HubSpot publishes several articles a day while Backlinko publishes less than once a month.” (As a side note, we highlighted Backlinko’s quality-over-quantity approach here earlier this year.)

Having made this decision, you can start filling out the calendar appropriately, using your content pillars and organizational directives as guides. Plan as far out as you’re comfortable (at least one month, but forecasting three or more months is even better). Make sure you’re building in enough topical variety to keep things fresh and diverse. Once you get your schedule documented, it becomes easy to spot gaps or overloads. 
Step 5: Leave Room for Change
Note that you don’t want to completely fill out your editorial calendar. As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to leave some flexibility so you can nimbly address timely matters as they arise and account for the (expected) unexpected. Contently editor-in-chief Jordan Teicher proposes a 75/25 rule, wherein one out of every four slots in your calendar is left blank. 

“In my years managing the site, I’m certain of one thing: s*** happens,” Teicher writes. “People miss deadlines. Sources don’t respond in time. The design team can’t find the right image. My day gets stuffed with meetings, which prevents me from editing a draft. A flexible content calendar is about more than just coming up with ideas for the current news cycle. It’s also about realistic expectations.”
Smart Practices for Getting the Most Out of Your Editorial Calendar
The five steps above will help you solidify your calendar. Here are a few additional tips to help make the process smoother and more effective.

Hold group brainstorming sessions. Usually, the toughest thing about building out a content calendar is coming up with enough concepts to fill it in. I recommend setting up a time where a bunch of your creatives come together to load up the pipeline with ideas (run these ideas past your content pillars and SEO research to assess strategic viability). Make sure to incorporate voices from various departments. 
Slice up and repurpose. It’s always valuable to get the most mileage possible out of your content. If you’ve got a big, meaty blog post planned on a certain subject, why not divvy it up into three parts and run it as a series? If you’re looking for a reliable performer next month, why not take your most successful piece from last month and flip it into an infographic, or conceive a follow-up post that expands on it? Repurposing is a great way to get the most out of your content leftovers.
Lean on the right tools. For some content teams, a spreadsheet or even a Word doc can be sufficient for organizing your editorial calendar. In other cases, this initiative can be run through your project management software. But for high-volume teams with many elements to track and account for, it might be helpful to go with a dedicated content-centric solution. There are plenty of them out there, including Contently, DivvyHQ, Kapost, CoSchedule, and more.
Create comprehensive coverage. What this looks like can vary in different scenarios. It might mean approaching your topical pillars with best-answer content that addresses every subtopic your customers are interested in learning about (especially those queries carrying any level of purchase intent). If you’re in a crowded niche, it might mean gobbling up every bit of white space your competitors are missing. If your content is oriented toward B2B buyers, it might mean creating content for every role on distributed buying committees, and speaking to each stage of a lengthy purchase cycle

Right on Schedule
If you feel apprehensive about building an editorial calendar from scratch, you’re not alone. It can feel intimidating to schedule out so far in advance, and to consistently manage and maintain this resource. But I assure you, once you get into the groove, your life will be much easier and your results will improve. 

Following the steps and recommendations above will help you stay on target and derive maximum value from your efforts.

Want to add further efficiency and foresight to your strategy? Learn more about getting ahead with your content planning

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Cooked to Strategic Perfection: The Layers of a Deliciously Integrated Content Marketing Lasagna

Few things in this world are as delicious as a corner piece of lasagna. For starters, the top layer of cheese is both gooey and crispy. The tomato sauce is sweet yet peppery. The meat? It’s flavorful and hearty. And don’t get me started on the ricotta and mozzarella layers—my favorite by far.

via GIPHY

Lasagna is the perfect dish. And its perfection is not just defined by quality ingredients, but how each ingredient is artfully layered together to bring satisfaction with each and every bite. That’s where the magic happens.

Cooking a delectable lasagna to perfection is not unlike crafting an integrated approach to content marketing. On their own, your tactics may whet your audience’s appetite, but don’t pack the tasty punch of working together to make a lasting impact or drive savory results. Paid, SEO, content, social, influencer, design—all need to work in tandem to ensure your marketing objectives are met.

What are the essential layers for a scrumptiously integrated content marketing lasagna? Here’s a little cooking demonstration.
The Layers of a Deliciously Integrated Content Marketing Lasagna
Layer No. 1: Structural SEO Noodles
Noodles are to lasagna as SEO is to content marketing. These are the support layers, helping bind the rest of tactical ingredients together while baking. They provide the structural integrity of the marketing dish—and add some much-loved, comforting carbohydrates. 

From providing insights about the competitive landscape or revealing content or optimization opportunities based on your current search positioning, SEO tactics help provide context and actionable next steps for developing (and optimizing) your best-answer content marketing strategy. And without multiple layers of topical focus or the right contextual firmness, it all falls apart.

[bctt tweet=”Noodles are to lasagna as SEO is to content marketing. These are the support layers, helping bind the rest of tactical ingredients together while baking.” username=”toprank”]
Layer No. 2: Meaty and Savory Content
Most of the nutritional value of lasagna is rooted in the meat—or vegetables if that’s your thing. (Yes, I choose to believe lasagna is very nutritious and essential for a healthy body.) When it comes to content marketing, the content you create is what brings value to your audience. It’s what gives them delectable insights, solutions, and answers to their burning questions as they make their journey.

However, to really succeed here, your content layer needs to be flavorful, well-seasoned, and fresh. It needs to be the best answer with a great user experience, impressive visuals, incredible storytelling, and valuable information.

This means the flavor profile of your content needs to be multidimensional, including different content types (e.g. text, video, and/or audio, or interactive) and fit with your audience’s unique tastes.
Layer No. 3: Saucy and Seasoned Influencers
While well-seasoned meat and perfectly cooked pasta noodles can satisfy hunger in some cases, it does not yet make for a flavorful lasagna dish. This is where the tomato sauce comes in. 

via GIPHY

Tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic come together to make a delectable tomato sauce to mix with the meat and coat the noodles. But there’s one key ingredient content marketers can add to make an especially spicy sauce: Influencers.

Influencers add authority, credibility, flavorful insight, and even more meat to your content. Their seasoned advice also helps bring new, untapped audiences to the dinner table. But the key here is to season with care. It’s important to select, qualify, and recruit the right influencers depending on your goals, target audience, topic, and so on. Take their reach and follower size out of the equation—focus on the unique and relevant flavor they can bring to your content and audience.

[bctt tweet=”Identify the topics that are most important to your audience and how they align with the topics you want to be known for. Then identify the right types of relevant influencers. @azeckman” username=”toprank”]
Lay No. 4: Cheesy Brand Goodness
As I mentioned, the ricotta cheese mixture is my absolute favorite lasagna layer. This creamy goodness envelops the meat sauce, adding a subtle flavors and elevating the dish as a whole.

Your brand voice and personality is this cheesy, creamy goodness. Your audience needs to get a taste of who you are and how you can help, without having their senses overpowered with product messaging and misplaced calls to action.

While under most circumstances I’d argue the more the merrier when it comes to cheese helpings, when it comes to crafting an integrated content marketing strategy that helps your brand shine, balance is the name of the game.

[bctt tweet=”Your audience needs to get a taste of who you are and how you can help, without having their senses overpowered with product messaging and misplaced calls to action. @annieleuman” username=”toprank”]
Layer No. 5: The Promotional Parmesan
You know when you’re eating at your favorite Italian restaurant and you’re asked if you’d like some fresh parmesan to top off your meal? Of course, you reply in the affirmative and wait until there’s a lovely dusting (or a solid coating if you’re like me) of freshly grated cheese for you to enjoy. 

That final, top layer of cheese is key for any good lasagna or any integrated digital marketing strategy. But just because it’s the last layer added, doesn’t mean it’s an afterthought. Your promotional parm has been planned all along. 

Organic social media. Email marketing. Paid social, search, or display ads. Third-party editorial. Influencer activation. Cross-site promotion. As you pull your freshly baked content marketing lasagna out of the oven, the tantalizing top layer is the first thing your audience will see. How will you attract your audience? How will you entice them to take a bite? How will you ensure they’re satisfied and asking for more?

[bctt tweet=”Content promotion can’t be effective if it’s an afterthought. Your best practice would be to make promotion part of content planning. @leeodden” username=”toprank”]

Read: 50 Content Promotion Tactics to Help Your Content Get Amazing Exposure
Cook Your Integrated Marketing Lasagna to Perfection
A well-crafted and delicious lasagna has expert layers, with each layer’s flavors and textures coming together to deliver perfection in every bite. A great content marketing strategy does, too. 

Leverage SEO tactics to provide foundational insights that can be built upon with meaty content. In addition, perfect your secret influencer sauce to coat your content and SEO noodles in flavor and insight. Finally, ensure your top layer of ooey gooey cheese is part of your cooking strategy from the beginning.

Looking for more tasty content marketing recipes? Learn how to whip up a strategic and mouthwatering Repurposed Content Cobbler.

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The Community Imperative: Engaging in Conversations Rather Than Disseminating Information

Building Online Communities in B2B

Building Online Communities in B2B

What does effective marketing engagement look like?

In the common model we see today, it’s something like this: Brands push out relevant messaging, hoping to compel a response or interaction that leads to a conversation (and maybe ultimately a conversion). This can be anything from a comment on a social media post to a chat window initiation.

Nothing wrong with that. These back-and-forths between brands and individuals are important ingredients toward building trust and loyalty. The problem is that, as a sole method for driving engagement, the cast-and-wait approach is too dependent on explicit triggers to spark these interactions.  

Devising and creating content that drives targeted engagement is hard work. It’s worthwhile, but hard, and sometimes even well conceived plans miss the mark. What if you were able to develop a self-driven engagement engine, which fostered strategic conversations built awareness among your most valuable customers and prospects?

Enter: Communities.
Why Communities Matter to Digital Marketers
In his seminal book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin writes about turning scattered groups of followers into a unified “tribe,” which he defines as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

Human beings have long gravitated toward these communal experiences, elevating the collective power of their interests, beliefs, or passions. According to Godin, a group needs two things to become a tribe:

A shared idea
A way to communicate

The internet has taken care of No. 2, making it easy for strangers around the globe to come together via message boards, social media, subreddits, etc. So really it’s about identifying that mutual idea, or focal point, and taking the lead in rallying people around it.
Coordinating Communities for B2B Marketing
It’s not uncommon for tribes to form around a B2C product or service. For example, my fiancée follows several social media groups dedicated to Oreo cookies. People in these communities share updates about new flavors, and where they can be found. Other examples of strong brand communities include Sephora, LEGO, and Starbucks.

In the B2B space, this is more challenging. People aren’t generally drawn to, say, cybersecurity software in the same way they are to their favorite coffee or cosmetics brand. But that’s not to say there isn’t a deep level of passion for cybersecurity — it’s a prevalent issue throughout our society, and one that many professionals spend their entire days thinking about. The key lies in hitting the right resonant note and facilitating connections.

In the case of cybersecurity specialists, we have to ask: What questions burn in their minds? Which elements of the subject excite or agitate them? Where do discussions among hardcore followers tend to center? This type of empathetic mindset should be at the core of our DNA as modern marketers.

Building B2B communities doesn’t always mean trying to create a “brand community” where your company and its offerings are the primary focus; this can be tough to accomplish, and even when you do, you’re unlikely to pull in many members outside of your existing customer base. The more effective approach, from my view, is building communities around interests and commonalities that align directly with what you do.

Pinpointing the ideal focal point for your community requires an acute understanding of the people you serve, derived through copious research. We can apply many of the same tactics for identifying best answer opportunities to arrive at data-driven conclusions about the most avid areas of curiosity for our audiences. If your customers are repeatedly asking the same questions to Google, they probably want to discuss them amongst one another as well.
Where Can You Build Online Communities?
Let’s say you’re interested in starting a community around a certain topic relevant to your brand. Where might go about doing so? Here are some popular options:

Facebook Groups: It’s the world’s most popular social media platform and a prevalent hub for connecting around common interests. We wrote recently about the value of Facebook groups for B2B brands. And Facebook’s recently announced redesign will put groups at the center of the experience.
LinkedIn Groups: Often a better contextual fit than Facebook for B2B social media groups, as LinkedIn is (of course) structured around professional topics. Last year LinkedIn made its Groups feature more accessible by integrating it into the mobile app.
Forum/Message Board: The online message board traces its origins back nearly to the dawn of the internet, when it was called a bulletin board system (BBS). Today, these platforms for organized digital discourse remain prevalent and — when well populated — highly active and engaging. This post from HubSpot offers some step-by-step guidance for launching your community in such a fashion.
Microsite: A special section of your website dedicated entirely to allowing your customers and audience members to interact with one another. It might be a message board built within your site, or a more customized setup. Whatever the case, you’ll want to make sure it’s easy to navigate and follow conversation threads.

Benefits of B2B Community-Building
“Community is important because it brings people together. Community keeps people loyal, makes them feel like they matter. It also lets the company show how much they appreciate their customers,” according to Mary Green, a community-building specialist who shared her insights with B2B News Network.

Beyond the overarching loyalty imperative, here are a few other practical advantages to creating an online community:

Firsthand audience research. Marketers are always endeavoring to understand what matters most to their audiences. In many cases, this requires considerable guesswork. But by monitoring a community, you can watch conversations play out organically, seeing what impassioned followers talk about and how they talk about it. This can serve as a crucial springboard for your content planning. It might even help inspire new product features or service offerings.
User-generated content. “Brands and influencers can make great content, but the phenomenal stuff comes from the discussion. User-generated content is gold,” says Green. I’ve written here in the past about the power of UGC for authenticity, and online communities can be an excellent resource for uncovering it.
Finding and cultivating influencers. Within these communities, you’ll frequently see particular experts emerging with strong voices or magnetic insights. These might be candidates to incorporate more deeply into your influencer marketing strategy.

B2B Brands Running Strong Communities
Looking for inspiration? Here are a few companies that set the right example with B2B community-building:
Bank of America
They major national bank created a small business online community, which they describe as “a forum for small business ideas, insider tips, and the industry knowledge you need to help your small business grow.”

As you scroll through the links and discussions within, you’ll find that much of it is unrelated to banking or even financial matters, and that’s just fine. The point is that numerous customers and prospects are coming to BoA’s website to talk shop.

Bank of America Online Community
Intuit
The QuickBooks Community is basically a public knowledge bank where users can help each other solve problems and learn new things. There are product-centric areas for QB troubleshooting, as well as general business discussions. Intuit company reps are also active participants in the community.

QuickBooks Online Community
Jamf
Jamf Nation describes itself as “the largest Apple IT management community in the world.” It’s a perfect example of owning a niche, and mobilizing a community while keeping product promotion on the backburner. Members are welcomed to “Dialog with your fellow IT professionals, gain insight about Apple device deployments, share best practices and bounce ideas off each other.”

Jamf Nation Online Community
Find Your Tribe
As marketing emphasis shifts more and more toward delivering holistic experiences, community-building should be a key consideration for practitioners everywhere, especially in B2B where the opportunity is especially ripe. Herein lies the next frontier of digital engagement.

Want to learn more about B2B brands that are finding more authentic ways to engage? Check out our post: Flipping the B2B Marketing Script: 7 Brands That Talk to Consumers, Not Companies

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Content Curation Inspiration: Types, Examples, & Use Cases for B2B Marketers

Content Curation Inspiration for B2B Marketers

If you create and share content, curation is part of your B2B marketing strategy. From seasoning a blog post with key third-party statistics to sharing an interesting article from an industry publication or influencer across your social channels, you’re curating.

But content curation has a place beyond adding an insight or two to your content.

With large volumes of information available today and short attention spans, curation allows content marketers to create more convenient, valuable content experiences for their target audience, while growing thought leadership, bolstering their content calendar, and increasing production efficiency.

What types of curation exist? How are B2B brands doing curation? When does it make sense to do curation? Let’s dive in.
Types of Content Curation and B2B Examples
The Curation Kitchen Staples: Microcontent
Statistics. Quotes. Tips. Social media commentary. Third-party videos. Gifs. Memes. Curated microcontent is what gives your content its flavor—whether its used as seasoning in a long-form blog post or modularly in short-form social content. This is foundational curation, and it plays a role in all other types. And as TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden once said:
“Snackable content can often be managed and repurposed like ingredients to create a main course. On their own, short-form content like quotes, tips, and statistics are useful for social network shares and as added credibility to blog posts, eBooks, and articles.”
See what I did there? Microcontent is simplistic and easy to integrate, helping you provide more depth and insight on a topic, infuse credibility, and highlight industry experts.

When microcontent curation makes sense: Always—if the content is relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Microcontent helps you provide proof points to bolster your narrative and build credibility with your audience.
The Curation Classics: Roundups, Listicles, and Resource Hubs
Collecting key bits of information and insights and organizing them into an easy to digest format is the quintessential content curation tactic. The premise is simple: You’re gathering interesting tidbits from multiple sources on a specific topic and placing them in one central location.

The underlying theme for this curation tactic (and any content tactic for that matter) is relevance and value. It needs to be topically relevant to your audience and it can’t be a lazy compilation; it needs to serve a purpose.

News roundups are perhaps the most popular of the curation classics. We’ve all seen them and likely have a few we go back to on a regular basis, so I won’t spend too much time here. (Shameless plug to check out our weekly digital marketing news roundup.)

But here’s an example of a roundup style piece from EHS and sustainability consulting firm *Antea Group that brings video content together to have a little fun and spark a connection with the audience.

The post showcases six workplace safety videos—all sourced and easily embedded from YouTube—with movie-critic-like commentary that make connections to the daily life and work of their target audience.

Content Curation Example from Antea Group

When it comes to resource hubs, HubSpot is an “ultimate list” destination on a variety of subjects, most notably digital marketing statistics. Here’s a recent example featuring Instagram statistics.

Content Curation Example from HubSpot

For listicles, one of our recent BIGLIST editions featuring 50 of the top marketing blogs featuring martech brands is a solid example. Time was spent on researching and vetting, and the list provides a short and sweet description of each blog, as well as our favorite recent article to give readers a cue on what’s worth checking out first.

Content Curation Example from TopRank Marketing's Lee Odden

Finally, events can be great opportunities for curation. *Introhive, an enterprise relationship management (ERM) platform, regularly curates social and team member insights to compile post-event infographics with top takeaways.

Content Curation Example from Introhive

When classic curation makes sense: Classic curation is largely an awareness and engagement play. If you’re looking to provide your audience with a helpful resource that hits quick on the points, and showcase your brand as a thoughtful expert in the space, this type of curation can make it easy for your audience to find insight and inspiration—and minimize the amount of time they need to spend on the hunt.
The Next Level of Curation: Thought Leadership Mashups
Curation isn’t limited to assembling a robust, scannable list of information or resources, or seasoning original content with stats, quotes, or videos. Curation can fuel thought leadership.

Great examples of this kind of curation are trends-focused pieces. Taking a cue from the classic curation formats, this kind of content aims to identify one or more trend or pattern using curated bits of information, all tied together with your knowledge and expertise.

This could be small-scale or large-scale—meaning a single concept could provide the supporting content or tie-in, or it could be your take on a collection of related trends, facts, or insights. This piece from *SAP’s Digitalist Magazine is a great example.

Content Curation Example from Introhive

But this kind of curation doesn’t just lend itself to discussing trends. Many of our own blog posts use a mashup curation method to educate and engage marketers, and define our perspectives and approach to marketing.

This can be seen in a recent post from Nick Nelson on how to write clear, concise content. Using our words intentionally is a core belief, and Nick was able to illustrate that with his deep knowledge and some relevant insights from third parties.

Content Curation Example from TopRank Marketing's Nick Nelson

Also, when we say “curation,” we don’t just mean collecting insights from third-party sources. You can curate your own content—it’s just most often called repurposing.

Salesforce has a great example here. This recent post touches on a key trend in the marketplace (lack of consumer trust), leverages microcontent from Salesforce’s own research (the Trends in Consumer Trust research report), and then original content builds a narrative for a specific audience (retailers).

Content Curation Example from Salesforce

In addition, curating and repurposing influencer content is an especially big opportunity. More than likely, the insights that influencers share with you have implications and applications across other related topics.

When curation mashups make sense: If you want to build thought leadership on a subject, mashups should be in your content lineup. Mashups allow you to elevate an idea, perspective, challenge, or opportunity, while using existing content as a jumping off-point or as part of the foundation of your take.

Read: A Tasty, Strategic Addition to the Content Marketing Table: ‘Repurposed Content Cobbler’
Content Curation for the Win
Regardless of your editorial plan, you’re already doing some form of content curation. However, you can make curation a more deliberate and effective part of your overall B2B content marketing strategy.

Whether you create an ultimate list featuring statistics from multiple sources, provide high-level takeaways from an event or report, give your own content new life to build thought leadership, content curation can provide value and convenience for your audience and writing team.

Looking for content curation best practices, tools, and more examples? Check out our post on Content Curation 101.

*Disclosure: Antea Group, SAP, and Introhive are TopRank Marketing clients.

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Standing Out From the Crowd: Insights From 12 Industry Leaders

Standing Out in the Crowd

Standing Out in the Crowd

It’s time for B2B content marketers to stand out. You know it. I know it. We all know it. 

But capturing attention in a crowded content room is hard to do, especially when content creation has seen the biggest uptick in spending among your fellow B2B content marketers. You can’t be subtle. You can’t be boring. But you also can’t be obnoxious; relevance and resonance are paramount. You have to accept and adapt to what your audience needs and wants at any given moment. It takes speed, flexibility, bold ideas, fearlessness, and more.

Where do you start? How about starting with a little inspiration and insight from industry leaders?

Below we have insights and advice from 12 marketing and customer experience leaders on how to stand out from the crowd and create content your audience can’t ignore. 
12 Attention-Grabbing Tips from B2B Marketing Experts
David Meerman Scott1. Eliminate Gobbledygook
“Always remember that you are communicating to people. Eliminate innovative, cutting-edge, mission-critical, best-of-breed gobbledygook from your writing. Using the same inane language as everybody else ensures you are lost in the crowd.”

– David Meerman Scott, Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author, Freshspot Marketing

Follow David on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Beverly Jackson2. Show How You’re Different
“Show don’t tell. In order to create an engaging user experience on social platforms, you need to be able to show users something from their perspective not yours. You need to be able to reach into their heart, put your fingers around it, and feel the pulse beat. And video, when done right, can do just that.”

– Beverly Jackson, Vice President Social Portfolio Strategy, MGM Resorts International

Follow Beverly on Twitter or LinkedIn. For more insight from Beverly, read our complete interview with her.
Peter Issacson3. Take a Stand
“Great content isn’t about platitudes. It’s about provocation. Incitement. Taking a stand and making your audience think in a new way. Giving the counter-argument to conventional wisdom. When we do that, we advance the dialogue, rather than diminish it.”

– Peter Isaacson, Chief Marketing Officer, Demandbase

Follow Peter on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Customer Experience Expert Shep Hyken4. Ignore Your Competitors
“Marketers need to stop placing so much emphasis on catching up or edging out their direct competitors. Customers don’t compare you to your competitors anymore—they compare you to other positive experiences they’ve had. If you keep chasing what your competitors are doing, you’re always a step behind. That’s a good way to go out of business because you’re just doing what someone else is already doing.”

– Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Follow Shep on Twitter or LinkedIn. To hear more advice from Shep on how to wow your audience, read our full conversation with him on convenience and the customer experience.
Kirsten Allegri Williams5. Empower Others
“Celebrating success and championing internal entrepreneurship is key: Great ideas can come from anywhere. We are limited only by the constraints we inflict on our vision. So I try to make sure everybody with an idea they think has potential feels they can bring it to my doorstep. That doesn’t mean every idea gets the green light, but it does mean that every idea is heard.”

– Kirsten Allegri Williams, Chief Marketing Officer, SAP SuccessFactors

Follow Kirsten on Twitter or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to read our full interview with her to learn about her background and tricks to success.
Tim Washer of Cisco6. Be Human
“Comedy is the most powerful way to humanize a brand because it demonstrates empathy. Let’s face it, a lot of true comedy comes from pain. So, when we can come out and touch on a customer pain point, we show them that we understand their point of view. When we do something that is self-deprecating, when we look vulnerable, and when we let our guard down a little bit that’s when we make a connection.”

– Tim Washer, Emcee and Keynote Speaker, Ridiculous Media

Hear the rest of Tim’s comedy plus marketing tips by reading our full conversation. And while you’re at it, follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Whitney Magnuson7. Partner with Influencers
“Year over year, we’ve seen consumer trust of brands decreasing, and people turning to seemingly more objective sources when making buying decisions: peers, 3rd party review sites, analysts, etc. Partnering with an influencer allows you to highlight your brand’s own existing narrative in a new way, so that you can reinforce the proof points you really want your customers to know.”

– Whitney Magnuson, Senior Director of Enterprise Social Media, Hilton

Follow Whitney on LinkedIn and don’t forget to read the rest of her B2B influencer marketing tips with our complete interview.
Heather Pemberton Levy8. Put the Story First
“Create a structure for creating content that always begins with a story your reader can identify with and uses this moment to bridge their point of view with your brand’s unique selling point. Many marketers still talk about their products and services in terms of what they can do for their audience rather than what the audience cares about, why that’s important and how their solution can help solve the problem. Stories have the power to engage prospects with an emotional hook that endears them to a brand more successfully than standard marketing copy.”

– Heather Pemberton Levy, Vice President of Content Marketing, Gartner

For more content marketing advice from Heather, follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn or read our conversation with her.
Ann Handley9. Slow It Down 
“It’s important to slow down our marketing to get the basics right. Like developing a documented content strategy. Like doing the required research. Like developing robust, non-one-dimensional Flat Stanley buyer personas. Like articulating your bigger story. Like investing in quality: excellent writing (and editing) and storytelling.”

– Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

Want more genius advice from Ann? Read our interview with her or give her a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Peter Krmpotic10. Do Your Research
“We have the people, the data, and the tools to create engaging content at scale, yet we often jumpstart the process of creating content without the required thoughtfulness on the initial critical steps. It is essential to be clear which audiences we are targeting and subsequently to define clear goals for the message we are creating. To this day, most brands need to improve at this stage, otherwise the best content marketer in the world cannot create an effective piece of engaging content.”

– Peter Krmpotic, Director of Product for Einstein, Salesforce

Hear more from Peter by following him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or by reading (you guessed it) our interview with him on creating a steady content supply chain.
Tamsen Webster11. Don’t Be a People Pleaser
“We want customers to feel a part of the brand. We want them to feel like the brand belongs to them. But then too often we send out ‘one size fits most’ messages… and wonder why we don’t get that sense of belonging that’s a hallmark of great brands. Your brand is not for everyone. It isn’t. It’s for the people who want something you can help them get, who value the same things you do, and who see the world the same way you do. And that’s not everyone. Full stop.”

– Tamsen Webster, Founder and Chief Message Strategist, Find the Red Thread

Follow Tamsen on LinkedIn or Twitter for more poignant advice. Or, read our interview with her for tips on how to drive change in marketing. 
JP Medved12. Experiment More
“Most of our content fails. Like, over 90% of it. And that’s not at all uncommon in the content marketing world. If everyone knew the exact ingredients to a “viral” content piece, that’s all anyone would produce. But we don’t know. Pieces I think will do really well, more-often-than-not sink without a trace, and pieces that seem like throwaways can take off because they’ve tapped into some pent-up need in the marketplace of ideas.”

– J.P. Medved, Content Strategist and Novelist

Learn about the different experimenting J.P. has done by reading our interview with him. Give him a follow on LinkedIn for more insight and updates on his next novel.
Not the Norm, and Proud Of It
Rarely does anyone want the same old, same old. So, don’t give your audience more of the same. Use the advice above to your advantage and break the norm, separate yourself from the pack, try something new, or reiterate on a great idea. The more you can break the mold, the more you’ll stand out amongst the crowd.

For more advice on how to stand out, read our guide on how to Break Free of Boring B2B featuring more expert insight and best practices. 

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Social Media Secrets: 5 Under-the-Radar LinkedIn Features for Marketers

Under-the-Radar LinkedIn Features for Marketers

Under-the-Radar LinkedIn Features for Marketers

It’s plain to see that B2B marketers, at large, see the value in social media. The latest B2B benchmarking research from CMI and MarketingProfs found that nearly two out of three respondents (61%) increased their usage of social media for content marketing purposes in the previous year. Another new report shows that social content is atop the list of focal areas for B2B marketers in the coming year.

It’s also fair to say, based on various data points and conversations with folks in the biz, that most of us feel we could be doing better with social. The size of the audiences on these platforms make them essential to any digital strategy, but breaking through suppressive algorithms and showing clear ROI is a perpetual challenge for brands.

One pivotal key to excelling with social media marketing is understanding all the tools you have at your disposal. Each platform offers a number of capabilities that seem to be underutilized by marketers who either don’t know they exist, or don’t fully recognize their potential impact.

With this in mind, we’re setting out to highlight some of the most useful yet overlooked features for driving results on social media platforms. Today we’re focusing on the channel most pertinent to B2B marketers: LinkedIn*, with its member base of more than half a billion professionals.
Take Notice of These 5 Marketing Tools & Features on LinkedIn
Whether your goal is building brand awareness, generating leads, or boosting conversions, these five fundamental functionalities can provide a big assist if you aren’t taking advantage of them already.
#1: Robust (and Now Simplified) Audience Targeting
LinkedIn recently overhauled its Campaign Manager tool (the interface through which marketers build, manage, and measure ads) around an objective-based advertising framework. The basic purpose of this initiative was to make it easier for users to align every element of their campaigns with the overarching objective. One of the slickest improvements to come out of this is the audience setup experience, which is now simpler and more intuitive.

From a B2B marketing perspective, the depth of available professional targeting parameters is by far LinkedIn’s biggest relative advantage compared to other social platforms. Nowhere else can you accurately filter audiences based on facets such as Job Title and Job Seniority. This provides unparalleled ability to reach decision makers and purchase influencers directly.

The revamped interface makes it quicker and more straightforward to select a qualified audience in line with your campaign goals.


#2: Revamped LinkedIn Analytics
The latest Social Media Marketing Industry Report via Social Media Examiner found more than half of respondents (54%) either uncertain or disagreeing that they are “able to measure the return on investment (ROI) for my organic social media activities.”

This is another area of Campaign Manager that LinkedIn recently spruced up. Given that advertising on this platform tends to be more expensive than other social networks, it’s especially important to ensure you’re getting return on that spend. The new reporting experience makes it easier to see results at a glance, and make optimization tweaks on the fly.

The underlying appeal of LinkedIn’s targeting facets also applies to its reporting mechanism; you can get an aggregated look at who is viewing and engaging with your content (i.e., which companies, which job titles, which experience levels). These insights can help you align your LinkedIn strategy and even your content marketing strategy more generally.
#3: Content Suggestions
Can’t figure out what to share on social media? That’s a common enough challenge. The Content Suggestions tab, found on the top nav bar within LinkedIn Page admin center, offers ample inspiration. It serves up a list of third-party articles your defined audience is engaging with — essentially a readily available stream of targeted, trending content.

Not only does this make it easy for marketers and social media managers to find share-worthy content that’s more likely to resonate with their followings, but it can also fuel employee advocacy efforts.
#4: Website Retargeting
Retargeting is a popular digital marketing tactic, which involves serving ads to people who’ve already encountered your brand. The element of familiarity, plus a concrete demonstration of past interest, tends to drive considerably higher clicks and conversions than standard ads.  

Through its Matched Audiences feature, LinkedIn allows you to place a pixel on your company’s website, then serve ads to people who’ve visited it before, while they’re on LinkedIn. It’s a great way to follow up with someone in a different context. One especially savvy approach is to create customized retargeting creative based on the specific section of your site a person visited (i.e., upper-funnel messaging for someone who went to your “About” page, and lower-funnel for someone who checked out a solution page.)


#5: Lead Gen Forms
This might be my favorite marketing tool on LinkedIn, and it definitely seems like one that more B2B brands could be utilizing. Lead Gen Forms are leveraged in combination with various types of ads, enabling your company to collect valuable contact info (and additional data about a prospect) from an individual who downloads something of value with minimal friction.

Unlike most gated-asset forms, which require a user to tediously fill out multiple fields, Lead Gen Forms automatically populate based on the member’s LinkedIn profile data. As such, it takes only a couple of seconds to get through the process. Because you’re attaining a more comprehensive snapshot of people who download, you can better qualify them as leads in comparison with other form-fills that often procure only a name, phone number, and email.


Step Up Your LinkedIn Marketing Game
LinkedIn can be one of the most valuable components of a holistic B2B marketing strategy. As mentioned earlier, there’s no denying it’s a pricier place to play than most other social networks, but you’re also paying for access to a higher-quality audience. Using the five features above can help you understand, segment, reach, and engage this audience efficiently while closely tracking the impact of your efforts.

Another underutilized tool on LinkedIn is video, which has been a key focus for the platform recently. Learn about all the metrics and specs for video on LinkedIn, as well as every other major social network!

*Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

The post Social Media Secrets: 5 Under-the-Radar LinkedIn Features for Marketers appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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Top Takeaways from LinkedIn’s New ‘Enlightened Tech Buyer’ Report

Key Takewaways from LinkedIn's Enlightened Tech Buyer Report

Key Takewaways from LinkedIn's Enlightened Tech Buyer Report

Technology is one of the fastest-growing B2B sectors, for reasons that are self-evident. As new solutions and innovations continue to enhance the way businesses operate across every industry, every key department has increasing tech needs and buying power these days.

The folks at LinkedIn* recently released a 2019 global report, The Enlightened Tech Buyer: Powering Customer Decisions from Acquisition to Renewal, and it merits attention from marketers of all stripes. As the “enlightened” descriptor implies, tech buyers (for reasons that are also self-evident) tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to research, consumption, and purchase behaviors.

Today we’ll take a deeper look at LinkedIn’s new data around this trendsetting cohort, breaking down five key revelations within.
5 Telling Trends Revealed in LinkedIn’s Tech Buyer Report
Here are some of the most eye-opening tidbits we saw based on LinkedIn’s survey of “5,241 global professionals who participated in or influenced the purchase of various hardware or software solutions at their organization within the last three months.”
#1 – Tech Buying Committees are Expansive and Diverse
We all know that, in general, B2B buying committees are expanding faster than the Night King’s army of wights. This dynamic is especially pronounced in the tech space.

“Where previously 3/4 of enterprise employees were part of technology decision-making,” LinkedIn reports, “today the total universe of end-users and decision-makers who impact business technology investments encompasses 4/5 of employees (roughly 86%).”

Tech Buying Decision-Making

As tech products and services become increasingly integrated with every aspect of an organization, more voices are coming into play. End users, external influencers, and cross-functional stakeholders all tend to have a role. This reinforces the imperative of establishing strong brand awareness throughout a business, which is a central focus of account-based marketing.  
#2 – The Purchase Cycle is Shortening
The report notes that the process of reviewing, selecting, and implementing new tech solutions has accelerated over the past few years, with the average purchase cycle now checking in at about 25 months. This could be viewed as good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it.

On the one hand, that’s still a fairly long timespan, providing plenty of opportunity for marketing content to make an impact. Meanwhile, the increase in velocity could suggest buyers are becoming more deliberate and urgent in identifying solutions.

But on the other hand, this also means that we as marketers have a smaller window than before to engage and persuade. We now need to make each interaction count more than ever — especially if we’re pursuing a new account. LinkedIn’s study shows that shortlists are becoming more competitive than ever for vendors.
#3 – Vendor Websites Are a Prime Resource
Across every B2B tech category, vendor website/mobile app is the top research destination for buyers. In aggregate, this source is followed by blogs/forums/discussion boards, product review websites, and technology media/trade journals:

In short, buyers are seeking out trustworthy information — be it from a company’s own website or from unbiased third party resources. This accentuates the importance of building credibility with best-answer content, which can satisfy a decision maker’s questions during research while also positioning your brand as helpful and knowledgeable.
#4 – Buyers Want Partners, Not Sellers
Above all, tech buyers value the overall quality of a product or service above all when choosing a vendor. (Duh.) But the next two factors are interesting: both the ability to consistently meet a buyer’s needs, and the ability to answer questions to a buyer’s satisfaction, rank above affordability/pricing in importance:

Choosing a Vendor

This is why the customer experience is becoming such an overarching imperative. Effective marketing now goes beyond the scope of traditional functions. Brands need to be readily available, with the right content at the right time. Strategies must account for every touch point. Always-on approaches are becoming the norm. And this level of attentiveness should go beyond the actual purchase itself…  
#5 – Smooth Implementation is Essential
Per LinkedIn, “The #1 indicator of customer renewal success is successful adoption and product satisfaction.” No surprise there. But it’s another reminder of why the full customer experience needs to be addressed.

“The data shows direct vendor engagement among buyers dropping off in later stages of purchase, meaning that there’s an opportunity to be more present and engaged with customers post-sale,” according to the report. “Marketers need to play an active role in the implementation and adoption process of new technology. A seamless customer experience also demands alignment with customer support in activities, training and key education resources.”

How can marketing continue to shape experiences in these later stages and after the sale? It’s a vital consideration for profitability, since we all know the relative cost of acquiring new customers compared to retaining existing ones.
Follow the Tech Buyers
None of the nuggets revealed in LinkedIn’s “Enlightened Tech Buyer” report are especially surprising, but they do reinforce some of the trends we see playing out at large:

Buying committees are becoming more distributed
Researchers seek out objective information and best-answer content
We need to help, not sell
Marketing is starting to impact more parts of the customer experience

To get the full scoop on today’s B2B tech buyer preferences, check out LinkedIn’s report.

*Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

The post Top Takeaways from LinkedIn’s New ‘Enlightened Tech Buyer’ Report appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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