50 Shades of SEO – Is Search Engine Optimisation Dominating Your Content Marketing?

Obsessions often start with an innocent desire, but then quickly become all-consuming and destructive. This is definitely true of B2B marketers’ passion for search engine optimising their websites to the ninth degree. Yes, inbound leads from prospects already in buying mode are now far more likely to come in via your website than your annual industry tradeshow, as buyers rely on Google to sift through information to research and shortlist vendors. But inexperienced or offline focused marketers are sometimes manipulated into doing shameful things to their marketing content that they would not have dreamt of doing if an interactive marketing expert or web master had not told them to do so.

While SEO is a fundamental part of today’s b2b marketing plans, it is the content that matters most, as it effectively fuels your SEO efforts, engages your website visitors and provides the context for your keywords.

50 Shades of SEOIn the relationship between SEO and content marketing, content should be the dominant partner calling the shots. But with website-generated revenue often being attributed to SEO and PPC rather than the content consumed by prospects, it’s easy to be led to believe that marketing content should be submissive to SEO. Here are the top signs that your content marketing campaigns may be being perverted to suit someone’s penchant for making all things subservient to SEO:

Sign #1: Submission
The H1 title tag is crucial for SEO, and there is widespread agreement that keywords in page titles will boost your search engine results pages (SERPS). At the same time, the title of any page needs to appeal to the reader, be well written and relate to the content of the page. If you are being asked to stuff page titles with SEO keywords that are unrelated to the page content, you should take this as a warning sign your content is being (mis)used to satisfy the needs of SEO. The reason this is negative is because keyword stuffing is not only uncomfortable, but also counterproductive and will be punished by search engines. That’s because Google wants you to provide quality content to readers, and search engines do not like to be manipulated. The safety word you need to use to make this this type of domination stop is ‘quality’ – the quality of the content is more important than the number of times a keyword is featured per page.

Sign #2: Controlling Behaviour
Similar to the above, but taken to the next level. Specifically, some organizations now employ (or outsource to) web writers, who rewrite copy to optimise the content for search engines. This is all well where search optimisation is the main success criteria, but aren’t we forgetting the reader? You should write for your target audience, not for Google. And who knows your reader better: You or a web writer? Final sign off on all content should be with you. If that’s not currently the case, you need to start to say no and set some boundaries.

Sign #3: Unrealistic Expectations
SEO practitioners sometimes forget how much time and effort it takes to produce great content. If your SEO partner demands unrealistically high volumes of content and applies the (proverbial) whip when it’s not forthcoming, it’s a sure sign that they see themselves as the dominant party. To satisfy their unnatural appetites, they may also suggest a role play of sorts, which sees them producing content which has no marketing value whatsoever apart from link building and search engine optimisation.

If you have not encountered this before, read this article which explains all about auto-submitted content, paid for links and the dreaded blog spam comments: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/non-seo-bad-link-building/106009 

You should steer clear of these tactics as they will most likely not aid your SERPS, and may prove embarrassing, too. Submission, controlling behaviour and unrealistic expectations are three warning signs that someone is trying to dominate your content marketing to satisfy their SEO needs. There are additional signs (feel free to share them below), but thankfully there’s no need to devote a painful trilogy to this topic!

Apologies to everyone who thought this blog post was in any way related to that 50 Shades of Grey movie trailer!

What football and marketing have in common

As I listened to the pundits narrating Belgium’s win against the USA in the World Cup, I got to thinking about the similarities between the beautiful game of soccer and the beautiful art of marketing:

Marketing is like football

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marketing is like football, because…. Please complete the sentence below:

Five signs your content marketing plan needs reviewing

The donkey and the marketing plan

Don’t be a donkey!

If you are in the business of creating B2B marketing content, sooner or later, you need to ask yourself the question: What next? Sure, you have a long-term content plan, but even the best laid plans of mice and marketers often go astray. After all, your content should address current market challenges, and be tailored to address the state of your sales pipeline, and without powers of clairvoyance, it’s hard to predict either with 100% accuracy at the beginning of the year.

So now you are half-way through the year and looking at your content marketing strategy, and thinking: Hmm – do I still really want to cover these topics? Here’s how to decide whether to press ahead or refresh your content marketing plan – five signs your marketing content plan needs reviewing:

  1. Your sales pipeline is crammed with early stage opportunities that are not moving. If this symptom applies to you, review your content to see if:

a) all your content is high-level thought leadership designed to raise brand awareness

b) any of your content is suitable for lead nurturing

c) your marketing automation is making effective use of your lead nurturing content

  1. A disproportionately high number of your marketing leads are disqualified by sales. If this has happened to you, you’ll need to not only review your segmenting criteria, but also your marketing messaging: Do your marketing campaigns promise more than your products can deliver? Is your positioning premium, and your service delivery no-frills?
  2. Your content is not generating any demand for your products and services. If your marketing metrics (page visits, time spent on page, response rates etc.) are good, but your product is not shifting, your content may be to blame. Review your campaigns to see if there is a disconnect between your content and your services. For instance, if your thought leadership focuses on the benefits of cloud computing, but you are trying to generate leads for a Software as a Service accounting solution, then your content needs to be revised to address your niche more specifically and help connect the industry megatrend (cloud computing) to your product.
  3. Your last video generated lots of inbound enquiries and social shares, but you only budgeted for one. This is good news – you produced content that worked well. Now it’s time to go back to your plan and cut less well performing content to free up time and budget for things that generate revenue.
  4. Your marketing metrics are declining. Every email you send gets fewer opens than the previous one, your clickthroughs are dwindling while your unsubscribe rates are creeping up. These are sure signs that your content is not only failing to rock your audience’s world, but it’s seriously starting to get on their nerves. If your customers and prospects don’t see the value of your content, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Review your marketing contentThe end of Q2 can be a good time to review your content marketing plan. If you are looking to improve your performance, doing so now will enable you to make change tack and set you on course to meet your end of year goals.  Do you know of any other signs that your marketing content plans need to be reviewed? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

This time it’s personal: Can B2B marketing satisfy the emotional needs of a new generation of B2B buyers?

In B2B marketing, copywriters are often tasked with writing brochures, website copy and emails that convey ‘the strategic value that the product delivers to the enterprise’, or similar. The basic tenet of B2B marketing is that the value relates to the corporate entity, and the user benefits also relate to the business value. For example, if you were marketing B2B software that helps someone do their job twice as quickly, the messaging would revolve around the “reduced cost and increased efficiency, which frees up your time to focus on more strategic projects”.

Now imagine you are a B2C marketer developing an advertisement to sell a more efficient vacuum cleaner to a busy professional single with a good income. Would you market the product with the tagline ‘The new DustDemon 2000 will save you time – and enable you to do more ironing’? Your ad copy would never make it to the printers: Focus groups or someone else’s common sense would reveal that this messaging is unlikely to have the intended appeal. The target group would be more likely to respond to messaging about spending less time on chores and more on leisure pursuits.

B2B buyers dronesAnd here’s the lesson for B2B marketers: B2B buyers are people too, and people are selfish. Yet traditional B2B marketing campaigns often treat buyers as überrational, Spock-like corporate drones, whose only aim in life is to do as much work as possible and save their employers money.

Is that realistic? Compare the likely success of such messaging with the way Google pitches its enterprise solutions. Would you rather do more ironing with the DustDemon 2000 or “work the way you live” with Google’s Enterprise offerings? I know what I’d prefer, and Google’s success and track record of innovation speak for themselves.

More objective evidence that consumer-focused B2B messaging does wonders for corporate bottom lines was found by a new study recently published by strategic branding firm Siegel+Gale. Their marketing strategists polled close to 9,500 consumers and 450 business decision-makers to assess 64 B2B-focused brands, and found that B2B technology brands such as Google, CISCO, Siemens, IBM and Intel created competitive advantages by building consumer relevance.

Specifically, brands with a high consumer relevancy score experienced 27% more growth in stock value and 31% greater growth in revenue (from 2010 to 2013), than firms which relied on ‘generic, vague and trite’ campaigns that were ‘devoid of relatable specifics’. One B2B company that’s caught on to this is CISCO. Although its products are sold to CTOs, “the networking design company has long spoken to its B2B audiences like they were consumers”, which Siegel+Gale’s researchers found helps CISCO connect with B2B buyers on a human level and makes their value proposition real.

All this goes to show that even in B2B industries, it’s important to remember that it’s people who buy products, not machines: That is until they develop consciousness and take over the world, in which case you can always revert to your 90s marketing messaging and watch repeats of the original Terminator movie. For now, B2B messaging needs to appeal to the Sarah Connors of the world, not the Cyberdyne Systems Model T-101.

This is more important now than ever before, as we are seeing a generational change that means the B2B buyer’s persona is changing: The emotional needs of Gen X- and Y-ers are different from the post-war baby boomers who were often said to “live to work”, while the later generations work to live and place greater value on personal fulfilment as well as environmental and ethical considerations. B2C marketers have already adjusted their messaging accordingly, by showing that brands understand how to make consumers feel good about themselves and the world they live in. Thus marketing messaging needs to appeal to this new generation of buyers on a personal level. While the offered product needs to provide a benefit for the organization or department, it also needs to solve a problem and satisfy a need for the person making the purchasing decision.

So how can B2B marketers make sure their messaging appeals to B2B buyers on a personal level? One time-tested concept is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a widely-accepted psychological theory of human motivation. Below, you’ll find some suggestions on how B2B marketing messaging relates to the concept:
pyramid

Until humans evolve to the point where faster processing, memory capacity and customized dashboarding become basic human motivators, B2B marketers would do well to take a leaf out of the B2C marketing book and create marketing campaigns that speak to buyers on a personal level and provide specific benefits that real people with lives outside work can relate to. And here’s an example of how a B2B brand can make their service more relatable to real people. 10 out of 10 for CISCO:

Marketing Strategy and Plans: Are You Putting The Cart Before The Horse?

All too often, people talk about their marketing strategy, and mention things like thought leadership, lead generation, social media and digital marketing. All of these things are great, but the word strategy is often misunderstood as being the same as a plan, or list of activities. It’s easy to see why: the Oxford Dictionary defines ‘strategy’ as “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”.  But the focus of the definition should not be on the word “plan”, but on the words “long-term aim”.

Marketing plans: Don'tput the cart before the horseFor example, you could outline all the events, webinars and advertising you are planning to do in a given year, and think: “Voila, there’s my strategy”. If you follow this approach, the danger is that the marketing plan will amount to nothing more than a laundry list of unconnected activities.

That’s why you need a clearly-defined strategy which then informs your marketing tactics. It’s not enough to simply outline all lead generation activities and then declare that this is the strategy that supports the business objective of ‘meeting our sales targets’.

What happens if your marketing plan contains only tactics, and no strategy? A lack of strategy will often result in carefully planned marketing campaigns yielding poor results, for example because they are not targeted at the right segment, or because the messaging is not supported by the product’s actual positioning.

So what is marketing strategy? Let’s pick an example that most people will be familiar with:  Think of a cheap fashion retailer like H&M or Primark compared to a designer brand like Calvin Klein or Stella McCartney. The mass distribution clothing line will have a completely different marketing strategy than a high-end retailer that prides itself on the quality of its materials and the uniqueness of its designs. Some of the tactics deployed by the bargain basement retailer will be similar to ones used by the more exclusive apparel retailer: they will run TV and magazine advertising campaigns, exclusive previews, promotions and special displays before major holidays and discounted offers at the end of each season. Yet their strategy is different, because the STP (segmenting-targeting-positioning) element of their marketing plans will differ vastly. Each clothing retailer will design its marketing and communications activities to appeal to a specific target group and support its competitive positioning.

Take H&M as an example: Its marketing strategy is encapsulated in its taglines “fast-fashion” and “fashion at the best price”. This positioning appeals to cost-conscious young shoppers. Its marketing plan would naturally look to extend this successful strategy in line with the corporate growth strategy, which should be founded upon a recognised planning tool such as Ansoff’s matrix:

Ansoff Matrix

Ansoff Matrix

In H&M’s case, the growing appeal and short lifecycle of cheap of-the-moment clothes means that the company can continue to sell more of the same products to its existing target audience (market penetration) The Swedish giant is also pushing into new markets by expanding its eCommerce capabilities and presence in emerging markets like India (market development). In this case, H&M’s objective is to gain more marketshare for its existing products, and its strategy is to penetrate existing markets more deeply and also develop its presence in new markets. The chosen tactic, on the other hand, is ecommerce. Ecommerce is not the strategy, it is merely the chosen channel or tactic.

In short, a marketing strategy is a systematic future-oriented formula that answers the question “where will we play and how will we compete?” If your marketing strategy does not answer this question, it is most likely a marketing plan, i.e. a document that answers the question “what will we do?” If you want to find out more about creating great marketing strategies, watch this Harvard Business Channel youtube video, which I found via Mark Ritson @markritson:

Do You know this Marketer?

crimes against content marketing