6 Steps to Get Your Content Marketing to Kick *Bleep* and Take Names

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 at 9:40 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 5 comments

“Want to do an activity?” my son asks. Paul and I agree. He hands each of us a pencil and a sheet of paper face down. Zachary tells us to circle numbers in order beginning with one and working up as high as we can. And he’ll be timing us after we turn over our papers.

“Go!” We flip to see a page with numbers all over in no particular order. I’m scanning for the one … for the two … three … it’s taking too long to find the three … finally! Four …

Talk about feeling jumpy!

“Time’s up! How many did you find?” Zachary asks. Embarrassed, I found 9. Paul got 11. He gives us another sheet of paper face down. We’re to do the same thing except draw two lines and the numbers will appear in four quadrants. Look for the first number in the first quadrant. The next one in the second quadrant. And so on. After the fourth number, go back to the first quadrant.

He tells us to go. We flip the paper to see the numbers in four squares. Number one is in the first quadrant, two in the second, etc. Five is in the first, six in the second. You get the idea.

“Time’s up! How many did you find?” I felt better about my 20 and Paul’s 21. He explains how important it is to have a plan or goals so we can hit our targets faster and more effectively rather trying to do things randomly. Wow. What a powerful lesson and a great way to teach it to kids. (Thanks to Mrs. Brennan, our elementary school counselor for all 14 years!)

So what kind of results will a company get when it does content marketing without a strategy? Clearly not as good as it could with a strategy in place.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the thought of doing a content marketing plan. Start small with these arse-kicking six steps.

1. Marketing goals. Identify marketing goals you want to achieve in six to 12 months. Examples:

    • Educate prospects and clients.
    • Build brand awareness.
    • Engage influencers and customers.
    • Generate new sales leads.
    • Support current clients.
    • Nurture leads.
    • Cross-sell and up-sell.

2. Target audience. Build one persona in your target audience with the following information. (Remember we’re keeping it simple for starters.)

    • Name.
    • Age.
    • Job title.
    • Company details.
    • Industry.
    • Pain points.
    • Character traits.
    • Likes and dislikes.
    • How the person prefers to get information.
    • Where do you find this person online?

3. Make a list of questions your prospects and clients ask. You’ll create content that answer those questions and know what content you need to help them move to the next stage.

    • Blog posts.
    • Podcasts.
    • Webinars
    • Guides.
    • Infographics
    • Curated content.
    • Tutorials.
    • Interviews.

4. Determine what types of content you will create. You can save a lot of time by spinning off content into other types that eventually get you the email address you want. Content types include:

For example, you’re planning to do a webinar. The contents from the webinar can be the basis for more content, such as series of blog posts, a SlideShare presentation and an ebook that requires filling a form to access it. (Gated content.) Now you have an email address to add to your growing email list. Next time you create new content, send an email to your list to tell them about it.

5. Make a simple publishing schedule. Don’t go nuts trying to create an editorial calendar. Instead, come up with a publishing schedule, such as monthly webinars, weekly blog posts and so on.

6. Make a list of where you’ll promote the content. Turn this list into a checklist that you can reuse each time you’ve created a new type of content. Here’s an example:

o  Email list. (One time with a second send to those who didn’t open first send.)

o  Twitter. (Two times a day.) Test different headlines.

o  Facebook. (Twice a week.) Test different images and introductory copy.

o  LinkedIn company page. (One time.)

o  LinkedIn personal account. (One time.)

o  Google+ company page. (One time.)

o  Google+ personal page. (One time.)

And there you have your six-step content marketing plan.

What about metrics? Yes, they’re invaluable. However, I promised a simple content marketing plan to get you going. You can add more as you find a routine.

So which approach will you take with your content marketing? The random one like the first worksheet — creating content on an ad hoc basis without considering your target audience’s needs and preferences? Or will you take the organized approach like the second worksheet — delivering the content your target audience wants and needs?

Now go create a kick-arse content marketing strategy!

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Is Your Company’s Content Cursed?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 12:33 PM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 3 comments

Hank Stroll, one of my first clients and a dear friend, would occasionally reply to my email with a chuckle telling me I’m doing what his wife does. He explained that his wife and I sometimes had a tendency to talk about something and he’d have no clue what we’re talking about. Like he entered the middle of a conversation.

“Talk to me like I don’t know anything,” he’d write.

I fell victim to the curse of knowledge. And it’s everywhere. Maybe even in your company’s content. It could be the website or content marketing stuff.

It’s more common than you think. An email newsletter columnist submitted an article about companies that made the “best of” list. Each contained a short overview of the company’s business.

Whew, boy. They all spoke the same language: marketing-speak.

I visited the companies’ websites for more information to help me rewrite them to stick with just the facts. It wasn’t surprising to see the overviews came from the website — mostly the Home or About pages. (Good thing making this “best of” list didn’t require effective content, eh?) It also didn’t surprise me that most of the content didn’t clearly communicate what they do for clients.

They all suffer from the same disease I did.

The curse of knowledge.

I believe the phrase first appeared in the October 1989 issue of The Journal of Political Economy. Here’s how authors Colin Camerer, George Lowenstein and Martin Weber of “The curse of knowledge in economic settings: An experimental analysis.” described it.

The curse of knowledge makes personal expertise seem more widely shared than it is, making it difficult for people to convey their expertise to others and reducing the apparent need (from the perspective of the better-informed individual) for such a transfer of knowledge.

They studied the impact of the curse of knowledge from an economic point of view. Chip Heath and Dan Health explained it from a business point of view in “Made to Stick.” I bet you’ve seen it or lived it.

Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping, general language. “Achieving customer delight!” “Becoming the most efficient manufacturer!” “Unlocking shareholder value!” One explanation for executives’ love affair with vague strategy statements relates to a phenomenon called the curse of knowledge. Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business, so when they speak abstractly, they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees, who aren’t privy to the underlying meaning, hear only opaque phrases. As a result, the strategies being touted don’t stick.

In other words, the people who wrote the content for these companies were stuck in their heads. It makes it harder to separate their knowledge from the knowledge — or lack thereof — of the people visiting their website. They knew what their company did. They forgot to consider what their target audience knows or didn’t know.

This wasn’t a simple problem of using jargon and abbreviations. It was a problem of explaining what they do to someone who had never heard of the company. All of these were business-to-business professional services companies. (Noticed I skipped using B2B or BtoB?)

Although I work with B2B clients, not everyone reading this knows what it means. Yes, it’s common to me. Nonetheless, I still remember when I read it for the first time — and I’d like to think I read a decent amount of business articles — I didn’t know what it meant. Not just the abbreviation, but also what it means to be a B2B company.

Another example. A fan of a client’s product advised not using certain terms to describe the client’s technical app for consumers. What he didn’t realize is that most of the client’s target audience know, need and use those terms. If we use the app fan’s suggested terms, people will never understand what the app does. And they’d never find the company because they wouldn’t use those search terms.

Simple test to see if your content suffers from the curse of knowledge:

Have a family member or a friend read it.

Yes, even if they’re not your target audience. They can tell you if it makes sense or not.

Thanks to Hank, I learned early on to think about what the reader may or may not know. That doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent cured of this disease. I don’t think I’ll ever be. It’s impossible to escape my own head. (Dagnabbit.)

What do you think of the bolded text? Or do you prefer headings? Personally, I prefer the latter. However, some folks say they prefer bolded sentences and phrases.

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A Content Marketing Fail That Doesn’t Have to Happen

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 at 9:16 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

As we planned to move back to Texas and buy our first home, Paul (rockin’ better half) and I decided to start fresh. We sold most of the furniture we had at our place in Washington, D.C. Although our new home was barren for a while, one of the first things we shopped for was a bedroom set.

I always liked the one my parents had that came with shelves and a built-in reading light. We found something similar, but excitement turned to disappointment when the furniture arrived. The set was fine as it was what we expected.

It was the color that was wrong. Since the floor sample was dark brown wood (the color of our D.C. furniture and we were darn tired of it!), we had to rely on a list to find out the other available wood colors and we chose a milk wash. I figured it’d be natural wood with a mix of white and blonde wood colors. Instead, the set had artificial-looking milk wash paint. We kept the set because it had everything except the right color. We searched all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex before making our decision and didn’t want to look again.

With businesses planning to increase content marketing efforts, they need a plan to ensure they deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.

Content Marketing Fail

A marketing company put me on its mailing list after I downloaded a free ebook or something. No surprise. The kicker was the email I received from the company a couple of months later.

Subject line: “Next Tuesday or Thursday.”

I see that you’ve demonstrated recent interest in our [product]. In order to help you discover how [company name] can benefit you, I’d like to setup a 15-minute call to go over your current marketing environment.

I can then make specific recommendations as to how [company] can drive [benefit].

Would you be available next Tuesday at 10am PST or next Thursday at 1pm PST? If not, is there another time that works best for you?

I was shocked. Really. This email was asking too much too soon. I knew I hadn’t taken the right actions to arrive at this point in the company’s sales cycle.

The company lost my trust and respect. I won’t recommend its products. I return to the beginning of the sales cycle since the company has to regain my trust. While marketing automation can be powerful, this company clearly didn’t map the process.

Four Common Content Marketing Fails

Here are some content marketing fails that can be avoided:

  1. Serving up the wrong content at the wrong time.
  2. Creating headlines and subject lines promising one thing and delivering something else.
  3. Publishing content that leaves readers thinking: So what? What was the point of that? What did I gain from this? Thanks for wasting time I don’t have.
  4. Using a photo with a headline that doesn’t match what appears when people click through to the landing page.

Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of broken marketing. Like he says, this is basic stuff that can be avoided. Before creating and publishing any content, ask yourself if it’s relevant and matches expectations. What can you do to set clear expectations? The furniture store could’ve done that by providing small samples of the wood.

And yes, we still have the bedroom set.

Share a time when you got something different from what you expected. What other ways do companies fail to match expectations in content marketing? Thanks for posting your thoughts in comments and sharing this article.


The Trouble with Tribble-ish Content Marketing

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 at 8:53 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Writing 3 comments

Star Trek Kirk TribblesBack in 2001, I connected with a fellow from InternetViZ and interviewed him about email marketing. A few months later, a client closed his business. It was one of the primary sources of my writing income. That taught me the importance of having a variety of clients instead of one or two that make up the bulk of your income.

Discovering content marketing

I came to a crossroads in my writing career where I had to decide whether to get more business or let it wither away and be a corporate woman for life. Not wanting to give up, I started writing an email asking people if they needed writing support to help their business.

While writing this (I still remember it as if it happened yesterday. And goodness knows I’ve written many emails.), my stomach knotted and I debated whether to do this. Finally, after re-reading the message many times, I hit “Send.” (Good thing Gmail and its “undo” feature didn’t exist or it may not have made it.)


The fellow responded and connected me with his business partner, Hank Stroll of InternetViZ. I’ve worked with Hank ever since. (He’s in Minn. and me in Texas. We met in person in 2007 and it was like old times. Still is.)

Little did I know he would launch my career in content marketing long before this fancy name came about. He figured it out — before most people did — that companies could better connect with clients and prospects through email newsletters and valuable content instead of marketing their stuff.

The content marketing secret’s out

Now every marketer is in on the secret and trying to churn content. (A lot of content is crap.) Multiplying like the “Star Trek” Tribbles. Even as a writer for more than 10 years, I get stumped for fresh ideas. How many articles have you seen that give you ideas for content? Zillions.

I blog less often than I should. However, I’d rather not blog than recycle something that others have said many times, many ways. Like “Green Eggs and Ham” — these articles have been delivered on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train. OK, more like in a blog, on a SlideShare, in a video, in a tweet.

Finding a fresh take on popular content topics

So how do you provide a fresh take on a popular topic you need to cover? Yes, there’s a catch. It means reaching a smaller audience.

The secret: Write about the topic with a specific focus.

Let’s say you need to write about content marketing. Here’s how you’d get specific:

  • 7 Ways B2B professional services companies can use content marketing.
  • How content marketing boosts your luxury car dealership.
  • Content marketing lessons from a information technology research firm.
  • Is content marketing worth it for the oil and gas industry? Yes!
  • Team up marketing automation software with content marketing.
  • 5 ways to promote your tech support services with content marketing without sounding like an ad.

You get the idea. True, not many people will seek articles on oil and gas and content marketing. The magic comes in feeding search engines by having the keywords in the headline and link, such as http://www.rockingB2Bprofessionalservices.com/blog/7-ways-b2b-professional-services-companies-use-content-marketing.html (This is a fake link. Any resemblance to real links, living or rotted, is purely coincidental.)

It may not mean much traffic for the article. (This is where social media rocks. Link to the article from social media and email newsletters.)

This link  boosts keyword power for “b2b professional services” especially if the company’s other content uses those keywords in other blog posts and page headlines. While few may search for “b2b professional services content marketing,” “b2b professional services” in the headline and link pump the site’s keyword muscle.

This narrow focus content approach …

  1. Lets you produce fresh content for your website. (Search engines <3 that.)
  2. Strengthens keyword power for your site.
  3. Allows you to give away your expertise for free — which builds credibility and trust.

“But, Meryl. Doesn’t adding keywords like this come across as phony and smart search engines will catch on to such tricks?”

As a writer, I’m more sensitive to keyword fakery in web content. You probably have lots of stories you can tell about your business. Turn your story into an example and those keywords will fit naturally. Don’t force it. Just write conversationally. Edit and tweak. Repeat. (Not too many times, though!)

Watch self-mentions

One more suggestion: Skip mentioning your company, product or service in these articles.

Competitors and fans of competitors won’t link to your article. In searching for articles on niche topics for clients, most of the good ones mention the company, product or service. While a competitor or its fans may not want to link at all, they may be more willing to share because it’s important to them to be a trusted resource. (Great article on this: Why You Should Link to Your Competitors.) When an article promotes something, then that’s a little much.

How do you find content ideas that have been rehashed many times?

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