Digital has disrupted B2B sales and marketing completely over the last decade or so. Indeed, the old perception of a distinction between the roles that ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’ play in getting new clients has been completely blurred. Like B2C marketing the old, interruptive ways of reaching new customers are no longer as effective. Whilst there still may be a role for cold calling, trade shows and even show rooms, the web has democratised information and if a potential prospect wants to find out some information about a product or a service the first thing they’ll do is Google it. The benefits of being in mind when someone Google’s a product or service should be obvious. How you achieve this mindshare is a different story. We wanted to share our insight and experience as to how we do it in this ultimate guide to B2B content marketing.
Part 1. You’re the expert… so tell people!
The eminent business executive, author and consultant Steuart Henderson Britt once said: “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.” In a content marketing context, if you’re in business you need to tell people about what you do as well as why and how. There are lots of ways you can do this and here’s what we would recommend as a starter for ten.
I blog, therefore I am
Every WordPress website comes with an easy to use, intuitive blogging feature – use it! The written word is a way for you to tell people exactly what you do and how you do it. It also gives you a chance to show off your credentials.
The importance of having up to date and fresh content on your site has been well documented. You’ll also be surprised at how much of an expert you are and how you can use this content across the web to get those all-important eyeballs on your site.
If you’ve completed some work for a client and the methodology you employed to solve that client’s problem really worked, tell people. Expertise and Thought Leadership in an industry are great signals for a potential customer. Being special and different will make you stand out from the crowd and put you in a great position.
The accepted wisdom for a case study format is generally:
- The problem or challenge
- The solution
- The results
Producing case studies will show how you have thought about and solved a problem and made a difference to a client’s business.
As an extension of the blog theme, white papers really give you the chance to show off your credentials. Whilst a blog post can be more overtly self-promotional, a white paper should be more of a technical and in-depth document and backed up with evidence.
In essence the white paper should pose a problem, explore and potentially solve it. It should have an inherent value to the reader — white papers are classic Thought Leadership pieces and should show your expertise. Given the nature of the medium they are also great lead magnets. In essence, you are offering to exchange your intellectual property for a prospect’s permission to be marketed to. Gathering opt-in email addresses is a great way to get qualified traffic to your website.
Permission based email communication is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and prospects. If you are producing great content, than sending out an email to tell people about it is a great way to syndicate it. The point about permission is a very important one, in light of the impending GDPR legislation – so always get an explicit opt-in. We would also recommend using a good Email Service Provider (ESP) to send these emails so you can manage un-subscribes and segment your lists. Here’s some more tips on effective email marketing.
The end of the start
Content Marketing for B2B businesses is a huge topic and there is admittedly a lot more to consider than the points we have addressed above. We shall be re-visiting this topic in a lot more detail where we shall delve a little deeper into the science behind producing content and the strategies involved in our next post.
Part 2. B2B content Marketing – a deeper dive
In this section, we shall cover in far more detail the points you will need to consider to successfully execute your content marketing strategy. The points we have considered before are more of a manifestation of the strategy and the channels. In this section, we shall discuss in much greater depth how you create the content, which will be distributed via these channels.
Think about what you want to achieve
Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking they should just ‘do’ content marketing without really thinking about why. We are big advocates of creating personas for us and our clients. Addressing the needs of a person, or a business will help you shape your tone of voice and the pain points you can help with.
Let’s create a fictional business to give this some context.
Let’s say Dan is an energy broker. He wants to get business leads, he knows who his sweet-spot audience is by looking at his customer base. Dan can surmise that he wants to deal with a large SME who has 200 staff in one location. He deals, generally, with manufacturing businesses that are energy hungry and are always looking to minimise their costs. Dan also knows that given the size of the business he wants to talk to that they, generally, have an Operations Manager.
He can now create a persona…
Name: Peter Smith, 44
Title: Operations Manager of a £30 million + plastics manufacturer in The North East
Micro concerns: Cost Efficiencies
Macro concerns: How Brexit will affect his and his colleague’s jobs
The manifestation of this exercise is a solid content marketing idea: “How manufacturing businesses can reduce energy costs now, and post BREXIT”
Dan’s secondary market is a care home provider, typically based over multiple locations. Dan knows, from experience, these institutions are also power hungry but most of the gas and electricity usage is in the evenings.
Name: Jocelyn Brown, 55
Title: Joint MD (with her husband)
Micro concerns: Cost Efficiencies
Macro concerns: Reduction in funding from government for social care
Content idea: “Future proofing multiple location energy usage long term”
Where are they in the funnel?
We know decisions in B2B are rarely taken ad-hoc. Often multiple stakeholders are involved in making purchasing decisions and, many decisions need to be backed up with a business case. You can shape your content strategy based on specific stages (gathering information, ready to buy) or all of them, depending on the perceived needs of your specific personas.
This sounds complex, but it isn’t really. If a potential buyer is in the ‘I want to be educated and informed’ stage your content should seek to do just that.
Let’s return to the persona’s we created earlier and the fictional Energy Broker prospect. Peter may not have been asked directly to explore the energy market and the potential impact it could have on his business but the chances are he will find it interesting and relevant if you pose a series of questions and answer them.
If Peter has been asked directly to explore cost efficiencies by changing energy supplier, he is now further down the funnel. In this case, it might make more sense to talk about how frictionless the experience of swapping supplier can be, as well as the long-term benefits of buying in advance etc. to avoid an increase in costs further down the line.
In both the scenarios above specific pieces of content could be produced or could answer both.
House style and tone of voice
Our biggest of advice here would be, do not let your junior members of staff loose with your brand identity. Everything you put on the web will be judged, and each pair of eyeballs that lands on the content you produce is a potential lead.
Our first step would be to start with a lexicon for your business. These terms can be formed from your keyword research or could be terms, which you believe, set you apart from the crowd. To return to the Energy Broker scenario earlier, Dan might think of himself as an ‘Energy Broker’ but the market and his customers will call him an ‘Energy Consultant’:
It’s easy to fall victim to this mistake. For instance, an ‘Integrated Marketing Agency’ could call themselves that or a ‘Full-Service Agency’ but, in reality, their potential clients could be using terms like ‘Marketing Agency’ or ‘Marketing Consultant’ – a bit of customer research at this point will be invaluable.
In terms of look and feel of the material (like white papers or infographics), you are putting out there you will need to make sure that the obvious brand guidelines for your business have been followed. Remember, PDF’s presented as lead magnets on your website are part of your website and the look and feel should be the same as the rest of the content on your site.
Part 3. Creating a calendar
It’s important to create a calendar and, even if you don’t stick to it, it will help shape your focus. If content is put out ad-hoc it will come across as such, your calendar should take into account of your audience’s potential buying behaviour as well as your internal resources, which will dictate what type of content you should create and syndicate.
For the purposes of creating our calendar, lets put us back in the shoes of Dan, our energy broker:
Here, our fictitious energy broker is thinking strategically about how his services can reach people at the right time to make his company be perceived as the expert voice. He is using content he can create easily (energy news round up’s) and that is genuinely interesting to the target personas he has created (ways to save, market size etc.)
Part 4. How to monitor success (or otherwise)
You have now started your content marketing program – great! Now what happens? If you have asked your boss to put the budget into your content marketing project you are going to need to demonstrate some results. We tend to assess the efficacy of our content marketing efforts using the metrics below:
- Meaningful web traffic – Traffic on its own is a vanity metric. To us, a ‘successful’ visit will be deemed as such if it is a deep and meaningful one. What is a deep? A ‘deep visit’, we consider being someone who has been on our website for three to four minutes or more. A meaningful visit is someone who has come on to our website and consumed one or two pieces of content.
- More qualified traffic from your chosen vertical targets – IP sniffing technologies, like Leadworx or others, can tell you what businesses have visited your site. If you know that more and more of the types of business you want are consuming relevant content on your site, you’re obviously doing the right thing. Sites like LinkedIn can be used to make educated assumptions about the people within a business that could be consuming the content on your site. These visits could be passed over to a business development manager as a potential business lead. Adding business leads to a sales departments pipeline is always going to be a huge KPI for a B2B marketer.
- Size of your email database – If your email database is going to get larger (organically) through the interesting content you are creating and syndicating, this is an obvious and tangible metric that can be reported on and should be a key KPI in B2B content marketing.
- Goal completions in Analytics – This may potentially be more of a vanity metric but if you know your website is leading people from point A, to point B and resulting in C, you know you’re doing the right thing.
- Social Listening tools – Use social listening tools, like socialmention.com, to see how other people are using the content you are producing, then monitor this over time to see how it (hopefully) increases.
The key thing you need to do is always look at the numbers and if the numbers are going in the wrong direction, kill it, fast. Like all digital marketing activity, you need to be highly agile and iterate all the time depending on what is or isn’t working.
So, if you are syndicating content on LinkedIn hoping to reach a certain target persona and it’s resulting in more web visits from your competitors perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board with your personas. Similarly, if you are producing content and distributing via social (maybe on LinkedIn Pulse) and you are not seeing an uptick in web traffic perhaps you are focusing on the wrong channel.
If you have skipped to the end of this document here are our top five golden rules for a successful B2B content marketing programme:
- Create buying personas – Addressing specific pain-points will help your potential customers and make your voice an expert one in a crowded marketplace.
- Have a plan – To fail to plan is to plan to fail. Your plan should include your content calendar, where you are now and where you want to be.
- Have a content leader – You need to be perceived as an expert voice. Emoji’s and typographic errors are probably not going to paint you as an expert in B2B.
- Automate – Use technology to get your content in front of the right people and let other people spread the word for you.
- Iterate – Look at the numbers and scale quickly if something is working. And, fail fast if the opposite appears to be the case.
We have kept this guide quite high level, as we know our intended audience is time-poor and likes to read compendiums. We’ve done our research, you see, and wanted to produce a concise guide that could be read within ten minutes and is easily actionable. Of course, if you would like to talk in greater detail about any of these points please get in touch.
Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, consumers are the product – and why it’s great for business, but maybe not for long…
The recent news about Cambridge Analytica and the Facebook data breach has left many users of the social platform aghast at the (perceived) insidious uses of their data. Though companies allegedly using data to swing elections anonymously and with impunity may seem scary, what surprises us the most, is backlash from the platform’s users. Users of Facebook have and will always be the product and for businesses it’s great.
The never-ending feedback loop
Every action on Facebook by a user and will go on to help them to continue to map a very detailed picture. Every like, comment, share as well usage patterns will build up the psychographic persona of a user which will, ultimately, be monetised by the platform. Some users maybe aghast at this fact but the opportunities for businesses to target, with pinpoint accuracy, exactly the type of consumers they want to reach are immense.
One company, many products
Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the launch of their Audience Network (an Ad serving platform, like Google’s DoubleClick) means that businesses can tap into all of the targeting capabilities afforded by Facebook’s data and algorithm’s in one place. The economies of scale, ease of billing and, from a marketer’s point of, reporting is very compelling. Most pertinently, from our perspective, we find Facebook advertising really works.
Facebook’s where your parents are
What is becoming apparent to us though is that coveted (from a marketer’s perspective) younger millennial appears to be leaving Facebook in droves. The Coca-Cola’s and McDonald’s of this world will always want to go where this key demographic is, brands follow the money and the money, for the big blue chip FMCG brands is with the young. If brands can only target middle-aged people we can expect to see a lot more case studies selling funeral plans than Cannes Lions for creativity.
Facebook’s share price and, some could say business model has always been predicated on endless growth. More users, naturally means more money. Arguably, Facebook saw the writing on the wall as far ago as 2012 with their acquisition of Instagram. Anecdotally, many Instagram users claim not to ‘do Facebook’ whilst happily using a Facebook product and, presumably, be happy to be targeted by the same algorithms, that led them to leave the core platform in the first place. Facebook’s problem now is that they have to try and find more growth from an ageing population.
Ride out the storm
We personally believe that Facebook will be able to recover from the latest news and it won’t be terminal to their fortunes. They, undoubtedly, will have more clever acquisitions up their sleeves and will continue to diversify their business. What the recent news may reinforce though is that the shine is starting to come off the core platform. We believe, personally, that the Facebook star is really waning, not because of the data leakage or the targeting algorithms but because the shiny new digital success story is now populated by the middle-aged.
Choosing a PPC agency is a minefield…
Throw a rock and you’ll end up hitting one…
So how do you choose a PPC agency? You first need to ask yourself some questions:
Look at your business first – where is the digital skills gap?
You have identified the need for some external help in the growth of your digital footprint, but what are your skill sets internally? If your budgets are relatively small, or the products you wish to sell are limited is this work something that can be self-taught? There are a myriad of training companies out there (we found the Institute of Digital Marketing were excellent), so could an employee be up-skilled to handle some basic AdWords campaigns?
If time, or the complexity of the tasks involved looks overwhelming, its time to seek some help. AdWords can be a way to gain digital traction, quickly. Whilst an SEO program can be the result of months, or even year’s worth of work, AdWords can get qualified traffic to your site pretty much straight away. We like to think of AdWords as the original growth hack.
How do you like to work with consultants?
Trusting an external consultant takes a leap of faith. We know your business is your baby. Like your baby, you would only allow the people you trust the most to look after it. If you are worried about handing over the digital keys to your business to a 3rd party, you will need to set a framework with the agency to make sure there is total transparency.
Would weekly meetings or calls make you feel comfortable? Be sure to mention this to the agency you want to appoint so the ground rules are set early on. On the flipside, if all you want to see a progress report with next steps and recommendations on, tell your agency. As suppliers we find both parties setting the ground rules early on helps for a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. Remember, as a client you only want to work with an agency that adds value to your business. What may surprise you is that agencies, generally, only want to work with clients who add value to their business too. ‘Value’, in this case, extends beyond just being paid, so perhaps ask your prospective agency ‘what value will our business add to yours?’ — if you’re happy with the response they have obviously thought about your business and are serious about how you can help them long term, and outside of the obvious prism of money.
Credentials and recommendations
At the risk of teaching your Grandmother how to suck eggs…always look for evidence. An agency that purports to be a PPC specialist, ask for case studies. Then ask for a current client whom you can speak to. Any agency worth their salt would be happy to share their successes. As an agency, we find that most of our business is generated from recommendations and referrals. Also, we like to help our clients as much as we can too, it’s like a virtuous circle of reciprocity.
In terms of credentials, we would say always look to appoint an agency who is a Google Partner. To be a Google Partner, the PPC agency will need to have taken the appropriate exams and studied the right courses. They also need to manage a minimum amount of spend per month with Google and also meet certain performance criteria with the campaigns they manage.
Think about the whole the picture
AdWords or any paid advertising should only ever be a part of a wider strategic picture. For instance, your SEO and PPC should dovetail. PPC is often used to ‘fill the gaps’, for instance if getting to page 1 for a highly competitive term will take a considerable investment in terms of content production and link building it may be far more effective to use PPC. Or, does your PPC need to compliment (or even complement) your social media activity, what about your other more traditional forms of advertising? What we’re saying is a PPC agency that thinks about your AdWords activity in a silo is probably not the right partner. Similarly, from a suppliers perspective, if a client seems reticent to share as much information with us as possible for us to do our best work, we would have to ask some tough questions about whether the client was serious about making PPC work for them.
Transparency is key – think long term
Any good relationship is worth nurturing and takes time and effort for both parties. At the crux of all good relationships should be honesty. From the supplier’s side if mistakes happen, they should be rectified and owned up to. Before choosing an agency maybe ask your prospective supplier what the biggest mistake was that they made and how they rectified it.
Your supplier should also be alive to the fact that the longer-term trend in digital is about client’s filling their digital skills gaps. The general trend, for larger SME’s, is that digital specialists are taking over management of things like PPC and other forms of paid advertising. A good agency will be aware of that fact and want to share their knowledge with you. Digital Marketing shouldn’t be like the dark arts and a good agency will have a healthy pipeline of prospects anyway, aware that churn happens. Breaking up is hard to do, but breaking up with an agency shouldn’t be, and setting the mutual expectations and medium term strategy from both sides (supplier and client) should prevent any nasty surprises further down the line.
The use of data intelligence is not new. But, the advent of so much data due to digital touch points being used to interact with brands has given marketers a rich seam of new marketing intelligence to mine to build up a better picture of their consumer’s behaviour. We think the best use of data is still the work Dunnhumby did for Tesco in the early 90’s with the clubcard. At a stroke Tesco managed to glean information which would impact on their supply chain, buying and, of course, their customers. They managed to give rewards for information from consumers and effectively created CRM as we know it. Tesco did, and still do, have deep pockets — but how can SMEs use data to make better decisions? We’ll show you how you can start a big data strategy for free.
Google Analytics and Big Data
Google Analytics is a rich seam of anonymised data that will give you a deep insight into how your web audience interacts with your website and, by extension, your business. First of all you need to set some goals. Then think about what success for your business looks like – is it a sale or are conversions measured in a different way for your business? You need to develop different goals for each business objective. Next identify your KPI’s – and make sure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Realistic and Timely). Next set your targets (financial or other) and your target customer segments. Once you have completed this exercise you will be on your way to starting to measure.
How we do it
When starting an analytical project on behalf of a client we often start with the audience. Who is using your site? Where are they and how does behaviour differ on site? How does behaviour differ for new and returning visitors? What goals (if any) have different audience segments completed? Identifying these different factors will set you on your way to learning who your sweets pot audience is.
Next we like to focus on Acquisition. How do you currently acquire your customers? How does he bounce rate and page views differ for these different channels? For an eCommerce client or any company that spends money on digital advertising, Acquisition is a key tool for revenue attribution and where your marketing spend should be focused. Be wary though as ‘last click’ attribution can be a blunt instrument, we prefer to look at Multi-Channel Funnels as this will tell us how one attribution is impacted by another. Conversions are rarely linear. If a consumer is going to buy a new car they may look on Auto Trader, then visit a car show room and then buy a car from a different show room or even a private seller. Who should be held responsible for the sale here, Auto Trader or the second show room? They could be equally as responsible so this fact needs to be considered as part of your marketing intelligence.
Next we like to look at site behaviour more deeply. Which pages are viewed the most? And, what do people do on these heavily viewed pages? This information will help you with your on-site strategy, as well as what would help to resonate with people through your social media strategy and even the tone of voice within your digital advertising. If a page resonates with a particular type of customer — why not use this data to inform your broadcast approach to acquire more of these types of people?
There is a lot to learn about Google Analytics, sometimes the amount of data one can access and report on can be overwhelming. We would encourage you to start with the basics, set some goals and try and learn more about your customers. We use this methodology all of the time to develop a deeper understanding of our and our client’s customers. Google Analytics is free and intuitive, if you are a digital novice and want to start learning more about your customers to make informed decisions, it’s a great place to start.
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What is digital display advertising?
Display advertising has been around since 1994 and was one of the first ways that digital publishers started to commercialise their website. Like most related to technology, we have come a long way since then. Display advertising can now be bought using Real Time Bidding and audiences, or potential audiences can be targeted using Demand Side Platforms. However, there are certain ways to make your digital advertising effective and these rules are as applicable now as they were 24 years ago.
How can I make display advertising work for me?
Firstly, like all digital communication your display advertising should be integrated with the rest of your messaging. Your online identity should not live in a silo – the thrust of your campaign should be aligned with your wider marketing objectives to support and enhance the specific campaign activity. It sounds obvious but if you’re running a sale, your digital display should be pushing this sale in the same way your press advertising is.
Secondly, define your audience. This is where your personas will be indispensable. There are many ways you can target display, for instance the Google Display Network but, to use a 1994 example, an advert for men’s deodorant wouldn’t work as well on a website geared towards women’s interests.
You also need to think carefully about what you want your digital display to do. Is it branding, engagement or lead generation? The strategic decision making that goes into your campaign rationale will have a direct impact on your messaging, the type of banner you produce and the landing pages you direct people to on your site.
Regardless of what you want people to do after seeing or, more pertinently, clicking on one of your ads there are some golden rules around copy that you should follow. Firstly, you need a clear call to action – tell people what you want them to do. The copy you have used should also be informed by keyword research, using direct and concise language. Next, the design of your ads should be as good as you can afford to make it and fit the context of the banner’s dimension you are using.
Like all digital marketing you have the ability to make decisions, which are rooted in science. Split test your ads – you can split test on lots of different metrics but the obvious ones to look at are the pictures – which one works the best in driving your desired outcome? Next, what about the text – how well does the text you are using make people click on your ad? How about your all to action? You should try different ones and see which works most effectively. Is it ‘buy now’ or ‘more information’? There’s only one way to find out…
Don’t be a pain…
Finally, remember to frequency cap. There’s nothing more annoying than an ‘ear worm’ radio ad is there? Well let’s apply this to a digital context. Have you ever been to an eCommerce website and then be followed by ads around the web for a product you have no wish to buy, or even worse, have already bought?
How we react to bad remarketing…
This kind of digital marketing is called re-marketing. It can be highly effective at getting potential consumers who are already aware of your brand to convert. However, to avoid this potential consumer from having a negative experience of your brand we would recommend frequency capping your ads so the maximum time an individual can see one of your ads is four times.
There’s a lot to know about digital display advertising. Done well it can be great lead generation tool for your website or business, done badly it can be an expensive waste of time. Like all digital marketing, your decisions should be backed up with a solid strategy, rooted in extensive research and as part of a wider mix of digital solutions to address specific target markets and where in the funnel these people are.
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We talked recently about how personas can be used to help identify where your target audience might be. We find the creation of a ‘person’ often cuts through some of the digital noise and allows us to truly recognise how messaging should be shaped. Creating a persona or several personas for your brand will allow you to both identify a digital media strategy, but also the tone of voice your message will take. We find this exercise is crucial in both attracting and also converting audiences on behalf of our clients.
So, where do you start?
First, think about your business, what you sell and the typical sales cycle. For an eCommerce company with many products this might be trickier than a B2B business that sells services, so start with the sweet spot. If you know your eCommerce business sells lots of high visibility jackets to cyclists – creating your persona is going to be easy! We could easily find out where a middle-aged man in Lycra hangs out online and what his assumed affinity categories are going to be. If, your products and services are more diverse you’ll need to do a little more work and ask a few more questions first.
Are people talking?
If you have an online footprint, what are people saying about you on the web? There are lots of great tools out there to help you identify where your name has been mentioned in social media and more widely on the web. Check out people who have mentioned you on Twitter or Facebook, this will give you a clue to what kind of people are already using your product or service. For smaller businesses with a larger competitor, try this exercise with the name of the company you aspire to be.
Once you have this assumed background information your persona should be starting to take some shape. You now need to understand your persona’s preferences and habits. Clearly the digital footprint and behaviours of our middle-aged man in Lycra are going to be far different to an urban millennial female; they might both have a need for a high visibility jacket, but where and the tone of how we reach them would be markedly different.
Now you need to understand how your might find your business using the 5P’s Customer Search Insights Model.
- Person – Age, sex and social.
- Place – are they urban or rural, local or national or international?
- Product – what did they arrive on your site looking for?
- Priority – What’s their priority – where are they in the funnel?
- Purchase – Did they make a purchase and if so, was it online or in a shop?
Over-laying the data gleaned from Google Analytics above with evidence from your other research will give you lots of clues to the type of characteristics your person (or persons) will have.
Putting it all together
To continue with our high visibility analogy we could perhaps deduce there are three distinct highly lucrative markets that are searching for a jacket at different times of year.
- Meet Jane. Jane is 37. She has two children, an active lifestyle and her six-year-old daughter has just learnt to ride a bike. She wants a high-vis jacket for her and her child, it’s September, the nights are getting darker but she wants to ride in the evenings to enjoy the rest of the good weather before winter.
- Meet Colin. He’s 45, just bought a road bike (and some Lycra) and wants to use his new bike to get to and from work. He got his bike for Christmas so he will be riding in the dark.
- Meet Sophie. She is 27, works in advertising in London and uses her bike every day to get to and from work. Her friend was knocked off her bike recently by a truck so is very worried about safety on her bike.
Now we have met our target audiences we can get to work with developing a plan to reach them. All of them want to buy the same product but the choices we make in terms of where and how we address them through digital channels are going to be very different. Sophie and Jane are probably as different as Colin and Sophie in terms of what and how they consume online and what drives them to convert. Not all audiences are created equal, so the plan we create needs to be as equally diverse.
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The death of email has long been prophesied and has never seemed to materialise. Social networks, OTT technologies like What’s App and the iMessage have changed the way we communicate Peer 2 Peer but email is still the primary channel for businesses reaching consumers and businesses talking to other businesses. After all the advent of TV didn’t kill the radio. Email done well can be your key revenue-generating channel, done badly it can cause serious damage to your reputation. Below we have listed five key points to consider when developing an effective email strategy:
To develop an email marketing strategy you need email addresses. Not any old email addresses, the email addresses you send to need to have explicitly opted in to receive communications from you. For a B2B business this can be from a sign-up form for newsletters or collected from trade shows, or call centres. For B2C businesses we would suggest that the emails you collect should be from your opted in customers, or from newsletter subscribers. And, once you have this data, make sure it is managed regularly. A good ESP (Email Service Provider) like MailChimp will regularly clean unsubscribes and hard-bounces. Our golden rules are:
- Never buy lists
- Never share lists
- Never assume an opt-in
- Have a process for un-subscribes (automation)
If you sell to businesses, do all of your customers buy the same product from you? Probably not. Similarly, do all apparel eCommerce websites sell identical products to identical people? If so great, if not, segment. Create different lists within your email database and create a strategy for each. In both a B2B and B2C context you could segment by spend, product category or demographic. Develop a contact strategy for each segment based around relevance. Like your Mum always used to say ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’.
Be clear whom the email is from
Never send emails from @noreply or @sales – a sender’s name is one of the biggest drivers in the email opening prioritisation processes. Remember, without opens you can’t get clicks and without clicks you can’t get sales. Our advice would be to personalise a piece of email communication as much as possible, both in the sender name (from you) and in the body of the email. Remember the advice of Seth Godin (the Godfather of permission marketing), the objective is to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers. No one wants to be a friend of ‘sales@’.
Test, test, test
The old accepted wisdom on the best time and day to send emails is between Tuesday and Thursday and between 10 – 12pm and 2pm – 4pm for B2B and between 7pm and 9pm for B2C. However, the advent and proliferation of mobile devices has completely disrupted these assumptions. More emails are now opened on mobile devices than desktops. The split will obviously vary between B2C and between B2B and types of customer you want to engage with. The only way to know how you can truly increase the open rates for your business is to try. Split test on send time, on headline, on message copy and design. A good tip we find is that ‘click-bait’ subject lines tend to work best. Ask a question and answer it in the email, then truly answer the question by directing people to some engaging content on your website.
An off the shelf ESP will allow for an incredible level of insight. As well as the split testing features mentioned above, you will also understand what time of day people open your emails, where they are and even who they are using the assumed geo-demographic information inferred by the ESP. Analysing these reports after a period of testing will help you not only shape the content that resonates with your email audience, but your email strategy itself. The reporting features will instruct what content, at what time and day should be sent to maximise your business objectives.
The points above are non-exhaustive. You also need to consider your email design, testing on different mail clients as well as a whole host of data storage questions brought about by the impending GDPR legislation.
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A digital strategy will be different for every business. However, there are some fundamental questions you, or your digital agency should be asking in order to arrive at the plan as to whether you are looking to drive enquiries or sales or whether you are looking to speak to businesses or consumers. This list is none exhaustive but follows the Digital Marketing Institute’s framework, and, in our experience works pretty well.
The DMI framework is based on three principles:
To initiate, start with the customer and work towards your digital goals. This can often be the hardest part – building a customer profile that is based on market reality and not market aspiration is the best way to do this. Your business may aspire to be a market leader and you may have plans to turn over millions in the next five years, but if you currently turn over thousands your customer profile will be different. Route your target customer in reality and not aspiration.
The second principle, iteration, is one of the unique strengths of digital marketing. Unlike analogue channels, the web has democratised marketing. AdWords auctions are not purely based on budget size but a whole host of other factors, such as relevance, customer experience and the opaque ‘quality score’ which favours the customer experience over budget. As we explored recently, Google wants its users to have the best experience of its service. In a nutshell, iteration allows a business to dip their toe in the water and change the approach based on empirical evidence quickly.
The third principle, integrate, is all about tone of voice. The way you broadcast your business to the market should be channel agnostic. Digital should not operate in a silo, your website and your web based marketing should work in tandem with your other broadcast mediums so the experience your customers get of your brand is Omni-channel.
So, what about those questions then – Let’s start with your customer:
Who is the sweet-spot customer? What do they look like and where do they ‘hangout’ online? Remember your customer profile here and market reality. You might want to sell to the CFO of a multi-national but if your customer is another SME your choice of channel and messaging will be very different.
We now have our target customer, how do we speak to them? Google Analytics is a gold mine of free Cookie based inferred information – use it! If, by looking at your analytics dashboard you can infer that your customer is a certain age and in a certain location you can make informed choices about the channels you would use to address them.
How do you measure up? How does your business stack up against your competitors, more widely in your sector and in industry trends? Be honest, Rome wasn’t built in a day and a digital strategy is a never-ending process – remember you need to iterate all the time.
What’s your current situation? How good is your website? Is it geared for conversions or just looking pretty? How do you rank against your competitors in natural search? Do you use email marketing, if so what is the size of your email database?
Can you create a customer search insights model? For instance if you sell clothes online have you considered the ‘Five P’s’ – Person – age, sex, social group, Place – city or rural, Product – type of apparel the audience might want Priority – Do they want a winter coat now? And, finally Purchase – where in the funnel are they?
The questions don’t, or shouldn’t, stop there. By asking some or all of the questions above you, or your digital agency, should be able to create a cohesive plan aligned with your wider business objectives and rooted in market reality. So, if your digital agency is not asking these questions, should you be asking questions of them?
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How can businesses ‘do’ content marketing and why they can’t afford not to…
A survey of marketing intentions in 2018 put content marketing right at the front of the queue for marketing activity anticipated to drive conversions for business owners. But as a business owner, working in and on the business, how can you produce content that can drive your business forward? We believe you can’t afford not to. Here’s why:
The way we search has changed
The way we (internet users) search for information on the Internet is changing. Artificial Intelligent or Bots (Robots) such as Siri or Alexa are making our search behaviour far more conversational. Google, in response, are changing the way they display SERPS (search engine results) to favour content that is more conversational in its tone. Quite simply, if a user asks a question they will rank a page that answers it over one that doesn’t. Google is the guardian of a user’s web experience – this protects their interests and ensures a user doesn’t choose a competitive search engine.
Why Google doesn’t want you to search elsewhere…
You’re an expert
As a business owner, you are the expert in your chosen field. You also have a raft of clients, success stories, and some failures, which will help potential customers’ pain points. What we’re saying is sharing is caring and Google will reward you for that.
So, where do you start?
Think about your customers and why they would contact you. A locksmith might pose the question – ‘Should I change the locks in my house if I have just moved in?’ The answer for the locksmith is, of course, ‘Yes’.
To explore a more B2B focused analogy let’s consider a company who produces promotional videos for SME’s. They might ask ‘Should an SME invest in a promotional video?’ or ‘How much does it cost for a small company to create a video?’ In both the examples above the business owner in question would have lots of valuable insight to share, which ultimately will have an impact on their SERPS.
Sharing insight like this not only adds value to your potential customers experience of your business. It also sets you apart from the competition.
Now you see the value and understand some of the science behind it, how then do you go about creating a programme?
The best place to start, inevitably, is always the beginning. For your business the beginning of the customer journey is the customer! Creating a persona doesn’t just need to exist in the boardroom of a big corporation, every business will be able to create a type or types of customer. For us the customer is often digitally savvy but time-poor. We could map our target customer based on job title, type of business, geographic location etc.
Now we have our person, lets identify his or her pain points. If, for instance, the video company we touched on earlier knew that they wanted to talk to marketing managers of £3-£5 million companies the persona map will identify their pain-points ‘how do I sell more pegs / bins or smoke alarms’ and where, potentially, these customers ‘hang-out’ online.
Now you have your persona – where next?
The important thing to consider about any content strategy is that the project never ends and the project needs an owner. As a small business owner the buck will probably stop with you. This doesn’t need to be an onerous task though – remember you are the expert and your customers are looking to you for guidance. A content strategy needn’t be rocket science – just think like a customer.
Let’s look at accountants as an example. Their customers will need to pay their VAT four times a year and personal tax returns every January. We would advise them to produce content around key dates for example ‘What happens when I submit a tax return late?’. We would also advise them to pepper their content with success stories and signals, which lead the users to making contact with them.
Planning a content strategy
To help you plan a content strategy, you can use Google Trends and Keyword Planner to see how the potential market for your content changes over time to help you best plan your content marketing resources. A client of ours once asked us to help sell fur clothes for them in the summer… we politely pointed out they might want to rethink their product strategy!
If you’re struggling for content ideas, you can check out our keyword research guide.
As search becomes more conversational, mobile devices continue to proliferate and start to dominate internet search, it’s time to seriously consider how you can harness the power of content marketing. The key thing to remember is you already have a huge raft of content you could put out there which will genuinely add value to your potential customers and, ultimately, can help you get ahead of your competition.
Are you implementing a content marketing plan?
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Backlinks are still one of the most important factors that Google takes into account when ranking your website in the search results. Regardless of whether you’re a large brand or a small local business, you NEED quality, relevant backlinks.
Since the release of the Google Pigeon update, the algorithm that ranks map pack listings in local search results has tied in more with the organic rankings algorithm. This means that building links to your website now not only helps you rank in the organic search results, but also helps you rank in the local listings!
We’ve been over general link building tactics in depth before, so with this guide want to focus purely on links to help you rank locally.
Simply put, citations are a reference to your business name, address and phone number (NAP) on the internet. Though most sources for citations will allow you to link to your website, this isn’t the biggest benefit of creating citations. It’s the fact that you have your NAP listed that will add value to your website’s ranking in local search. Citations come in two forms:
Structured citations are mentions of your business on directories. For example; Yell, Yelp, Scoot and Brownbook.
Unstructured citations are mentions of your business on any other sites. For example; event listings, newspapers, job listings and blogs.
Getting links from other local businesses and newspapers will be covered in this article, so for now we’ll just stick to covering structured citations here.
We mentioned earlier that citations without links are still valuable for ranking in local search, but since this article is focused on link building, we’ll look at citation creation for link building purposes.
Most of the links you get from directories are no-follow, but they still provide value as they are locally relevant. Add to the fact that they’re really easy to build, this makes citations a no-brainer for local business websites and should generally be the first links you build.
To avoid going over things we’ve already written about, we previously created a guide to local citations and where to get them.
There’s two ways to get a sponsorship/donation link:
When you think of donations, you instantly think of money. But there is something else you can offer…your services. Are there any local charities and non-profit organisations in your area that could benefit from your services?
As an example, if you’re a web designer you could contact local charities and offer them free web hosting. The chances are that you already have space on a server somewhere that can be used so it won’t really cost you any money.
You need to have a think about what services your business could offer and then start reaching out to charities to suggest offering these services in exchange for exposure. Be subtle and don’t ask for a link straight away. First, mention your offer and then mention your request in a follow-up email.
Here’s an example of an email you could send:
Subject: Can we donate free web hosting to [CHARITY]?
My name is [NAME] and I’m the owner of [YOUR COMPANY]. We’re a local website designer based in [LOCATION].
I believe in the great work that [CHARITY] do and we’d really like to support you by saving you money and offering to host your website free of charge.
Let me know if you’re interested.
It’s really that easy. When we’ve ran campaigns like this, we’ve had a 100% success rate.
If you can’t think of any ways in which your product or services could be of use, then you could always donate/sponsor a local club, sports team or charity. Most of these local organisations will have a website and will also get news coverage, meaning that their website will have strong links to it, further increasing the value of the link to your website.
Some examples of organisations that accept sponsorships/donations:
- Running clubs
- Dogs homes
- Local charities
- Dance clubs
- Food banks
Here are some search operators you can use to find these opportunities:
- inurl:sponsors CITY
- intitle:sponsors CITY
- intext:sponsors CITY
- inurl:donors CITY
- intitle:donors CITY
- intext:donors CITY
- inurl:donate CITY
- intitle:donate CITY
- intext:donate CITY
If you go through these search queries, adding the details to a spreadsheet like the one pictured below, you should end up with a good list of link opportunities.
3. Alumni Links
Are you a success story that went to a local university? Chances are they may have a section on their website that feature their former student’s success stories and may even have an alumni directory. These links will be from .ac.uk and .edu domains, which carry a lot of weight in Google’s rankings.
It’s worth noting that some universities do not allow links to commercial websites and if that is the case, have them link to a high-authority social profile of yours.
If you’re thinking of getting an intern, or think you will in the future, this is a great way to get quality backlinks from universities.
For this to work, you first need to create a dedicated page on your website for internships that tells students about your company, what the internship will entail and how they can apply for it.
Once you’ve done this, you can then begin contacting universities to let them know about your internship opportunities and to ask if there is anywhere on the universities website where you can be listed.
The great thing about this is that universities tend to have teams dedicated to this, so you’ll be able to find out if you can get a link relatively quick.
5. Provide Testimonials
Being a business, the chances are you’ve done business with another business at some point or another. Some businesses you might’ve used include builders, cleaning companies, software providers, accountants, etc.
The idea with this local link building tactic is to get in touch with these companies and offer them a testimonial in exchange for a link back to your website. This is a great tactic because it helps both parties. Companies want to show off customer testimonials to provide social proof to win them more customers, and you get a boost in the Google rankings from having a link from their site. These links are often from their homepage, which is often the most powerful page on a site.
6. Hosting Local Events
Whether you’re a small local business or an internationally known brand, putting on local events is a fantastic way to build your brand. Not only is it a great way to build your brand, it’s also a great way to get links to your site.
Link building via events generally works better for businesses that have their own offices and can host events, but you can still generate links when hosting an event at a different location.
To start gaining links by hosting local events, you first need to come up with what types of events you could host. We’ll go back to the web design company that we used in earlier examples:
- Introduction to WordPress
- Introduction to marketing your business online
- Beginner web tips
A good idea when thinking about topics to host an event around is to see if you can connect it to another, larger event in your city. A great example of this that we have seen is a law firm. They managed to tie their event with their cities’ gay pride parade. They held a talk one of Microsoft’s lawyers that talked about the organisation’s stance on workplace diversity. The law firm reached out to groups that were participating in the parade and were able to get their event listed on other websites and also get it promoted on social media.
Once you’ve decided on a topic to host an event around, you’ll need to create a page on your website for the event and you’ll then need to list your event on event sites. Here are some to get you started:
You can also find other sites to list your event by using the following search operators:
- “submit event” CITY
- list an event CITY
- event listings CITY
This shouldn’t be all you do to promote your event (you want people to actually turn up as well!) and you should reach out to local bloggers, newspapers and other businesses that you think might be interested in the event and let them know about it.
Facebook advertising also works great for this is you’re happy to set aside a small budget for it. You simply just need to create a post with the details of the event and then boost it, or create a Facebook Event Ad.
7. Create Local Resources
What better way to show you’re the area’s expert than creating a local resource? Not only will it gain links and social shares, but it will help you give something back to the community you’re operating in. The good thing about this is that you’re already a local and should be able to compile something like this without too much research.
If you’re struggling with things to create a resource around, here are a few ideas:
- Local guides – bars, museums, restaurants, attractions, etc.
- Event calendar – festivals, sporting events, etc.
- Map – pet-friendly places to eat, attractions, etc.
One thing to note is that this resource must look great. Like with all content, you should ensure it is of the highest quality and is an asset. It should also be kept up to date.
Once you’ve created your resource, you can then start promoting it via social media and outreach. We find that starting with local Facebook groups helps to get the ball rolling.
You can then start reaching out to local hotels, travel agents and newspapers to let them know about your resource.
What local link building tactics do you like to use?
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