Posts

How to Create Attention Grabbing White Papers in 5 Essential Steps

White papers can be great lead generation and sales support tools when properly constructed with purpose, impactful design and digestible content. But sadly, many technology companies publish white papers that miss the mark and fail to engage readers. Today’s executive decision makers are busy. They don’t have time to sift through text-intensive white papers in search of a few great nuggets of information. Boring, unformatted or overtly marketing-focused white papers will collect dust while hampering the sales cycle and negatively impacting your brand.

To make sure your white papers work for you, and not against you, follow these 5 essential steps.

Step 1: Define the Purpose. Before you write a single word, define the, “Who, What, When and Why?” of your white paper. The answers to these questions will help keep the paper on target and the content interesting.

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What problem is your reader trying to solve?
  • When in the sales cycle will the paper be used?
  • Why should the reader spend his/her valuable time reading your paper?

For more tips on writing with purpose, read, “Sales Collateral Success Tips: 4 Questions to Ask Before You Write

Step 2: Build the Outline. I know plenty of writers that skip this step, but you are more likely to stray off course or be repetitive without the outline as a guide. An outline forces you to think logically about how to best present the information before you invest time in writing. That said, an outline should be fluid. Make adjustments as needed to eliminate issues or incorporate new ideas that arise in subsequent steps.

Step 3: Give it an Attention Grabbing Title. The title is one of the most important determining factors for whether your paper is read or passed by in the search for better content. A seemingly endless number of books, blogs and articles are dedicated to the mechanics of writing effective titles. If you are unfamiliar with these resources, you may want to search out some of them or view my post on the topic, Get More White Paper Downloads with a Great Title.” Otherwise, here’s some basic tips:

  • Focus on what’s in it for the reader.
  • Be specific.
  • Balance relevance with creativity.
  • Be succinct.

Step 4: Create an Impactful Design. In the old days (as in 5 years ago), the writer wrote the paper and then the graphic designer formatted the content and added a few graphical elements to make the piece visually impactful.  The written word ruled supreme and the layout was just the icing on the cake.  Today, this is no longer the case. With increasing job demands, constant disruptions and less time to do more, I think it is fair to assume that nobody actually reads any more – well at least not until they are convinced that the read will be worth their time. Within as little as 5 seconds, your prospective buyer will decide whether to read your paper or move on to the next task. Stack the odds in your favor by contemplating the design first. Aim to teach your reader something useful in 2 minutes or less, and make sure the design helps you accomplish this goal. Headings, call out boxes, tables, diagrams and imagery can help make your paper visually interesting and quickly demonstrate value. For each section of your paper, define what graphical queues will help tell your story before you write.

Step 5: Make the Content Digestible. When writing content, understand that your reader will probably not read your paper from start to finish in the first pass. “Reading” for most has become a 3 step process. Step 1) Skim the entire paper in search of interesting information. If the information presented is engaging, move on to Step 2) Review sections which stand out as potentially useful. Finally, if value is derived, move to Step 3) Read the entire paper.  Support the 3 Steps process by avoiding text-heavy papers. Instead offer the reader relevant section headings, bulleted lists or tables and section summaries that can be easily consumed when skimming.

3 Events that are Shaping Content Marketing in 2011

Content marketing is about creating and distributing informative content that will help to convert prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers. The goal is to gain opt-in permission from relevant target audiences to continually deliver content via email or other social media channels. Ongoing exposure fosters a relationship that provides multiple opportunities for conversion versus the “one-shot” all-or-nothing approach of traditional outbound marketing practices (such as, online ads, tradeshows or cold calling). Ultimately, the success of your content marketing plan hinges upon your ability to deliver content with independent value that builds trust, credibility and authority for your business.

If you don’t have a robust content marketing plan in place, now is the time to get one. Recent changes to the Google algorithm along with announcements that YouTube is entering the content creation game and Gmail’s addition of Smart Labels, which automatically sort out any kind of mass mailings highlight the fact that a sound content marketing plan has shifted from a “nice-to-have” to marketing essential in 2011.

  1. Google Dings Low-Quality Content Sites Although Google regularly changes its search algorithm with little recognition, the February 2011 change has definitely caught some companies off guard, devastating some websites’ rankings – and thus their traffic. Google made changes to reduce the high rankings of sites with duplicate content and low quality content (i.e., content farms with a low ratio of content to ads) on the search engine result pages. Companies with websites that had learned how to manipulate Google rankings (and were good at it) took a big hit. Google said the update was designed to provide better rankings for high-quality sites, those with “original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, and thoughtful analysis.”
  2. YouTube Becomes a Creator of Content If the changes to the Google algorithm isn’t enough to convince you that content will rule supreme in 2011 and beyond, then perhaps you will be impressed by the fact that YouTube has allocated $100 million to pay for the development of its own original content. This is no small bet. While the move was surely motivated by a desire to generate more profits from ad dollars, the interesting takeaway for B2B marketers is that online consumption of content is increasing and the playing field is leveling as consumers move away from traditional media outlets to whatever sources provide the best content.
  3. Gmail Allows Users to Give Email Marketers the Slip Google’s move to allow Gmail users to automatically filter out all bulk mailings (classified as any kind of mass mailing, including newsletters and promotions) emphasizes the fact that consumers are growing tired of the deluge of email. After years of spam and over zealous email marketing programs, consumers are looking for ways to reclaim control of their inboxes. Employing tricks to avoid the spam filters will no longer be sufficient. Moving forward, email marketers are going to have to earn their keep in the inbox or risk automatic exile into the dreaded bulk folder.

2011 Content Marketing Essentials

Search Engine Optimization
If you care about search engine rankings, Google has sent the message loud and clear, you better start paying attention to the quality of your online content. Sites that specialize in quality niche content (original and in-depth information on a focused topic) now rank better than sites with broad content on hundreds of different topics. This provides a great opportunity for B2B marketers. To capitalize on this shift, first consider what keywords define your business, then carefully evaluate every page on your site and get rid of the junk. Low-quality pages will hurt you – no matter what’s on the rest of your site. Next, focus on developing targeted content that is useful (let your keywords be your guide as to what is useful) and well written from top to bottom. If you can’t write great content yourself, hire someone who can.

Web Presence
The corporate website is often a company’s most tangible and visible face to the world. When properly executed, a website can become a powerful marketing tool that not only serves the needs of existing customers, but also provides an opportunity to capture new customers. To support your content marketing strategy (which relies on opt-in permission) your website must effectively engage visitors. Ask yourself the following questions: Are users encouraged to opt-in to marketing programs? Is a clear call-to-action present on every page? Is there sufficient incentive to opt-in? Remember, incentive is driven by the value of the content presented and trust in your ability to continue to deliver value. If possible allow users to select topics of interest and frequency of communications as part of your lead capture process. Finally, bypass bulk mail filters by reminding users to add your distribution email addresses to address books.

Marketing Automation
Once granted permission to engage prospects via email or other social media channels, be sure not to disappoint. Continue to provide relevant and meaningful content on a regular basis. Marketing automation tools help you categorize leads based on interests and actions so that you can continually provide targeted and relevant content. A “one-size fits all” approach can hurt your content marketing efforts and increase opt-out rates. Marketing automation tools offer you a wealth of information on demographics and response rates that should be used to guide your content development and distribution strategy. Pay specific attention to which types of content and topics perform well for each list segment so that you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

Social Media
A solid PR strategy that includes traditional and expanded social media engagement practices can help extend your reach. Remember that the purpose of content marketing is to engage prospects. PR announcements and media coverage can be used to create awareness and start the dialogue, but two-directional social media communications should be used to further develop the relationship. As Lorraine emphasized previously in her “Thought Leadership 101” blog post – to maintain the relationship, you must continually demonstrate understanding of the key issues, challenges, needs and requirements that truly concern your prospects versus spout off about your latest products functions and features. Use your SEO keywords as a guide on which social network conversations to join.

The Bottomline
Times have changed and so must you. Now more than ever, it’s time to re-evaluate your content marketing strategy and make a plan that will ensure favorable results based on solid content and intelligent strategy.

Interview with Charlie O’Rourke on The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing

Interview with Charlie O’Rourke, Financial Services Leader, former SVP of First Data and currently Chief Technology Strategist with the Fotec Group: “The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing”

Recent industry surveys reveal that more businesses are using outsourced services as a means of cost-cutting and potentially a strategic business productivity tool.  In these studies, executives said they believe outsourcing can provide many benefits, including access to a valuable talent pool where a company may lack expertise.

We asked Charlie O’Rourke, one of the financial industry’s most respected and successful veterans, to give his insights around the growing outsourcing trend and provide some tips on how a company can be successful leveraging outsourced services while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Attain Marketing: We’ve seen more companies looking to outsourced services as a way of achieving their business objectives.   In your opinion, is this a good trend for businesses and what benefits can they gain by outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Yes, I believe those companies that prepare themselves for outsourcing can benefit immensely as part of an overall business strategy.

First, let me clarify what I mean for our purposes here today.  To me “outsourcing” is a practice used by companies of contracting out some of their business functions to an external provider.  For the purpose of this discussion, I am referring to outsourcing as the utilization of hired resources inside U.S. borders.

While I agree there are benefits that a business can gain from outsourcing, there are also potentially huge downside risks of incorporating outsourcing without proper evaluation of its practice within a company.

Outsourcing is not something a company should embark upon simply for cost savings, recommendations from others, or without a critical eye toward the potential outcomes and whether outsourcing fits within their overall business strategy.

I realize expense reduction is often a very significant factor.  However, other considerations are just as or even more important.  A proper corporate outsourcing readiness evaluation would include, among other things, assessment of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, core competencies, culture, traditions, and vision for the future.  When a company’s strategies are well defined and aligned with a vision toward the future, they will include how to utilize outside resources to augment and complement business objectives.

If there is no strategy and strict oversight, outsourcing may end up costing your business more in the end.  Additionally, it could possibly destroy effectiveness in other areas such as agility, flexibility, customer service quality and competitive advantage.

However, if consistent with its strategic objectives, incorporating outsourcing of appropriate business functions can provide a company with the ability to better focus on its core business and gain competitive advantage at the same time.

Attain Marketing: Should businesses have concerns about outsourcing certain business functions?  In other words, are there “best practices” around outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Someone once told me that if everyone is adopting a “best practice” you can bet that it is no longer the best.  Now that the “best practice” is well understood, it is a perfect opportunity for consultants to provide textbook solutions and cookbook remedies while extracting nice fees for their services.

Mindlessly following “best practices” because they have been used at a Fortune 500 company, are the newest fad, everyone is adopting them or they are the rage for consultants nowadays, may not be in a company’s best interest.  Each strategic and tactical practice needs an evaluation with a critical eye on your company objectives.  Specifically, the practice should fit strategically, operationally, and culturally in your company.

It is unwise to “copy” or “clone” another organization’s recipes in terms of strategy, business theory, management tools or technologies.  Only when you understand your culture, values, purpose, strengths, and direction should you consider which business functions are eligible for outsourcing.

Each company has unique requirements and needs to evaluate which practices are “best” for its business, culture, and customers.

If I were to give general guidelines for outsourcing, I would say companies should retain their core functions in house and then look to outsourcing those business functions that are noncore.  That is the simplest guideline I can give.  Although often difficult and time consuming, proceeding without a diligent assessment will guarantee less than optimum results and possibly failure.

Attain Marketing: What are some of the business functions that are best suited for outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Given some of the caveats above, some logical places (unless of course a core competency) to look may include functions in human resources, administration, accounting, marketing, public relations, communications and legal.

There will be many others depending on the company and each business will have to decide on the criticality and impact of outsourcing in a particular area.

Attain Marketing: Being marketers, of course Attain is interested in your thoughts about outsourced marketing and PR services.  Are there advantages?

O’Rourke: I believe companies like Attain can definitely enhance a company’s marketing, media relations, and communications capability.

Small companies are obviously going to benefit quite a bit by using companies like Attain because they typically do not have sufficient, or in many cases, any expertise, talent and skills to effectively perform many of the required functions in these areas.

In the case of larger companies, the ability to utilize outside marketing expertise often times yields tremendous advantages.

I believe a company can achieve optimum outsourcing success when it embeds the resourced personnel with their internal employees.  They assimilate into the culture and have the same objectives as others in the corporation.  They understand the company values, culture, strategies as well as the industry, the business, and the company’s products and services.  They serve as an expert member of teams, departments, or divisions of the company.

Attain Marketing: Well said Charlie, and many thanks for the unsolicited plug ;-).

I’d like to add, potential advantages gained through an outsourced marketing team include access to an expanded list of analyst and media contacts, specialized public relations and marketing tools – as well as expanded services that may be limited or not be available at all within a company.

In addition, an outsourced team of marketing/PR specialists can provide an expanded scope of services in the categories of lead generation, sales support, social marketing, communications and media relations – possibly at the same cost as one or two internal employees who are providing a more limited scope of services defined by their specific role.

Any last thoughts?

O’Rourke: Companies that are too quick to outsource business functions as solely an expense reduction often suffer negative consequences.  Lower cost is always alluring but results may be much different than expected.  Companies should adopt an outsourcing plan that fits within their overall strategies.  This will yield results that are consistent with their direction and that do not negatively affect the company.

Again, I want to emphasize that company culture is very important.  Culture is often overlooked in the total equation.  The ability of a company to accept outsiders and embed them into the business is crucial.  Outsourcing will fit in some cultures but not in others.

I believe outsourced marketing is an area that makes sense, especially when outsourced personnel become an extension of the client’s in-house marketing, public relations, and public relations teams.

Attain Marketing: Many thanks, Charlie, we appreciate your input.

Today we’re seeing many companies turning to outsourcing as a way to deal with budget restraints while staying competitive in a sluggish economy.   Smart companies know that they can’t stop their marketing activities – especially if they plan on establishing healthy longevity in their business, so they see outsourced services as a great way to leverage talent and stay proactive.

Using Marketing Automation to Increase Your Profits

Among the biggest buzzwords in the business world today is marketing automation. But what is it – really?

Marketing automation is really just a software application that helps automate repetitive marketing tasks, based on specific input criteria. It is frequently seen in demand generation campaigns, with tools such as Eloqua, Affinium, and E.6. The idea is two-fold. First, most companies engage in demand generation campaigns such as email marketing campaigns somewhat irregularly. They’ll send an email today, then they’ll try to send another one next month or next quarter – whenever they get to it again. Second, when the follow-up communication is developed, no notion is given to if or how the prospect responded to the first one. Instead, everybody simply gets the same message.

With marketing automation tools, any action on the part of the prospect is recorded by the software. If he downloads a white paper, visits the Website, selects the full article, or inquires about the offer, the software logs it and provides a pre-determined “score” for the behavior. Based on the behavior and/or the score, a different email can be sent at the next scheduled interval, to coincide with the prospect’s behavior. The system can also be programmed to send an immediate correspondence, based on a particular action taken by the prospect, rather than necessarily waiting until the next scheduled communication. Most importantly, however, the scoring system will identify those who are more likely to purchase in the near future, and export those leads to the customer relationship management (CRM) system for telemarketing or sales follow-up.

If used properly, marketing automation can help companies develop a closer relationship with their current and prospective customers, and consistently deploy more fruitful outbound marketing campaigns. It’s important to remember, though, that marketing automation software requires programming at the front end, to be of any value. And, as with any sort of programming, the garbage in, garbage out rule applies. Companies employing a marketing automation system must determine the actions, demographic traits, and other identifiers that distinguish their key target market from the rest of their lead database, then assign those attributes the highest point value.

If the scoring mechanism is developed correctly, the most qualified leads will rise to the surface relatively quickly, and be sent to sales for a rapid close. But if it is not developed correctly, the marketing automation software will just be a wasted investment that delivers unqualified leads to waste the time and energy of the company’s valuable sales force.

So the lesson is this… When considering a marketing automation tool, make sure it’s robust and flexible enough to meet the particular needs of your industry, and that it can be programmed to score leads based on the specific attributes that are important to you. Then, make sure you take the time to truly understand how your ideal customer looks and acts, and develop a scoring system that will help you highlight them – and only them. Finally, have an open mind. You’re unlikely to get it perfect the first time. So talk with your sales people to determine the quality of the leads, versus the “ideal”. Then, modify your scoring criteria to deliver that ideal.

It’s a Video Revolution

People respond to visual communications – a picture paints 1,000 words, as they say.

In the past two years online video has transformed the communications landscape for businesses – and now the video revolution is fully underway.

Chew on these numbers a bit if you’re still not convinced that video is a powerful medium:

  • 52% of all Internet traffic is driven by online video.
  • More than 70% of all Internet users watch videos online.
  • In a single month, YouTube presented 9.5 billion videos to 138 million American consumers.
  • 123 million Americans watched videos online during every single month of 2007.
  • When Cisco added streaming video to its website, the traffic to its website increased by 600%.

Savvy businesses are using video across the customer lifecycle from generating awareness to advocacy – driving better results and greater return from their online marketing investments. With the explosion of online video, businesses taking advantage of this medium are leapfrogging their competition with communications that break through the clutter and connect with prospects and customers.

If you’re ready to get the camera out, here are several take away tips that may help:

  • Walk before you run. Start small and see what the possibilities are – video news releases, video articles or product tutorials are a good way to test the waters. Then you’re ready to move to bigger apps like video blogging and video podcasts.
  • Edgy is good but B2B companies need to keep content appropriate for business audiences. Video will always have inherent risk (you can’t control perception as well as written communications) but you should not add to the risk by overtly offending the viewer.
  • Always remain authentic and relevant to your audience. Don’t try to fool people with scripted or overproduced video content that has no real value.
  • Video ROI measurement includes easy tactics like number of plain views, star feature ratings, comments with feedback and having your video marked as a favorite – so use them to your advantage.

As an industry, we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of what video apps will emerge. No doubt about it – if used smartly, video is a killer addition to your PR 2.0 and lead generation arsenal.