Content sharing and the unintended audience

Anyone who has shared content on Twitter will have noticed that sharing certain kinds of information attracts followers like a flower attracts bees – or, in some or many cases, like dung attracts flies.

Content and the (un)intended audience

The thing about the followers you attract in this way is that they’re often a lot like you. They share your interests. But if your aim is to attract people who might one day buy something from you, you need to share information that’s not necessarily the kind of stuff you’re personally, or even professionally, interested in.

The right content to attract the right audience

Business content

For business purposes you need to share content that your potential customers are interested in – which also relates to something they could buy from you.

What’s the right content for your potential customer? The correct answer is:

it depends…

Who is your customer?

Don’t get me wrong: your customers may be people just like you. Suppose you’re a parent. You run into the fact that a lot of kids’ clothes just aren’t practical or fashionable enough. You design items that are (of course!) wayyy better than the rest and start trying to sell them to… To people like you. To parents who are dissatisfied with the clothes already available.

Then again, you may need to attract people completely different from you. This is where buyer personas come in. Well, nearly…

Analyzing your current audience

Suppose you analyze your audience, such as it is today. That analysis doesn’t necessarily yield an overview of potential buyers. What it does give you is some idea of the groups that are interested in whatever you say – or don’t say.

In the case of a company website, you might review your e-mail list and find:

  • your competitors eagerly following what you do, so they can copy the things you’re doing right and do everything you’re not doing.
  • smaller businesses relying on you for dependable information, which they use to serve their customers.
  • a host of people hiding behind Gmail and the like, which might be competitors, or potential customers… hard to tell.
  • your (potential) customers.

Now a mix of all of these groups is normal. It doesn’t hurt to have competitors watch you. If they don’t, it may mean you’re not interesting. Your competitors aren’t stupid. If they were, they’d be out of business.

If you have a host of competitors and very few potential customers, it’s a different game. You need to change the content you’re publishing. But change it into what?

Describing your customers?

Buyer personas are basically a detailed description of a couple of very different (potential) customers for your products or services.

How much detail should you put into a buyer persona? There are plenty of sources that’ll tell you what data you need, but there are many ways to Rome:

Way back in my time as an art history student, I wrote quality descriptions of the 200 paintings and drawings I listed for my thesis. The question “Why?” will need to wait for the right blog post, but something remarkable happened after I finished my thesis, which contained all of my descriptions. Two fellow students ran into a drawing which they were able to identify with absolute certainty using my description. This drawing had actually been called lost or destroyed by earlier sources.

This is the kind of description you need for each type of (potential) customers if you want to increase your ability to share content that will attract them. You need to add the kind of detail that allows your sales people to recognize their real flesh-and-blood customers immediately. Without that kind of information about your customers, you’re basically relying on educated guesses. Which may work, if your guesses are well-educated 😉

Advertisements

An outsider’s view (more or less) of email marketing

Some time ago I noticed Maria Pergolino’article Reactivating your database – Key steps to getting your leads to re-engage. (Nov. 2012)

Now I’m sure Maria knows more about email marketing than I do. I’ve just started emailing newsletters as a part of my current job and I have only a vague notion of who the recipients are. Fortunately I’m learning as I go, so I’ll hopefully leave the stage of “random acts of marketing” behind me (term probably from @PamMarketingNut).

Spot your customer (butterfly playing hide-and-seek with birds)

Spot your customer (butterfly playing hide-and-seek with birds)

What works in email?

Despite my wafer-thin layer of experience in sending bulk emails, I’m at the receiving end of a number of email campaigns and I can say a couple of things about what works and what doesn’t in emails:

  1. Regular but not-too-regular updates via email are fine. If you sell good stuff at your store (we’re talking clothes here) you may expect your emails to be opened every once in a while.
  2. Your emails will get more attention if there’s genuinely interesting information in them. A bit of a no-brainer, unless you think providing only the smallest possible amount of information will trigger me to visit your website. It won’t.
  3. The right frequency is a matter of balance. Having to delete offers I’ve missed does not motivate me to buy anything from you. Getting several emails about a collection I can’t check out (no time) doesn’t work either.
  4. Some people don’t shop online for clothes. If they happen to live five minutes away from the shops and a lot of clothes aren’t the right fit they will visit your shop. And please, don’t expect anyone to print a discount offer you emailed to take with them to your store. (Does this still happen? If not, it’s because it was a bad idea.)
  5. Good subject lines work, but the actual email should deliver on the promise the subject line makes. Is this an open door? I hope so.
  6. Emails specifying there is only one day left for your special discount may work for students or single lads and ladies. Those of us with a husband and/or kids and a job won’t react so positively – unless you provide day care for the kids (husband).*

*I know – I’ve seen – parents do their version of parenting while jabbing at their phones or talking loudly about their day to an unseen friend.** Wondering where your kids are (in trouble) while trying on a new pair of whatnots doesn’t really work either (it derails any attempt at making a sensible decision).

**It’s not always what you think though. I had someone stare at me accusingly – someone who needed explaining that I was entering our appointment for a new passport into my calendar. I might have been messaging to my friends – but I’m just not that rude (unless people start staring at me accusingly).

Good in email (I think)

  1. Send them when they’re useful. You can have too much of a good thing.
  2. New collection? Fine, but make sure to add all the available colors/sizes/styles. Don’t just feature the most fashionable items and colors, especially if they’re oversized sweaters in pastels (the 1980’s were gruesome).
  3. Depending on your audience, send a reminder at least half a week before the end of your discount campaign. Some of us have meetings we can’t skip (well, we can, but that’s just the start of our problems).
  4. If you know where your customers are, use that information to improve your emails. Not as in “I know where you live” (I read a blog post some time ago about an email that got creepy) but you might shift your call-to-action according to what you think you know. If they live around the corner, “come check our web shop now” may not be a relevant trigger. Or it may be. It all depends on your customers.

Do you have any do’s or don’ts for email (marketing)? Any great or not-so-great experience with calls-to-action?

Why relationships deserve your time even if you don’t have any

A while ago I happened to read Mark Schaefer’s reply to a comment on his blog. He stated that nowadays there seems to be less time to nurture client relationships since the first few contacts are online. What are the consequences of our online quests?

Marketing concerns: points of contact

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships?
– Cartoon by HikingArtist.com

From a marketing point of view, relying on face-to-face contact means you’re missing part of the client’s route towards making a buying decision – and you may miss out on a sale without even knowing it.

A lot of effort from (social media) marketing is aimed at going where your customer has gone. When you find them you don’t want to annoy them with pointless ads in a place where they don’t want your darn ads.

Content marketing is a way to patch up the hole in the long road of relationship building caused by the people’s access to online information. You want to be found before your potential clients create a shortlist that hasn’t got your name on it.

‘Online’ and the impact on professional relationship building

If you leave aside the commercial impact of having fewer meet-ups, there’s also a ‘human’ aspect that you need to address. Research and experience give you a good idea of what goes on in your client’s market. But to know instantly what’s in your client’s head even without having talked to them recently, you need to have a fairly complete understanding of your client’s personality and experience. It’s hard to really care about people you don’t know, and you’re at your best if you do care about them:

  • if you care you want to know,
  • you don’t care if you don’t know,
  • … it’s a Matrix again I think – feel free to sketch one 😉

All this means just one thing:

Your relationships deserve your time, even if you don’t have any.

If you have a lot of clients you may be able to buy some marketing tool to support this kind of online/offline relationship building. But not everyone has a lot of clients or the access to such a tool (and tools can’t solve every issue). Fortunately you can look at what you would have done in an offline relationship – rather than viewing social media as a megaphone you shout your message down.

You do need to plan when you need to meet up and what you’ll share at what stage in the relationship. Another thing you want to know is if your online content has inspired the trust you want to inspire in your clients. And: what can you expect from them at what stage?

Invest time in your relationships. Risk really getting to know each other. There are probably worse things in life.

Read more:

How do you view the time and effort you invest in your (business) relationships?

Blogging impressions: the neverending story of content

This time my post is about writing – and marketing (a bit). It started with just a title:

The neverending story of content

‘The neverending story’ refers to a story you may know. I watched the film (a long time ago, here’s a blog about movies you liked as a kid) on television and I read the book at some point. The book was originally written in German as “Die unendliche Geschichte”.Writing content: a neverending story

The film is actually just part 1: a boy who’s miserable in real life becomes a hero in the book he’s reading. His adventures in this fantasy world and his return to the real world take up the rest of the book. The main character spends a lot of time away from the real world – until he starts to forget it, and just about everything else. The last part of the book relates the struggle to get him back to his own reality.

Content is something a lot of people seem to spend all their time looking for and crafting. I’m busy doing pretty much that myself. It’s easy to forget why you wanted to blog when you first started – unless you wrote it down at the time. Along your blogging journey you need to remind yourself if you’re in it to write, or whether you had other goals in mind.

Is your blogging story about writing content or about content marketing?

Content creation and content marketing are two entirely different things. You don’t need to write a single blog post, or have produced a single video, to be a content marketer. It may help to have tried your hand at it so you know what it takes to create original, relevant content. And you may need to create content on a regular basis if no-one else is doing it.

The content marketing point of view

If you’re into content marketing, you won’t mind limiting the subjects you write about. You write only about subject X, which will get readers in and potential customers. If you want to write about anything else you do it elsewhere. If you lack inspiration to come up with relevant posts several times a week, you haul in guest bloggers to lower the pressure. Which is exactly what I see long-time bloggers like Jeff Bullas, Darren Rowse and others do. Of course they first put in a lot of work themselves.

Content as the result of your writing process

Like I stated in an earlier post, I started my blog because I wanted to write. So in marketing-style bloggers’ eyes I’m probably not a good blogger. That’s fine for now! I didn’t call this blog “Content Marketing Wiz” because I wasn’t expecting to take a marketing approach, even though I know a few things about marketing: I know a few things about a lot of things 🙂

Writing tip: If you want to practise your writing, start by writing about anything you are comfortable with – anything you know. It may be everyday life, or it may be SF because that’s what you read. Any topic will do when you start. Get used to the creative process and start to feel familiar with how it works. Explore any topic bit by bit. Share as you go along.

One blogger said by the time he was onto his third blog he knew more or less what he was doing, how he could get an audience and make a living through his blog.
So either take the business route from day one – or ramble along happily just like me. It won’t hurt – much 😉

To do (pick your own time): update your approach

At some point, you may find that your initial approach to blogging is no longer working for you. Think it over and then change it. Sometimes people just stop blogging – only to discover they can’t really not write any more. Not writing becomes an itch. It may take a while to happen, especially if you blogged til you ran dry. But it will happen – it will creep up on you eventually.

At some point, I may start a blog about art history. But the subject of art history is so far removed from where my career has brought me in the past 10-15 years it would take a lot of time and research to hit ‘Publish’ even once. I’d want to go out there and dig around in museums and archives. I’d need to take days off work. I must admit it sounds absolutely divine – but I’m not yet at the point where I’m willing to put the time and effort in. With a 3-year-old at home, I need my days off for family stuff and for ‘me-time’. Which may mean I take an extra nap to help me kick that flue-bug out the door. It’s that time of the year again!

More reading for writers

Enjoy your writing experience! Share your thoughts about your blogging, content and other neverending stories in a comment.

The usual suspects: why we don’t buy as readily as we sell

After my recent ramblings about LinkedIn I thought I might return to another topic of interest: marketing and blogging. There is a lot to be said for taking a marketing approach what you do on your blog. Especially if you’re wondering why some things you do just fall flat for no apparent reason.

Buyers Prioritization

You got yourself an audience, a good call to action to get your readers to join your subscribers list, you’re sending them information about your products/services… and then, well, nothing. Well, not nothing – but… You’re an expert. Surely everyone is going to want to buy the valuable stuff you have to offer? Why aren’t the %% higher than this?

In this post I’ll take a roundabout tour through marketing and then get back to your blog.

Marketing and the usual suspects

Purely from a marketing/sales view it’s a matter of buyer’s journey or even ‘buyer cycle’, which has phases to mark where on the road towards your first or next purchase you might be.

  1. If you’re in the right group of people (say busy working mum who loves high-heeled boots but won’t risk twisting an ankle again running after child no. 2) you’re a suspect. In fact we’re all someone’s suspect. We all buy something at some point.
  2. The moment you subscribe to anything, you turn into a prospect: someone who shows a definite interest in the kind of services/products a company offers. In some cases it means you get spammed daily – companies seem to think they need to haul you in NOW or you might end up buying a competitor’s product.
  3. Once you’re in their webshop…
  4. … loading stuff into your shopping cart (or taking similar actions) there’s an almost audible drum roll.

In many cases people never get beyond stage two. Why not? There are plenty of tips out there that focus on mending the leaks in your sales funnel, but I’m not going to discuss incontinent marketing processes here.

Theorize about your potential buyers’ priorities

Think about yourself as a reader of blogs (and a potential customer for someone) for a moment. Since I don’t know you, I’ll make up for this bit by talking about myself and pretending I’m a version of you. In this multiverse there must be a universe where I’m you 😉

You read and view loads of stuff every day, either for personal or professional purposes. Depending on your job and other interests, some topics matter a lot, others a little. There’s one topic that you’re mainly interested in because it affects your job. You don’t need to know everything, but you do need to keep up to date. So you read up online. After all what’s the internet for? Then you attend an webinar. From the moment you subscribe you get spammed by at least half a dozen companies trying to sell you stuff that’s related to the subject of the webinar. Preferably expensive and IT-related. Oh, great…

Enter the wonderful world of the ‘buyer persona’

Using a buyer persona (or several) means you basically assemble some characteristics into a credible theoretical buyer. Age, lifestyle, and depending on what you’re trying to sell you throw in a job title, professional issues – or health problems and family situation. It’s a lot like certain police series, where they try to narrow down the group of possible suspects.

In the case where you are the customer, companies are guessing what you might be interested in buying, and they approach you with information that seems relevant. Despite these efforts many marketers still can’t, or won’t, take into account your personal priorities (or your influence on your company’s budget, for that matter). Now, rather than veering off into a discussion about prioritization in this post, here’s a link if you’d like to read how Eisenhower prioritized his to do list. I’ll stick to reinterpreting this handy matrix around the question “to buy, or – to forget about it”.

Your priorities – and how they affect your buying decisions

Many of us – those of us with any savings in the bank, anyway – make buying decisions much like this:

  1. Do I need it? Yes. When? Now! Unless you’re broke you’ll have no problem spending money on things you really need, urgently.
  2. Do I need it? Yes. When? Well, let’s say within the next 3 months. Hmm, I’d better get some more information… and see if I can get a discount somewhere.
  3. Do I want it? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. How much does it cost?
  4. Do I want it? I might, if it’s fun. Do I need it? Nope.

Businesses put a lot of effort trying to close the gaps that make you hesitate. For example, many retail shops know their customers, including you, well enough to be just within the price range you had in mind 😉

Back to your blog’s usual ‘suspects’

When you’re blogging you may get a lot of visitors, but the ones in category 1 are a definite minority. You do need some casual visitors though – a blog that never gets comments, likes, or shares won’t appeal even to people who are looking for a solution to their problem, NOW. So you cater, in some ways, for visitors of categories 2, 3 or even 4. If that means your blog is more fun and less businessy, hey, what’s wrong with a readable blog? But do make sure that there is something for Number One.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please share it – or share your thoughts about marketing, blogging and the like in a comment. Thanks 🙂

Incoming! Using a content ‘landing strip’ for your visitors

Anyone who tries to get marketing to ‘do’ social media is in danger of ending up in another tiny unit next to the established teams, like I mentioned in my previous post. The effect of ‘siloing’ – chopping up anything to do with customer/contact into ever tinier areas of specialization – is that you get people adding social media ‘on top of’ whatever content is produced by a different team, or probably several teams.

Providing a content ‘landing strip’ to your visitors

Content landing strip for your visitors

Perhaps you’ve found that there are considerably more people who visit your web page than actually click through to a specific piece of content you’d like them to view.

You may be looking at visitors who walk off after passing through layers of information that are not in sync with each other.

A perfect landing strip provides a consistent experience every step of the way toward a particular piece of content you want a certain type of visitor to view.

Compare the following situations.

Situation A: Content and distribution coming from isolated teams

  1. You spot a super-interesting message on a social network you’re using. It fits right in with an issue you run into as a part of your work. You want to know more.
  2. You click the message which leads you to a page on a website. The subject that triggered you to click through doesn’t seem to be there: this page contains a general text about issues people in your business role encounter. There is a report on the page which the message also mentioned, but nothing on the page mentions the specific issue you are interested in.
  3. Now I’m sure there are people who are interested enough, and who know your company well enough to know that you deliver real value in your reports, to click through to the report.

This is no comfortable ‘landing strip’ for your visitors – this track is more fit for a bit of off-the-road experience!

Situation B: Content and distribution coming from collaborating teams

  1. You spot a super-interesting message on a social network you’re using. It fits right in with an issue you run into as a part of your work. You want to know more.
  2. You click the message which leads you to a page on a website. The subject that triggered you to click through is the main topic on the page. The text gives you an example of the issue mentioned in the social media message you clicked on, and refers you to paragraph 3 in the report on that page.
  3. You decide to click through knowing more or less what you’ll find, and where to look for it.

Example number two gives you a consistent experience. It triggers your interest and doesn’t allow you to get ‘lost’.

Is a content landing strip necessary?

Some – perhaps most – customers are able to find their way to your most precious content regardless of what you do. Unless of course you make it too hard for them. My point is you are not the person who decides what is too much work to get at your content. That decision lies with your visitors.

My bit of amateur psychology:

  • Curiosity, and the optimistic hope that you may have something good to offer them, is a ‘happy’ state of mind triggered by your initial message.
  • If you throw up any kind of barrier that makes visitors to your website ‘work for their money’ some may leave. And they may not come back for a while.
  • Others will still click through but they’re in a different state of mind: searching, analysing which part of your report is the most relevant. For some, solving this problem is a reward in itself, but anyone who is pressed for time will expect more value for, well, ‘money’. You end up having to make your content better to counter the “So what?” attitude you’ve just created yourself!

How do you improve your visitors’ experience?

Creating your landing strip

Work your way from the inside out. Things to consider while designing your visitors’ experience:

  1. Who do you want to view your masterpiece? What do you offer them?
  2. If there are people with different needs out there, you need a bit of information on your website that addresses those precise needs. Two or three ‘bits’ if you’re talking about a major industry report that addresses issues that are relevant to people with different interests.
  3. A marketing guy will want to see different information than someone in customer service. You may point them towards the same section in your report – but you’ll invite them in different ways. You need to decide if you want to do all this on your website, or on a social platform.

Evaluate the result going from the outside in. Once you’re happy you have every step covered, walk a mile in your visitors’ shoes. My tips for this:

  • Take every step a visitor would take from your social media message down to your content masterpiece.
  • Act stupid while you do so.
  • Do this when you don’t have a lot of time, you’re tired and generally fed up to make sure you nag about anything that’s not perfect 🙂

That concludes my thoughts about a content landing strip to suit your visitors – leave a comment to add your thoughts on the topic and I promise to reply to anything non-spammy!

Closer to you: moving from content marketing to co-creation

Anyone who has blogged for a while will have noticed that some topics are more popular than others. And that it really matters whether you have succeeded in making your content relevant and even useful to your readers.

Content marketing really equals content + marketing…

As far as I can see the point of content marketing is:

Measure the results of everything you do, and adjust your content accordingly.

This sounds like common sense marketing tactics – so much so that I find myself wondering whether any other kind of content marketing deserves the ‘marketing’ tag.

Content marketing for a lone blogger

For a blogger there are limits to what you can do with the results you measure. You may have tried a different topic as a one-off for the festive season and found it really popular – but that doesn’t mean you feel comfortable or passionate enough to scratch the things that didn’t work in favor of your ‘most popular’ topic.

What you can do is:

  • find out if it really was the topic that sparked the sudden rise in interest,
  • or whether you added a different kind of title, style, way of addressing your readers, or even a different kind of image.
  • If no-one bothered to comment you’ll have to go through your popular post(s) and try to find out what makes them ‘ring’.
  • Then, list your results and experiment with them in your new posts.

Moving from content marketing to co-creation could make sense – for some

Rather than painstakingly follow a trial-and-error method to zoom in on what works for your audience as well as yourself, you could (simply put) ask your readers what they would be interested to read/hear about. But this doesn’t always work:

Worst practice co-creation

Worst practice co-creation

  • The average one-time two-minute visitor doesn’t know you. So the chance that anyone is inclined to reply is remote, and if they do their input may well lead you off the track altogether. General tips, yes – co-creation, I don’t think so.
  • “Just ask” isn’t really half enough. You might end up alienating your fans if you ask them for ideas every time you’re stumped for inspiration. Writing a post about a requested topic is nice, but unless it’s a topic on which you can really deliver big time you’re bound to disappoint some readers.

Co-creation is not about getting others to do most of your work, or about squeezing casual remarks from readers for quotes.

I feel that commitment from both sides should balance out. This means bloggers like me, who spend a limited amount of time on their blogs, should not expect a level of commitment from our readers/fans that we can’t match. If you’re a professional blogger things may be different.

What steps could help you on your way to co-creation?

What you can do:

  1. Building up a community around your blog/brand. This takes time, especially if you’re just starting out. If you have a company, your customers and suppliers are stakeholders – you may expect them to have an interest in what you do.
  2. Find your fans. Fans are only a (small) part of all the people in your community. If you don’t have the time or resources to build up a big, open community of your own, you’ll need to access existing communities and hand-pick potential fans yourself. The alternative is to wait for them to find you, or to buy a list of people in your segment (marketing again).
  3. Next you need to ask your fans to get involved. This means getting them onto a platform of your own (like a Disqus community for the readers of your blog, or a secure wiki).
  4. Wait: before you do anything, you need to be clear on what you expect from your fans – and what they may expect from you. Because there can be no hiding on your part in a small community with your name on it.

Co-creation: are we there yet?

If you’re a blogger these steps may be the bigger part of what you need to do: getting structural input from people in a certain business will help you get your facts straight.

The moment co-creation needs to lead to complex products you’re looking at involving your fans and colleagues in long-term, in-depth matters. That takes commitment from both sides and a lot more work from you.

I’m indebted to Steven van Belleghem for the subject of this post. Reading “The Conversation Company” unavoidably influenced my thoughts.

If you’re still here… thanks for reading my post 🙂 If you’re not exhausted yet, please leave your thoughts on content marketing, co-creation and blogging in a comment!