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The marketing funnel as we know it is gone. Or at least it needs to be, if we as marketers want to move toward a truly customer-centric operation.
In this new installment of our Trust Factors series, we'll review the conventional models for customer acquisition and explain why they're going out of style. Then, we'll present an updated version, geared toward long-term sustainable growth.
The Funnel Fallacy
We're all accustomed to funnels: marketing funnels, sales funnels, conversion funnels. These frameworks can be helpful in guiding our strategies, but there's an inherent disconnect at play: they tend to commoditize our customers, because these models are solely focused on the end result (revenue). Traditionally, the funnel is designed to usher prospects from awareness, to consideration, to purchase, and then the job is done.
In today's buyer-controlled landscape, where retention and advocacy are at a premium, marketers need to align with every other customer-facing business unit to ensure trust is being built at each interaction — including (and especially) those after the purchase.
[bctt tweet="In today's buyer-controlled landscape, where retention and advocacy are at a premium, #marketers need to align with every other customer-facing business unit to ensure trust is being built at each interaction. @NickNelsonMN" username="toprank"]
What is the Trust Funnel?
This theme has been covered in the past from a variety of different viewpoints (including a book by Brian G. Johnson), but we’ve got our own spin on it. By our definition, the trust funnel is a reconfiguration of the buying cycle, with a shift in orientation and objective. The focus here is not only generating sales, but also, generating trust (which leads to the same result).
At TopRank Marketing, we follow a modified version of the traditional marketing funnel, extending it beyond the purchase stage and accounting for the full customer lifecycle:
The trust funnel is essentially aimed at optimizing each of the first three stages to support the last two by inspiring loyalty and cultivating long-term relationships throughout. Why is this important? Because successfully mastering this process is the key to running an efficient and sustainable business. Consider that increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25%-95%. Meanwhile, studies show that customer-referred leads are far more likely to convert, and deliver considerably higher lifetime value on average.
In short, an effective customer retention and advocacy model helps your marketing become more self-sufficient. Trust unlocks this ideal.
Optimizing for Each Stage of the Trust Funnel
Adopting the trust funnel methodology is all about a shift in mindset. The stages are not fundamentally different than those in the aforementioned marketing funnel, at a high level, but you’ll be better positioned to serve your customers when thinking about them in these terms:
1. Attract: Foundational Credibility
“Awareness” is a broad and ambiguous concept. It’s not enough to simply make people aware of our brands — we need to instill an immediate sense of credibility, so that trust is being established in the very first interactions. How can we accomplish this? Focus on three vital touchpoints:
Your Website. Does it convey authority of expertise in your vertical? Is it easily navigable, with quick access to resources that a curious buyer might want? Are there seamless methods to get in touch? If the site contains contact fields, do you clearly outline your commitment to privacy and care when handling a user’s personal data?
Your Social Media Accounts. At any given time, your latest tweet or update might be the first time a new prospect experiences your brand. As such, it’s important to be thoughtful with each one. Make sure your voice is consistent, genuine, and directly aligned with your target audience. Are you approachable and conversant?
Your Search Visibility. As we wrote here recently, your presence in search results is instrumental to your brand’s credibility. Are you delivering best answer content that satisfies search intent for prioritized phrases? Consequently, are you outranking competitors for these terms? Do your page titles and meta descriptions reflect an inviting and knowledgeable demeanor?
2. Engage: Authenticity and Conversations
Once you’ve taken the appropriate steps to develop an air of credibility, it’s time to cement this perception as people begin to engage with your brand. Seize these opportunities to do so:
Employee Engagement. As users start to immerse themselves more deeply into your brand and its content, they’ll likely start encountering your employees, either directly or through social media. When the people who work for a business embody its philosophies and values, and are actively engaged in the work, it’s a major affirmation of authenticity.
Influencer Partnerships. Working with the right influencers, who are familiar to and respected by your audience, also provides a major credibility assist as they compare solutions. Note that in order to achieve this purpose, your influencer partnerships need to feel natural and not forced. Also, influencers play a key role at every stage of the trust funnel, but their recognition and built-in authority are especially crucial in separating your solution from others at this pivotal stage of deliberation.
3. Convert: Transparency and Comfort
As a prospect moves closer to making a decision, the stakes are raised. By now a buyer (or buying committee) has likely been engaging with your brand, and they are feeling the pressure that accompanies making a major business purchase decision. It is imperative to build comfort at this stage.
Be Open and Honest. The last thing you want to do at this point is make a buyer feel like there are hidden concerns or reasons for reservation. One key opportunity is to acknowledge and address negative reviews of your product/service. As our CEO Lee Odden put it in his Sophisticated Marketers interview with LinkedIn: “Millennial and Gen Z audiences expect brands to be honest and forthcoming. While some companies view information that is not a glowing endorsement of the brand as a liability, others are embracing those challenges as an opportunity to be transparent about issues and how they’re being solved. That transparency builds trust and confidence in the brand, key differentiators for customers who become loyal advocates.”
Lean on Case Studies and Testimonials. Of course, positive and reinforcing examples of happy customers will be your strongest assets at this stage, so you’ll want to have plenty on hand — ideally, covering a variety of different challenges and scenarios, so you can match them up to the prospect in question for maximum resonance.
Frictionless Purchase Process. How easy is it for someone to make a purchase from your company? Take whatever steps you can to make it painless and simple, so that a person going through it never stops and wonders, “What’s going on here?” Test relentlessly and gather feedback from existing customers.
4. Retain: Follow-through and Service
One of the most prevalent missteps for brands and marketers is a failure to account for the post-sale customer experience. The attitude that once a sale is complete it’s time to move on is misguided. This is, in fact, perhaps your most critical moment to make a positive impact. Given that everyone is aware of the relative cost difference between selling to a repeat customer and acquiring a new one, it’s kind of crazy how few marketers prioritize this stage. Note that according to one study, 68% of customer defections occur because customers perceive “an attitude of indifference.”
Assist with Implementation. Do you have at least one person on your staff who is solely dedicated to ensuring customers are able to implement and leverage your solution without issue? Can the customer easily get in touch with this person, and troubleshoot quickly? Although these activities don’t necessarily fall directly under the purview of marketing, there is a fair amount of overlap (social media, customer resources, integrations, etc.) and it’s an essential aspect of the customer experience so it’s important for marketers to have visibility and influence.
Create a Loyalty Loop. This convention is at the center of our friend Andrew Davis’s marketing philosophy. As he puts it: “You serve your audience and subscribers first,” rather than constantly emphasizing the importance of new eyeballs and new business. Basically, the Loyalty Loop is about taking advantage of that “moment of inspiration” right after someone commits to your brand, by delighting them and reinforcing the decision. The idea is that as a result, the next time they have a need, they won’t even consider your competition.
Offer Post-Purchase Content. This is one smart retention tactic recommended by Marcia Riefer Johnston in a piece for Content Marketing Institute. Post-purchase content can include things like care and maintenance instructions, set-up guides, and repair help. This type of content can line up functionally with either, or both, of the bullets above.
5. Advocacy: Relationship Maintenance
Customer advocates are incredibly valuable, but also exceedingly rare. These are the people who will autonomously recommend your brand to others, and sing your praises publicly without prompting. In some cases this will happen organically because they simply love your offering so dang much, but more often, you need to develop this deep brand affinity through ongoing engagement and relationship-building.
Stay in Touch. Don’t just reach out because their renewal is coming up and you want them to buy from you again. Use a birthday, anniversary, or job change as a prompt to check in and say hello. Provide helpful content just for the sake of doing it. You should aspire to be an advocate for your customer if you want them to do the same.
Offer Customer Newsletters. This is a great way to stay in touch at scale. Email marketing is generally viewed as a lead generation tactic but it’s also an excellent channel for increasing loyalty. Make sure the content in your newsletter for existing customers is purposeful and value-oriented.
Promote Customer Accomplishments. The primary issue with most case studies is that they’re so focused on the solution, rather than the customer who used it. You’ll build more affinity by highlighting the user’s accomplishment — how they smartly handled a problem and got the most out of your product or service. Heck, you can even promote achievements by your customers that don’t involve your solution. Get the good vibes rolling.
Put Trust First, and the Results Will Follow
When companies are focused on sales and revenues and bottom lines, it becomes apparent in the way they operate. This is why the “sales funnel” or "marketing funnel" concept is one I find myself referencing less and less these days. The true end-goals of any savvy modern marketing strategy are to inspire loyalty, affinity, and advocacy. The trust funnel is built to do just that. As a natural result, the sales, revenue, and bottom-line impact will follow — consistently, and over the long haul.
Trust me on that.
[bctt tweet="The true end-goals of any savvy modern #marketingstrategy are to inspire loyalty, affinity, and advocacy. The trust funnel is built to do just that. @NickNelsonMN" username="toprank"]
Want to learn more about developing a truly trust-driven marketing strategy? Check out these other entries in our “Trust Factors” series:
We’ve all been there. We’re five minutes into (what we thought would be) a riveting, data-driven presentation, yet a quick scan of the room reveals the audience is staring blankly at our data tables as we drone on. Or worse, someone asks a pointed question about what they do or don’t see and the discussion goes completely of course. Yikes.
Perhaps the best advice I ever received in this regard was so simple yet incredibly smart: “Try it as a line graph.”
I had presented a data-backed presentation and robust recommended next steps, but whether it was boredom or data suspicion that crept in, I failed to make my case. After the weeks I spent looking at a spreadsheet, I took that visionary advice. When the day came to remake my case, that line graph immediately won my critics over.
When done thoughtfully, data visualizations have the power to change perspectives, far more quickly than a spreadsheet or bullet points on a slide. Data visualization allows us to take complex or even simple data sets, and present them in a way that allows us to see context, make comparisons, and enable decision-making.
The good news? Giving your data a visual identity is easier than you think.
The Case for Data Visualization
This is going to sound cliché, but we marketers really do have more data at our fingertips than ever before. And visualization is key in order for us to really leverage that data to tell a story and win over our bosses, colleagues, and customers.
Here’s a simple example. First, the spreadsheet version:
What can you take away from this example in just 5 seconds? 10 seconds? 30 seconds? July 2018 and December 2017 seemed to be big months. There was definitely some growth in the last two years. But how much? Is it consistent? How are we trending?
Now, let’s look at this data as a line graph:
Whoa! 2018 outperformed 2017 by quite a bit overall. However, 2017 traffic was on the up and up, and that momentum slowed in 2018. With the exception of a mid-year spike, 2018 traffic was flat, and dipped below year-over-year totals by the end of the year.
The beauty here? As we prepare to deliver the data to our audience, we can draw some pretty important conclusions at a glance, helping us quickly arrive at what we need to find out next: What caused that big spike in July 2018? Is it an outlier or did we have an effective campaign running? What did the tactical mix look like throughout 2017? What were the top pages contributing to steady growth? Did we make major changes at the beginning of 2018?
This not only helps us dig deeper into our data to understand trends and opportunities, but also prepare us to craft a narrative and answer the questions our bosses, colleagues, or clients will undoubtedly have about performance. After all, flashing a spreadsheet and then telling someone traffic is up year-over-year overall but flat month-over-month for the current year is not going to deliver much wow.
How to Get the Storytelling Started with Data Visualization
Creating a narrative, choosing your data set, perfecting your visualization, and adding context are essential for being able to persuade any sort of action or reaction with data. But whether you are using a simple Excel graph or a custom data visualization tool, here are some great tips to get started.
Tip #1 - Start with your story and frame it for your audience.
Let’s say you’re presenting the results of your most recent marketing campaign to your internal stakeholders. It can be tempting to throw up any data point you can get your hands on, trying to see what sticks.
Don’t do that. Your boss probably doesn’t care about how many shares you got on that one blog post or how many seconds someone spent on a video. They care about new prospects, re-engaged prospects, or advocacy.
Stay laser focused on your objective: What are you trying to achieve with this presentation? A bigger budget? A promotion? A shift in tactics internally? Every data visualization included should tell that story. Too many data points can muddy the narrative and reduce your impact.
Use your audience’s lens: Focus on the data you know is most important to your audience. Think of previous presentations you’ve done with them. Was there a particular data visualization they loved or one they pushed back on? Edit accordingly. If it’s your first time presenting to this audience, then use what you know based on job titles or culture in your office.
One mistake it can be easy to make as marketers, is slipping into marketing lingo (e.g. sessions, shares, click-through-rate, bounce-rate). One simple shift if you’re presenting outside of your team, is shift your language to focus on meaningful business metrics. For example: Instead of saying visitor, say potential prospect.
Tip #2 - Design for comprehension.
Data visualization is so awesome because it’s able to allow humans to quickly make comparisons and decisions quickly, even with a complex data set.
So create charts with comprehension in mind. If your audience is staring at a graph trying to figure out what it means, they’re probably not listening to your supporting narrative. So make it easy for them to understand. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Label Everything: This seems straight forward, but nothing is worse than when someone pauses you mid sentence to ask you to clarify your data set. So, label your chart, axes, legend, and so on. Also include a note on time frame and data source. Make sure all labels are visible and not obstructed by other text.
Chart Type: Choose the chart type that most efficiently illustrates your point:
Bar charts are best for comparing discrete values.
Line charts are intended for a continuous data set.
Pie charts show the element something else is made up of, and are not ideal for comparing values.
Stacked bar charts are best to compare different items and show the composition.
For example, while the pie chart allows us to see a breakdown of traffic sources, the placement of legend, the close color families, and a similar proportion of the individual pieces make it difficult for a true comparison. With the bar chart, however, you can easily see how the traffic sources stack up next to one another.
Color: Incorporating color to help tell your story can be very powerful, but can also lend confusion. A few practical things to consider:
Don’t choose colors that are low contrast. Consider the fact that you may be presenting on a different monitor and the audience will be further away from the screen.
Use the same color to represent data from the same grouping or data set (e.g. all points from 2018 are in green and 2019 in yellow.)
Be careful about using colors that have significant meaning on their own (e.g. bright red is always going to set off an alarm bell, whereas green tends to indicate something is good.)
Use accent colors to highlight really key data points. This can draw your audience’s eye immediately and increase comprehension.
A couple final thoughts here:
Add call-outs to your slides so you can help your audience understand a data set really quickly (e.g. Sales reached an all time high in June 2019).
Keep your data ordering intuitive such as ordering by value, time period, or alphabetically.
Tip #3 - Create for context.
We should always anticipate, any presentation we create, can and will be passed along for others to consume, without the benefit of our verbal narrative. So, it’s important that your data visualizations have enough context so the impact can be understood with or without verbal support.
What do we mean by context? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Is this good or bad? What would you expect? This is definitely a frequently asked question from marketers as we are evaluating campaign or channel performance. One of the most important contextual markers you can add to a performance slide is a benchmark from previous data or third-party industry data.
Why? Data visualization can help us understand the current situation, but they can also help us answer the “why” behind a data set. Context in this situation can reveal hidden insights, which can really change the minds of our audience. For example, let’s say you are charting MQLs over time, now plot that against another variables which may drive fluctuations in MQLs, like website traffic, paid investment or frequency of events. This might help you determine whether overall web traffic is irrelevant, but paid investments are critical.
What should we do next? Now that we understand the context for our data and what is driving it, the next question is what should we do next? Always include next steps related to your data visualization.
Finally, looking at the same data as in our previous visualizations. This example dives into July 2018, with the added context of 2017. In this graph, we can easily see a spike in social caused our July 2018 increase. Now, we can add a call out to shout out to testing a paid social campaign or a contest that was running at that time.
Tip #4: Be careful not to mislead your audience.
Data can be really powerful, if used wisely. But if we don’t understand or interpret it properly, it can also drive bad decision making.
So as a presenter, definitely do these things to keep your data representation free of misleading information:
Start your key at zero (and keep it consistent): It can be tempting to make that 3% increase look like 50%, but don’t change your scale unless it’s really pertinent to the data set, and then call it out.
Understand your data: If you (or your team) is pulling data from a tool like Google Analytics or Hubspot, be sure you understand the nuance or context of your data points (e.g. what’s included in that site conversion rate, how you’re categorizing a new user, what is the criteria for SQL versus MQL.)
Include context: Be careful not to omit the context or drivers of the data set you’re aware of, even if they don't necessarily fit your narrative. For example, if you had a great Q3 for leads, but the first half of the year was down, don’t omit that context, just to make Q3 appear better. That context will probably change your tactical mix, investment levels, and next steps.
Show Don’t Tell
To be really effective marketers, we must review and analyze data in order to make our own decisions about a tweak in tactics or a strategy overhaul. Our ability to illustrate to our colleagues, bosses, and customers how data insights inform our decisions ultimately impacts our ability to move forward with our plans.
So practice! Find that colleague who can review your latest graph and see what their first takeaway is. Do your presentation with a smaller group before you bring to your boss. See what they respond well to or question, and edit accordingly.
Data is power. Data visualization is powerful.
[bctt tweet="Data is power. Data visualization is powerful. @Alexis5484 #datavisualization #marketing" username="toprank"]
Many marketers aren’t using the data they have to its full potential. Set yourself on a path to better data and analytics utilization with these tips for overcoming common barriers.
The high-pressure marketing budget and strategy planning season seems to kick-off earlier each year. It’s as if your boss is asking you to magically construct the perfect strategic and tactical mix at the right budget for 2020, without having enough of 2019 under your belt to predict the best approach. After all, you don’t know what the future holds, right?
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. So, why not leverage that to get some 20/20 foresight?
Like you, we at TopRank Marketing don’t have any magical crystal balls or employees with psychic powers. We don’t use witchcraft to brew mystical marketing love potions. And we certainly don’t engage in any sorcery with enchanted mirrors, but we’ve honed our craft over nearly 20 years and we do find plenty of value in reflecting.
Just a mystic or a wizard or an enchantress gathers their crystals, herbs, or sacred artifacts, you too have transcendent tools available to you. Read on to learn how you can cast your spell, summon your marketing spirit, or connect with marketing’s natural elements to create a strategic 2020 marketing plan—without relying on the supernatural.
Research: The Magic Ingredient for Concocting Any Marketing Strategy
As a marketer you don’t know what you don’t know. And, that’s okay. Clairvoyance is not part of the job description. Begin your brew with some thoughtful research.
Keep up with the latest trends. Is there a new tactic or strategy you should be testing?
Read case studies from other B2B businesses. What’s working for them?
Re-research your audience. Are your assumptions correct? What has changed since last year? What hasn’t?
Bonus. Learn like polymath Bill Gates and the likes, by dedicating 5+ hours per week to learning. Polymaths lead in their field by becoming competent in at least three diverse domains and integrating learnings into their current skill set.
Now that you’re tuned up, use your knowledge to spark new ideas, strengthen your plan recommendations, and back up your recommendations with solid rationales.
Data: Unlocking Insight to Season Your Potion
Every wizard, witch, psychic, or gifted mystic has had to spend a great deal of time to unlock the power inside themselves, you too must devote time to understand one of your most powerful tools: data. Anyone can come up with a striking idea, but it takes a special marketer to use data and unlock the insights within. Try this approach to uncover what you need to know to inform your marketing plan:
Gather the Data and Dive In
Leverage your tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to pull data from all of your tactics in the past year, including campaigns and ongoing programs. You can also gather audience data and benchmarks from the research you’ve been doing.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little time diving down rabbit-holes. At this annual reflection point, what better time to dig into an unnoticed trend or insight?
[bctt tweet="Don’t be afraid to spend a little time diving down rabbit-holes. At this annual reflection point, what better time to dig into an unnoticed trend or insight? - @ElizabethW1057 on 2020 #MarketingStrategy" username="toprank"]
Confirm Your Benchmarks
Look across your data to establish benchmarks fit to your brand that will be valuable in informing your decisions. Again, feel free to check out industry benchmarks, but remember your brand is a unique situation. For instance, are you a startup looking to create a demand for a new niche? Or are you an established enterprise looking to increase market share?
Unlock the Insights
Now it’s time to turn that data into something you can use. Look for trends, outliers, big successes and big failures. Each one can teach you something and guide your 2020 plan to be more strategic.
Here’s a simple example of how you can go from data, to benchmark, to insight, to 2020 tactics:
In your latest campaign, you saw 2,652 sessions to your asset 90-days post-launch.
Across your last 4 campaigns, you’ve averaged 2,002 sessions to your asset 90-days post-launch.
Nice! Your latest campaign drove 32% higher sessions. But why?
You used email as an additional promotional tactic this time. And, email accounted for 27% of your total sessions.
Let’s use email in all of our campaigns that target this audience, and explore a more robust, ongoing email program.
Bonus: 75% of your influencers amplified your asset, driving 22% of the total campaign traffic. But, did they have enough reach, with the right people, to make it worth it? Were there other benefits of including influencers? To understand the impact of your influencer work better, add researching new measurement techniques to your “to do” list.
Yes, there are many more metrics, variables, and considerations than simply number of visitors or a single promotional tactic, but you can leverage this approach to unlock some actionable insights from your data. Harness the positive vibes you uncover to inform your marketing plan, and bring your findings to the table to back up your recommendations.
Partners: Adding Natural Elements to Bind the Brew
Now, it’s time to combine elements for a comprehensive strategy.
Stay Grounded: The Earth Element
To enable your success, you must stay grounded. It can be easy to go heads down in planning after one quick conversation, but avoid the temptation. There is nothing worse than presenting a complete marketing plan to a room full of confused faces because you missed the core objective or are suggesting using a new tactic that just failed in another business unit.
Chat with your budget stakeholders early and often about:
Are we aligned on the objective of my work in relation to the company’s business goals?
What are you looking for me to achieve in 2020?
Do you have any marketing strategies or tactics in mind that I should be considering? Or avoiding?
What have senior leadership or other BUs been talking about that I should be aware of?
[bctt tweet="When you go into 2020 planning mode, stay grounded by circling the wagons with stakeholders early and often. @ElizabethW1057 #MarketingStrategy" username="toprank"]
Seek Collaboration: The Water Element
The water element governs relationships, and it changes shape based on whatever vessel contains it. Use the people around you to gather and mold your ideas this planning season.
The information you gather from your internal teams can be an unmatched input for keyword research. It can also guide your influencer research, inform your tactical mix, or simply spark new ideas or ways of looking at problems.
Your customer service team can tell you all the questions customers are asking about your product or service — what drives customers nuts and what they rave about.
Your sales team will know every detail about what makes a customer want to buy versus what stands in the way of a sale. They also probably have competitive insights on the marketplace and know who influences their prospects. Just ask them!
Your product team probably briefs with you ever so often, but have you talked to them lately? There might be a feature or benefit that you’ve yet to focus on, or not highlighted enough. With the insights you’ve gotten from customer service and sales, you’ll know just what to do with the product info.
Though often difficult to get in front of, your senior leadership will have invaluable insights into the company’s direction. Keep up on any content they’re publishing or sharing on social. And, when you get the opportunity to connect, be prepared with thoughtful questions and discussion points.
Get Transformative: Fire Element
Transformation, passion, and action are the domain of the fire element. Your marketing agency should embody this completely.
Every fruitful client-agency partnership is rooted in a collaborative passion and drive for your success. So, who better to ask for help on your 2020 marketing plan?
Your agency should have its finger on the pulse of the latest marketing strategies, tactics, and measurement techniques. And, it should be a consultative partner, giving you what you need to make the case for your 2020 budget. Tap your agency for anything from an informal brainstorm to proposing new ideas and tactics, and from campaign extension ideas to full collaboration on your entire plan.
Seek Reflection: Wind Element
The final element is wind or air. Air is sometimes a harsh element. It cuts away the nonsense and gets us right down to the facts. This is where your plan comes together and you begin to shine.
Collect everything you’ve researched, studied and gathered, and reflect. Wipe away your emotions and what you feel like you should do. Give new ideas space to grow and be molded by your data and what you learned communing with your teams.
Unleash Your Mystical Marketing Strategy Planning Abilities
You started making your magic marketing potion with research, filled it to the top with data and sprinkled in all of the world’s natural elements. Now, the power is in your hands.
You’re ready to concoct your 2020 marketing plan. Don’t hesitate to check back in with your team while you brew. Gather their feedback and refine, because collaboration is how the magic happens.
Would an agency partner be helpful for your 2020 planning? We’d love to help. Get in touch today.
Racing a marathon and running a successful marketing campaign have a surprising number of similarities — in fact, here are 26.2 things they share in common, and the lessons they can teach us.
I’ve been running marathons since 1998 and working in digital communications and marketing since 1984 — two pursuits I’m passionate about that may initially seem quite dissimilar, but which really do have much in common when you begin to look closely.
The Importance of Pre-Race Planning
The marathon isn’t a race you want to run with no training or on a whim — and even if you did, the notoriously unforgiving distance has a way of giving runners back just what they put into it. Skimping on training usually spells disaster when it comes to marathon running.
Similarly, successful marketing is usually the result of putting in the necessary planning the way runners pack in the marathon training miles.
Let’s begin our 26.2 mile marketing marathon with our first steps and lesson number one.
Mile 1’s Lesson: Have a Great Training Plan
A time-tested training plan is a vital part of preparing for a marathon — whether it’s one of the popular multi-week plans from Hal Higdon, Pete Pfitzinger, J. Daniels, or a custom variation you’ve tailored to your own style of running.
Similarly in marketing, a proper and well thought-out plan is important when it comes to tackling any new campaign.
A good training plan in both running and marketing will help you get the most of our your race or campaign, starting out by setting benchmarks and goals to hit along the way as you build up to the big race or campaign launch.
In marathon running it’s often said there’s no substitute for getting in the miles, and with marketing too there’s no magical elixir or great secret about what needs to go into a top-caliber campaign, so it’s a matter of finding what works and making a concerted effort at every step of the journey.
A marathon training plan will usually cover the period of between eight and 16 weeks before your target race, and by analyzing how you handle the daily prescribed workouts, you’ll be able to gauge how prepared you are when race day comes around.
[bctt tweet="“If the marathon if a part-time interest, you will only get part-time results.” — Bill Rodgers @BillRodgersRACE " username="toprank"]
In marketing, how detailed and dedicated you are in following the planning process will have a direct effect on what happens on the day of the big campaign launch.
The runners and coaches who’ve devised top marathon training plans are similar to the marketing industry pioneers, experts and influencers who we can look to for guidance when mapping out a big new B2B marketing initiative.
Both marathon training and marketing planning benefit from relationship building, as runners will want to forge relationships with other runners using the same training plan, or sometimes even the author of the plan themselves.
Similarly, marketers will want to interact and learn from as many of the experts as possible who have devoted their careers to the powerful marketing methods that go into creating a successful pre-launch campaign plan.
[bctt tweet="“If you want your content to be great, ask influencers to participate.” — Lee Odden @LeeOdden" username="toprank"]
The experience and credibility of the people you learn from and follow during both marathon training and marketing planning has a direct impact on how your training and campaigns will perform, so it’s important for runners to build relationships with people who have had marathon success.
For B2B marketers, it’s ideal to work with and learn from those who have planned and executed highly-successful and award-winning campaigns.
Congratulations! You’ve passed one of the biggest obstacles of running a marathon or creating a great marketing effort — getting started with those first steps. Let’s move on to another lesson as we reach mile two.
Mile 2’s Lesson: Know Your Running & Marketing Training Paces
Marathon training plans spell out the workouts that will best help prepare you for race day, with some days set aside for long runs, some for mid-speed tempo workouts, and others for faster interval repetition sessions.
Successful marketing plans also focus on specific aspects of bringing a campaign to the starting line, with preparations including the long-run equivalent of creating strong content or digital assets, a tempo-like initiative of finding and working with the right industry experts, and an interval-like burst of effort to plan for both organic and paid promotion.
[bctt tweet="It’s easy to get excited about a big name or an influencer with a large following, but neither of those will necessarily translate to your ultimate goal of delivering results to your organization. @martinjonesaz" username="toprank"]
Well done! You’re already approaching mile three and a new running and marketing lesson.
Mile 3’s Lesson: Warm Up Before Running or Marketing
Especially at the top level of marathon running, a carefully planned pre-race warm-up is an important part of training, and chronologically the last piece of the puzzle before the starting gun goes off.
Elite marathoners work hard to keep their body at an optimal temperature up to the last possible moment, and during the 15 minutes before race time you’ll find them running their warm-up routines.
For top marketing performance, before a campaign begins it’s not the physical warm-up routine that will help during an imminent launch, but the psychological boost that comes from having reviewed all of the planning you and your team have done, and ensuring that you’re in the most positive state of mind when launch time arrives.
The Right Race Equipment & Marketing Tools
Marketers and runners both need equipment to have the best performance possible, so let’s take a look at some of the lessons we can learn from our running and marketing equipment, as we move along to mile four.
Mile 4’s Lesson: The Shoe Hits the Pavement
For 99.9 percent of marathon runners — unless you’re Abebe Bikila who won gold sans shoes at the 1960 Olympics — wearing the right shoes will be an important part of your training and racing.
The time to learn which shoe works best for your feet is during training, keeping in mind that you should never allow yourself to make the rookie mistake of wearing brand new shoes on race day, even if they’re the same model you’ve used in your marathon build-up. Slight construction variations in shoes, along with wear patterns specific to your foot strike, mean that you should always race in a shoe you’ve trained in for at least a week or more.
The marketing tactics you’ll use in your campaigns represent similar important choices, and you won’t want to be trying unplanned and untested methods once your big campaign has launched — the time to test them is during your pre-launch planning phases.
Test your marketing tools and services on example campaigns, and use your team to uncover any shortcomings in the lead-up to launch, rather than in the days after your effort has gone live.
What’s that ahead — can it be the five mile marker already?
Mile 5’s Lesson: Wear Comfortable Shorts
Finding the perfect running shorts for your marathon is another seemingly insignificant equipment choice that can have a surprising impact on the outcome of your race.
Shorts that have too many seams or other uncomfortable construction methods are likely to make you more and more uncomfortable as the miles go by.
As with shoes, the time to try out different shorts is in the weeks and months before your race, so resist the temptation to race in those flashy new shorts you just got at the marathon expo the day before the race.
Marketers too need to find the methods that work best for them over the long haul of a modern digital marketing campaign — one that is likely to last substantially longer than even an ultra-marathon.
Try to find and use the marketing solutions that augment and work alongside your strengths, and hold off on those that just aren’t in-line with the way you and your team work, or your desired campaign goals.
Mile 6’s Lesson: Use Tried & True Socks & Techniques
You might think that something like the choice of which socks to wear — or whether to wear any at all — during a marathon is insignificant, however in distance running as well as in marketing, even the smallest details can over time and miles add up to being either great assets, or debilitating troubles.
Race in socks you know well from training, with the right amount of padding, wicking abilities, and other performance features for your needs.
Similarly with marketing, don’t neglect the small details with campaign components such as proof-reading, testing, private trial runs to gather feedback, and other aspects of strong project management that your competitors may be skipping over.
Mile 7’s Lesson: Wear a Race-Worthy Singlet
The shirt or singlet you race your marathon in should be comfortable, with a minimal number of potentially abrasion-causing seams, made from modern wicking materials, and since it’s such a visible part of your race-day gear, you may want to choose one that speaks to your own personal fashion style.
Elite marathoners are usually required to wear the singlet featuring their sponsors’ logos, but at all other levels you’ll have great freedom to choose in this area.
Some runners use an easy trick to give themselves a small but powerful edge during the marathon: simply use a permanent marker to write your name on the front of your singlet. I did this one year running Grandma’s Marathon in my hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, and I got more encouragement from supporters lined up to watch the race than I’d had in all my previous marathons combined.
In marketing, how you package your campaign is similar to the choice of which singlet to wear. Certain B2B campaigns will require you to use very specific sponsorship images and messaging, while other campaigns will allow you to have nearly free reign over how your efforts will look when entering the digital world, whether it’s social media video and messaging, paid search advertising, or the new audio branding possible with podcast marketing.
Mile 8’s Lesson: Utilize Timing Chip & Marketing Tech
When I first started running marathons in 1998, the ones I ran hadn’t yet adopted timing chip technology, where a small plastic clip containing an RFID chip is attached to a shoe, but not long after that nearly every marathon was using them, making it easy to record official times at checkpoints along the marathon course, and also helping family and friends wanting to track a racer’s progress during the marathon.
In many marketing campaigns, making it easy for customers and fans to share your digital asset and messages is also important — whether it’s a full-blown interactive big top experience like the one we recently launched for Content Marketing World — or a more traditional blog article or infographic.
Check out the full interactive experience by clicking on the image below:
Well done, marketers — the nine-mile marker is already in sight ahead!
Mile 9’s Lesson: Energize Along the Way
Fueling before, during, and after a marathon is an important piece of the racing puzzle, and also one you’ll want to work out and master before race day comes around.
Smart marathoners know which variety of energy gel or bars will be available at the aid stations along the course, and will either learn to run fueled by them during training, bring along their own favorite racing energy food sources, or have family and friends positioned on the course to have them ready.
A savvy marketing effort will also benefit from having pre-planned boosts of digital energy to invigorate and re-fuel a campaign as it progresses, which can come in the form of:
Contests and polls that are scheduled throughout your efforts
Could it be mile ten already? Why yes, there it is now, along with another marketing lesson from marathon running.
Mile 10’s Lesson: Get a Phone or Watch Advantage
I ran my first marathon using a GPS training device in 2003, when I set my then state-of-the-art Garmin Forerunner 201 to help keep me on pace for my goal time.
Its tiny low-resolution black-and-white screen showed a rudimentary stick figure and noted whether you were ahead or behind goal pace. That day I saw only one other person wearing a GPS device.
Today however, it’s hard to find a marathoner who isn’t using one — whether it’s a sport-specific watch or pod, or a cellphone in an armband using a dedicated running app such as iSmoothRun, my personal favorite.
In the same way, successful digital marketers are always adopting new technologies to improve their efforts.
[bctt tweet="“The most successful digital marketers are always adopting new technologies to improve their efforts.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis" username="toprank"]
Some tools are built to help keep your campaign efforts on pace to reach your goals, just as in marathon running, while others are focused on planning or post-campaign data mining and analytics.
Finding the right marketing tools in an ever-expanding sea of choices can be daunting, however we’ve done plenty of research and in the following articles dig in to some of the most powerful utilities available for B2B marketers:
Mile 11’s Lesson: Don’t Forget Your Hat
A good hat is another piece of marathon running equipment you’ll likely want to have on race day, if not to keep out the sun, at least to soak up the sweat a race-effort marathon will produce on all but the chilliest days.
Another seemingly minor decision, hats have been known to play a factor in the outcome of a marathon. During the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials, famed runner and now top coach Alberto Salazar went to a level of preparation not previously seen, when on an exceedingly hot race day he provided his runner Galen Rupp with new dry icy cool hats at various points along the course. Rupp went on to win the race, and ultimately earned a medal at that year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
[bctt tweet="“In today’s fiercely-competitive marketing world, a fanatical attention to the minute details can be all that separates a Cannes award-winning campaign from one relegated to the digital dustbin of marketing history.” @lanerellis" username="toprank"]
Mile 12’s Lesson: Marketing So Bright You’ll Need Sunglasses
Sunglasses can of course help runners block out sun, but they can also help inspire and provide motivation, through the use of the many varieties of colorful lenses available.
For several years I reserved a special pair of sunglasses with yellow-tinted lenses for marathon day, and knew that when I was seeing the world through them that it was time to focus all my hard training on the immediate task ahead: hitting my mile splits, one at a time, through to the finish line.
In marketing, we may not have special sunglasses, but when campaign roll-out day comes, we can utilize a wide variety of special means of encouragement to help us focus on our goals.
For some this may be waking earlier than normal, doing extra exercise, eating in an especially healthy manner, or simply using music that energizes and encourages you to do your best work.
Mile 13’s Lesson: Your Unique Identification Number
In each marathon’s pre-race package you’ll find a number bib to pin to your singlet — a unique identifying number for race officials and spectators alike to track and chart your progress during the race.
Without a number bib a racer would be what’s known as a race bandit -- someone who’s jumped in the race without paying.
Marketing campaigns also have their own unique names and numbers, whether it’s an internal company code name, an official campaign effort name, or one of the identification numbers used by the various tools we use to track campaign performance against goals.
Whether you’re the top-seeded racer wearing the #1 from winning the previous year or #22839, it’s your job in both running and marketing to make the most of what you have from the position you’re starting in.
Marketing efforts can cause formerly small clients to achieve skyrocketing success when done very well, and for marathon runners one of the great unifying aspects is that everyone starts running at the same time and, theoretically, even someone at the back of the pack could win. There have even been cases where elite marathoners have shown up late to a race and gone on to catch up to the leaders after passing thousands of runners, something also sometimes possible in marketing.
On Your Mark — Get Set — Go!
Now that you have your training, planning, and equipment lined up and in order, let’s move on to strategy for actually hitting the starting line in both marathon running and marketing.
Mile 14’s Lesson: Starting Line’s Launch Day!
This is it! The months and seemingly endless miles of training are complete. Every pre-race ritual has been attended to, and you’re completely prepared to run the best marathon you can for the day.
While the starting line is a place to focus on the difficult task ahead, don’t forget to at least give some acknowledgement to all the effort you’ve made to reach this point, and to think of all those who have helped you along the way.
The energy and excitement at the starting line of a marathon, whether large or small, is one of the most amazing experiences in all of running, and smart runners won’t block it out entirely, but learn to feed on and draw energy from these magic moments.
Launch day for marketers is similar, as a time to focus intently on the efforts ahead, to recall the expert planning you’ve done to give your campaign the best chance of digital success, and to think of and thank the people who have helped you reach launch day.
Mile 15’s Lesson: Keep To Your Plan & Don’t Zoom Out
Going out too fast is one of the most common mistakes new marathon runners make on race day, as the pre-race excitement and pent-up emotions all let loose when the starting gun goes off, and hundreds of runners all around you dart speedily onward.
Knowing that most runners will start too fast, smart runners hold back and work hard to stick to their predetermined mile-by-mile pacing plan, whether it’s through using the virtual training partner on your phone or smart watch, sticking to a pacing group, or simply by starting out running at a pace that feels too slow compared to those around you.
[bctt tweet="“Motivation remains key to the marathon: the motivation to begin; the motivation to continue; the motivation never to quit.” Hal Higdon @higdonmarathon " username="toprank"]
Most marathons have runners line up in sections corresponding to their goal finishing time, with elite runners on the actual starting line, and others positioned at spots set aside for those expecting to finish in three, four, five or more hours.
B2B marketers can also learn pacing lessons from marathon runners, as during campaign launches it’s important to not unleash more than you have allotted for launch day.
Mile 16’s Lesson: Hydrate & Nurture Your Body & Campaign
As the marathon progresses, smart runners will know exactly where every water and sports drink aid station is, from studying official pre-race information, and they’ll follow the plan they’ve carefully laid out and used on long runs in training.
Knowing how to best hydrate your body with water and sports drinks, and how to keep it cool using the sponges and shower misters on hand at many marathons, are also areas savvy runners will have learned and perfected in training.
As marketers we need to hydrate our campaigns too, by doing everything possible to keep our careful plans on track, with the skill to make quick adjustments on-the-fly as needed. Keeping up on the latest industry trends can help keep your marketing skills nimble, and here are three recent article we've published to help in that regard:
Mile 17’s Lesson: Utilize Aid Stations & Social Platforms
More than just tables to grab water from, marathon aid stations represent the important passage of miles along the course — just like the official mile markers — often festooned with colorful and fun markings such as balloons or even particular themes.
Many marathons have aid stations that are run by various non-profit or corporate organizations,..
Is your content audience-centric?
“Of course it is!” Says the hypothetical person I just made up. “We do intensive research for all our content. We look at questions our audience is asking, we hit up SEMrush and BuzzSumo...our content is all about our audience!”
Here’s the big question:
Beyond learning about your brand, which will enrich their lives in many exciting ways, what is your consumer getting out of your content?
Creating or deepening a brand relationship can’t be the only reason your content exists. Raising brand awareness can’t be the only reason your content exists. That’s not audience-centric content. People will quickly realize that and move on.
Most marketers want to offer a genuine value exchange to our consumers. We’re not shriveled-hearted gargoyles trying to trick people into paying attention to us.
But it’s easy to think you’re putting the audience first, when it’s really the brand in the spotlight.
What follows are four questions that marketers commonly ask when creating content. These questions are crucial to content strategy — I’m not saying to throw them out. But let’s follow each one up with a question designed to center the content on the consumer.
Four New Questions to Ask for Audience-Centric Content
Make these new questions part of your content planning process, before you blog a single word or create a single promotional tweet. The answers will vary depending on your industry, your audience and their goals. It’s the asking that will help keep the balance between customer and brand-centered content.
1. Earning Attention
We Ask: “How can we get people’s attention?”
One of the fundamental challenges of modern content marketing is simply getting anyone to look at the content. People are distracted; every brand is creating content, and most of it is pretty good. Amplification is at least half of the battle for any content marketing.
We Should ALSO Ask: “How can we reward people’s attention?”
Note this is not the same as “what message about our brand should people take away from this content.” This is the promise your content makes to the consumer. What new skill, new idea, or more efficient way of polishing billiard balls are you giving them?
And yes, I know, this is content marketing 101 stuff. But it’s something that’s easy to lose sight of — the fundamental value exchange at the heart of content marketing. Make it part of your content planning. Add it to your template: “What promise are we making, and how are we fulfilling it?”
2. The Next Step
We Ask: “What action do we want people to take?”
Content marketing should inspire action. If we don’t know what next step we want people to take, we’re not marketing — we’re just publishing content for funsies. So this is a central question to content marketing that meets KPIs.
We Should ALSO Ask: “What action can we help people take?”
So a customer comes to your website, reads your latest asset, fills out a form, and gets on your mailing list. That’s a win for the brand. What constitutes a win for the customer? What is the next step in their personal development, professional development, or career path? How can your brand and your content help them take that next step?
For example: Our client Prophix, a finance software company, wanted to get the word out about their new PowerPoint integration functionality (brand goal). Together we helped address a bigger issue: Finance leaders need to give better presentations to have more influence in the company. We created a page where people can learn how to be better presenters. Instead of devoting the page to promoting Prophix’s new feature, we devoted it to making finance folks better at their jobs.
And here’s the kicker: All that audience-focused content led to stellar results for the brand goal, too.
3. The Purpose
We Ask: “How can we raise brand awareness?”
Familiarity with a brand is a big part of making a purchase decision. That’s especially true in B2B. Your family might take a chance on a new brand of soda, but your business likely wants a well-known, trusted name for a multi-million dollar purchase. For many of our clients, just getting their name in front of people, building awareness and credibility, is a big goal.
We Should ALSO Ask: “Why would people want to be aware of our brand?”
If you’re looking to establish a relationship with your customers, what are you bringing to that relationship? We can’t be the one who sits on the couch playing video games while the other person does all the cooking and cleaning.
What higher purpose makes your brand inspiring, uplifting, worthy of being aware of? Here’s your challenge: Write a secondary mission statement for the brand that doesn’t mention your product or service area at all. Before you try to raise awareness and build relationships, discover the values that will make your brand attractive.
4. The Long-Term GoalsWe Ask, “How do we define success for our marketing efforts?”
Measurement and optimization are the building blocks of exceptional marketing. We should always have a clear idea of what success looks like to measure against and optimize toward. That means establishing KPIs, the metrics to measure them, and benchmarks to compare progress. We use a combination of industry benchmark results from campaigns with similar clients for comparison purposes.
We Should ALSO ask: “How do we define success for our audience?”
This question ties in with the purpose question. It requires your brand to have values beyond your product offering, values that reach out to customers even outside of their brand interactions. If your company truly prizes your customers and is dedicated to helping them succeed, what does that success look like?
Think about what your marketing would look like if you had as strategic a plan for your audience as you do for your business. “This content will help them look great in front of their boss. This campaign will help build the confidence they need to get promoted. This content will put them on the executive track.”
Imagine measuring your audience success along with your content’s KPIs. Of course, we may not go as far as to stalk people on LinkedIn to see if our content is helping them… but plan your content as though you were.
Audience-Centered Content Gets Results
You don’t have to choose whether your content will serve your marketing goals or the customer’s needs. Best-answer content that puts the customer first will do more for your marketing goals than the most aggressively promotional content you can imagine.
Most marketers start off with an audience-focused mindset. But it’s easy to get caught up in promotion, in moving people through the funnel, and lose sight of what value you’re offering consumers in return.
Before you start the next content planning session, take a step back, ask these new questions, and confirm that you’re focused on your audience, rather than asking your audience to focus on you.
Learn how audience-focused content helped the SAP App Center boost engagement by 116%.
It’s time for B2B content marketers to stand out. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
But capturing attention in a crowded content room is hard to do, especially when content creation has seen the biggest uptick in spending among your fellow B2B content marketers. You can’t be subtle. You can’t be boring. But you also can’t be obnoxious; relevance and resonance are paramount. You have to accept and adapt to what your audience needs and wants at any given moment. It takes speed, flexibility, bold ideas, fearlessness, and more.
Where do you start? How about starting with a little inspiration and insight from industry leaders?
Below we have insights and advice from 12 marketing and customer experience leaders on how to stand out from the crowd and create content your audience can’t ignore.
12 Attention-Grabbing Tips from B2B Marketing Experts
1. Eliminate Gobbledygook
“Always remember that you are communicating to people. Eliminate innovative, cutting-edge, mission-critical, best-of-breed gobbledygook from your writing. Using the same inane language as everybody else ensures you are lost in the crowd.”
- David Meerman Scott, Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author, Freshspot Marketing
Follow David on Twitter or LinkedIn.
2. Show How You’re Different
“Show don’t tell. In order to create an engaging user experience on social platforms, you need to be able to show users something from their perspective not yours. You need to be able to reach into their heart, put your fingers around it, and feel the pulse beat. And video, when done right, can do just that.”
- Beverly Jackson, Vice President Social Portfolio Strategy, MGM Resorts International
Follow Beverly on Twitter or LinkedIn. For more insight from Beverly, read our complete interview with her.
3. Take a Stand
“Great content isn’t about platitudes. It’s about provocation. Incitement. Taking a stand and making your audience think in a new way. Giving the counter-argument to conventional wisdom. When we do that, we advance the dialogue, rather than diminish it.”
- Peter Isaacson, Chief Marketing Officer, Demandbase
Follow Peter on Twitter or LinkedIn.
4. Ignore Your Competitors
“Marketers need to stop placing so much emphasis on catching up or edging out their direct competitors. Customers don’t compare you to your competitors anymore—they compare you to other positive experiences they’ve had. If you keep chasing what your competitors are doing, you’re always a step behind. That’s a good way to go out of business because you’re just doing what someone else is already doing.”
- Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC
Follow Shep on Twitter or LinkedIn. To hear more advice from Shep on how to wow your audience, read our full conversation with him on convenience and the customer experience.
5. Empower Others
“Celebrating success and championing internal entrepreneurship is key: Great ideas can come from anywhere. We are limited only by the constraints we inflict on our vision. So I try to make sure everybody with an idea they think has potential feels they can bring it to my doorstep. That doesn’t mean every idea gets the green light, but it does mean that every idea is heard.”
- Kirsten Allegri Williams, Chief Marketing Officer, SAP SuccessFactors
Follow Kirsten on Twitter or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to read our full interview with her to learn about her background and tricks to success.
6. Be Human
“Comedy is the most powerful way to humanize a brand because it demonstrates empathy. Let’s face it, a lot of true comedy comes from pain. So, when we can come out and touch on a customer pain point, we show them that we understand their point of view. When we do something that is self-deprecating, when we look vulnerable, and when we let our guard down a little bit that’s when we make a connection.”
- Tim Washer, Emcee and Keynote Speaker, Ridiculous Media
Hear the rest of Tim’s comedy plus marketing tips by reading our full conversation. And while you’re at it, follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
7. Partner with Influencers
“Year over year, we’ve seen consumer trust of brands decreasing, and people turning to seemingly more objective sources when making buying decisions: peers, 3rd party review sites, analysts, etc. Partnering with an influencer allows you to highlight your brand’s own existing narrative in a new way, so that you can reinforce the proof points you really want your customers to know.”
- Whitney Magnuson, Senior Director of Enterprise Social Media, Hilton
Follow Whitney on LinkedIn and don’t forget to read the rest of her B2B influencer marketing tips with our complete interview.
8. Put the Story First
“Create a structure for creating content that always begins with a story your reader can identify with and uses this moment to bridge their point of view with your brand’s unique selling point. Many marketers still talk about their products and services in terms of what they can do for their audience rather than what the audience cares about, why that’s important and how their solution can help solve the problem. Stories have the power to engage prospects with an emotional hook that endears them to a brand more successfully than standard marketing copy.”
- Heather Pemberton Levy, Vice President of Content Marketing, Gartner
For more content marketing advice from Heather, follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn or read our conversation with her.
9. Slow It Down
“It’s important to slow down our marketing to get the basics right. Like developing a documented content strategy. Like doing the required research. Like developing robust, non-one-dimensional Flat Stanley buyer personas. Like articulating your bigger story. Like investing in quality: excellent writing (and editing) and storytelling.”
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs
Want more genius advice from Ann? Read our interview with her or give her a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn.
10. Do Your Research
“We have the people, the data, and the tools to create engaging content at scale, yet we often jumpstart the process of creating content without the required thoughtfulness on the initial critical steps. It is essential to be clear which audiences we are targeting and subsequently to define clear goals for the message we are creating. To this day, most brands need to improve at this stage, otherwise the best content marketer in the world cannot create an effective piece of engaging content.”
- Peter Krmpotic, Director of Product for Einstein, Salesforce
Hear more from Peter by following him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or by reading (you guessed it) our interview with him on creating a steady content supply chain.
11. Don’t Be a People Pleaser
“We want customers to feel a part of the brand. We want them to feel like the brand belongs to them. But then too often we send out ‘one size fits most’ messages… and wonder why we don’t get that sense of belonging that’s a hallmark of great brands. Your brand is not for everyone. It isn’t. It’s for the people who want something you can help them get, who value the same things you do, and who see the world the same way you do. And that’s not everyone. Full stop.”
- Tamsen Webster, Founder and Chief Message Strategist, Find the Red Thread
Follow Tamsen on LinkedIn or Twitter for more poignant advice. Or, read our interview with her for tips on how to drive change in marketing.
12. Experiment More
“Most of our content fails. Like, over 90% of it. And that’s not at all uncommon in the content marketing world. If everyone knew the exact ingredients to a “viral” content piece, that’s all anyone would produce. But we don’t know. Pieces I think will do really well, more-often-than-not sink without a trace, and pieces that seem like throwaways can take off because they’ve tapped into some pent-up need in the marketplace of ideas.”
- J.P. Medved, Content Strategist and Novelist
Learn about the different experimenting J.P. has done by reading our interview with him. Give him a follow on LinkedIn for more insight and updates on his next novel.
Not the Norm, and Proud Of It
Rarely does anyone want the same old, same old. So, don’t give your audience more of the same. Use the advice above to your advantage and break the norm, separate yourself from the pack, try something new, or reiterate on a great idea. The more you can break the mold, the more you’ll stand out amongst the crowd.
For more advice on how to stand out, read our guide on how to Break Free of Boring B2B featuring more expert insight and best practices.
I’ve never been very good at saving money — unless I’m saving for something specific. Give me a defined target, and the intrinsic motivation that comes along with it, and I’ll get there. There is much to be said about the value of focus in achieving a goal.
The same philosophy is at play with account-based marketing (ABM). Everyone knows it’s important to bolster a business pipeline — just as it’s smart to save money — but lacking clear direction can be a hindrance. This is especially true at a time where B2B prospects crave personalization and tailored experiences more than ever.
As the saying goes, if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. ABM provides a focused framework for pursuing your ideal prospective customers. Here comes the twist: Influencer marketing can be the perfect pairing with the approach, providing additional voices who can speak authentically and credibly to the exact people you want to reach.
[bctt tweet="As the saying goes, if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. And that's one reason why #ABM and #InfluencerMarketing can be a perfect pairing. @NickNelsonMN" username="toprank"]
How Account-Based Marketing Works
There’s nothing too complicated about it. Basically, rather creating buyer personas and orienting your B2B marketing strategy toward companies that are similar, you instead identify specific companies you’d love to have as customers, then align your strategy more directly.
Once you’re able to win an account’s business, you can shift focus to growing the partnership through upselling, cross-selling, and referrals — a technique often referred to as “land and expand.”
This graphic, via SuperOffice, provides a visual explanation of how the ABM process differs from a traditional sales funnel:
The prevalence of ABM is growing rapidly as B2B organizations come to embrace the logic behind it. Research found that 61% of companies reported having an established ABM practice in 2018, up from 36% in 2017.
Combining ABM with Influencer Marketing
In general, B2B marketing is undergoing a fundamental shift — from quantity to quality. Savvy organizations recognize that meaningful engagement is far more valuable than overall reach, so they’re refining their strategies to connect with the right prospects, rather than emphasizing vanity metric volume.
At TopRank Marketing, we follow a similar mantra with influencers. It’s not about who has the most followers, or the gaudiest personal brand. It’s about who resonates most with your specific customers and prospects. ABM helps bring clarity to the matter because you can more confidently pinpoint individuals who are influential with the precise businesses you wish to win over.
[bctt tweet="It’s not about who has the most followers, or the gaudiest personal brand. It’s about who resonates most with your specific customers and prospects. @NickNelsonMN #InfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"]
Once you’ve defined a list of target accounts, you can begin to map out their buying committees and gather insight around the individuals who are likely to impact purchase decisions. When marrying your influencer strategy to your ABM program, you’ll want to consider questions like these:
Who is influential to people within your targeted accounts? Based on their professional networks and social media activities, which influencers do they pay attention to and trust?
What topics do your target accounts talk about most? Try to get as specific as you can, then seek out micro-influencers and niche experts with authority in that particular area.
Who will the people in your target accounts be able to relate to?Authenticity is essential for influencer engagements. You’ll want to identify candidates at similar-sized companies, and with similar roles/functions.
When it comes to making a bottom-line impact, you’ll especially want to concentrate on finding partners with purchasing influence (i.e., they can speak from experience or expertise about your solution and its benefits) for co-creation of content. In essence, this knocks out two birds with one stone, assisting with the development of powerful assets that can activate the influence of your collaborators.
Bring Focus to Your Marketing Strategy
B2B influencer marketing isn’t about enlisting the trendiest Instagram celeb with the most followers. (Well, it is for some companies, but those ones tend to struggle with it.) Instead, it’s about finding the perfect alignment with your audience. Nothing brings more clarity and precision to understanding your audience than ABM, which swaps out theoretical personas for actual organizations and people.
This intersection of ABM and influencer marketing represents one of the most promising frontiers for B2B marketing, especially when it comes to the pursuit of enterprise customers. Not only do influencer partnerships help you break through and gain visibility with busy decision makers at these coveted accounts, but also drive engagement and persuasively move the needle.
[bctt tweet="The intersection of #ABM and #InfluencerMarketing represents one of the most promising frontiers for B2B marketing, especially when it comes to the pursuit of enterprise customers. @NickNelsonMN" username="toprank"]
Influencer marketing plays well with numbers B2B marketing tactics. Learn how influence also intersects with SEO.