content marketing

4 Steps to Fixing your Content Marketing Program

By Joe Basques
Footwasher Media Vice President Shapeimage_5

A short piece in looked at "7 Inconvenient Truths About Content Marketing” provided a nice summary of some of the major pitfalls to avoid in your content marketing program.  Anyone starting a new content marketing program, however, would be a bit discouraged in the endeavor because it did little, to tell you how to avoid, much less fix, these problems.   

So let’s fill in those blanks.

1.  Strategy, Strategy, Strategy...

The article points out that content marketing without strategy is essentially worthless.  I agree completely.  Strategy is the cornerstone of any content marketing program and documenting it is crucial.  Multiple research studies (Forresters and Content Marketing Institute to name two) have demonstrated that companies with a documented content strategy are seeing tremendous results from their programs with measurable ROI.  Those without a strategy are not happy with their programs because they have no idea what the ROI is supposed to be.  Here’s the kicker: The studies show that between 80% - 90% of the companies interviewed for the survey do not have a documented strategy.  My own personal experience confirms these numbers.

I call that wasting your time and it’s why so many pundits are claiming that content marketing is dead. The reality is, in the case of most companies, content marketing is dead on arrival because it lacks a strategic focus.  

While the article also points out that strategy isn't free or easy. We know that it doesn't have to be expensive.  Yes, it will cost some money for a comprehensive strategy, but without it you won't see the ROI and you're wasting your time.  It's the foundation of your program, so seek professional to help.  Footwasher Media will even give you a free evaluation of your program to help you get started.

2.  Everyone's An Expert...

I think this is the single most common sales objection we hear at Footwasher Media regarding content development.  Most anyone and everyone who's ever passed an English class thinks they can write content for their website.  The truth is, you may be proficient for an English class, but writing content or creating a video that people want to share and engage with is completely different.  

Footwasher Media takes a journalistic approach to content because journalists are trained to find the unique angle in just about every story.  They'll find things you'll never think of because they don’t come from the angle of the corporation but from that of the user. 

Marketers and engineers generally only look at what they think is the upside of their products/technology without actually considering the perspective of the user. Most of them can’t do anything else because they are so immersed in their own messaging. The problem is that how they describe their technology is generally the way they’ve heard the competition describe theirs. So if your content is not unique, your customers can’t tell the difference between you and your competitors, which mean you’re still wasting your time.  The world of content marketing is constantly changing.  

Content marketing is about much more than content.  It’s about platforms, infrastructure and metrics too.  The metrics you are looking at now are probably not the metrics that demonstrate ROI. Even click bait sites like Buzzed are learning that merely reposting someone else’s content is a good way to kill your readership. They are changing their measurements from unique visits and clicks to time spent on the site and sharing. If you want to measure true ROI, hire an expert.  We're constantly studying the changes in platforms and metrics and will get you the best ROI.  When you visit a doctor for critical help, you want someone who’s versed in the latest tools and techniques because your life depends on it.  You should want no less from your content marketing team because your business depends on it.

3.  All content is NOT created equally...

It's generally true that you get what you pay for.  We know many content providers that will repurpose content by including a bunch of keywords.  This doesn’t work and creates useless content.  It’s garbage because it's cheap, easy to do and everyone is doing it.  This ties in to the point above.  Journalists are trained to find the unique angle in just about every story.  They'll find things that are really interesting and your readers really want to engage with and share.  Here's something else to think about: Google’s algorithms know the difference between useless info and quality content and so do customers. We recently did an evaluation for a small tech company and found that even though they were producing copious amounts of content, their SEO was in the toilet and no one was reading their stuff.  The reason, they were plagiarizing their own content in multiple sites and the search engines were dinging them for not having original content… even though it was their own original content being reposted. As the experts, we were able to see that almost instantly.

So hire an expert. It doesn’t have to be a full-time person or have a long-term contract and committment. You can bring them on for evaluation and training only. We believe the best use of our skills and knowledge are on a short-term basis. We look at your current program and resources and help you find the additional tools and gain the understanding of how media works. And then we can move on after a few months. You don’t need to sign a year-long agreement and you don’t have to bust your budget.

4.  It's a lousy time to have a service business...

This is where I really disagree with the article.  It's not a bad time to own a service business.  I work in a service business.  Even product-based companies are service businesses. No matter what kind of business you are, though, you have to find what differentiates you from everyone else and write about that.  Most of the time, what you write about isn’t about the widget you sell but how you make your customers’ lives better and more efficient.  Each one of us has a unique perspective on life.  If you can’t figure out what that is, hire an expert and they'll help you figure that out. What makes you different is often something only someone outside of your walls can figure out.


Content marketing works. Numbers don't lie.

Adding the analysis as a foundational part of our methodology was incredibly important in being to understand what is happening in this clients outreach to new business, but what brought about the changes was a fundamental shift in how they communicated and the quality of their content.

Last year, Footwasher Media solidifies its approach to content strategy by incorporating analysis as a foundation stone in the methodology. We partnered with several marketing automation companies and started telling prospective clients that unless they adopted and used something other than Google analytics that we could not take their business. That requirement significantly limited how much new business we took on because 9 of 10 companies and organizations were not will to use it.

After almost one year of changing to the new methodology I'm happy to say that ALL of our clients are experiencing remarkable growth in their business.

I've chose one particular company to highlight (that I won't name) that has had the most improvement because they had the most work to be done.

When this company came to us in August of last year, we used several measurement tools to evaluate where they were. Their website had been up and running for a couple of years so there was some data to grab. On avert, the site has an atrocious 96 percent bounce rate, had only 14 percent of their traffic coming from direct searches, 14 percent from search engines, 1.2 page views per visit and 0.02 minutes per visit.  Oh, and they average 2 visitors per month.

We engaged with them in October and immediately began implementing a strategy using the Sharpspring marketing automation platform, our lowest cost partner. By December we had renovated much of their content and implemented a strategic plan to develop a quarterly email newsletter program. Their budget was extremely tight but we worked with what we had.

By the end of January, two months before we sent the first newsletter, we started seeing significant increases in the website traffic and lead generation. That growth has continued as we approach the end of the first year.

The bounce rate has dropped to 62 percent on average with an outstanding 20 percent on months when we sent out the newsletter. Admittedly 62 percent is nothing to crow about, but is dramatically better than what it was. What was truly gratifying is that the site average 42 percent of the web traffic directly from the emails. Often, visitors use the email to fund the site as a repeat visitor, rather than going through search engines, however even search engine visits have almost doubled over last year. 

The best part was the engagement of the visits that went from 0.2 minutes to a stunning 8.7 minutes as of October 1. That is the average time of visit for the period between October 31, 2014 to October 1, 2015.

Adding the analysis as a foundational part of our methodology was incredibly important in being to understand what is happening in this clients outreach to new business, but what brought about the changes was a fundamental shift in how they communicated and the quality of their content. 

This methodology works. The numbers don't lie.

Marketing Automation vs. Customer Relationship Management: What is the difference?

The biggest barrier to adoption of marketing automation (MA) is a complete lack of understanding of what it is and what it does. That is also the single biggest barrier to effective use of customer relationship management (CRM) software.

 The biggest barrier to adoption of marketing automation (MA) is a complete lack of understanding of what it is and what it does. That is also the single biggest barrier to effective use of customer relationship management (CRM) software.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, (CMI) which issues reports on the state of the content marketing),the use of content marketing as a strategy is growing and is prevalent in growing companies. However, only 39 percent of the companies reporting having a strategy are claiming to see results, which tracks well with the stat that 35 percent have a documented strategy.  

To check those numbers, we approached more than 50 companies in the past year and asked them if they were doing and we focused on the use of marketing automation tools as part of the documented strategy and, if so, what were they using.  Less than half of companies actually had a clear understanding of what content marketing actually is which tracked well with the CMI study Howver 43 said they were using marketing automation tools identifying Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, primarily. We found that interesting because neither are MA platforms. They are CRM platforms.  So, in this post we would like to spell out the difference.

  • CRM will help you manage the relationship of customers you already have.

  • MA helps you create new customers.

It is that simple, but let’s expand a bit.

As Salesforce defines CRM: “You can store customer and prospect contact information, accounts, leads and sales opportunities in one central location, ideally in the cloud so the information is accessible by many, in real time.” That’s a really good thing… once you have the customer on the hook. Getting them on the hook is the job of the MA platform.

Marketing is a combination of advertising, public relations, social media and just plain relationships. Until MA technology came along, that required an overwhelming amount of work for a few people, or an overwhelming amount of personnel to do it well. An MA platform does for a marketing team, what CRM does for the sales team, and does it with relatively low cost and complexity, depending on what platform you choose (see previous post).

Some CRMs, like Salesforce and Dynamics have options for marketing automation, but none of the companies we talked to were using those options because they are expensive, difficult to understand and buggy. In fact, none of them were using the CRM capabilities to their fullest, even though they were spending thousands of dollars every year on the tools (and almost all were unhappy with the results).

All MA companies we talked to provide integration with leading CRM platforms. Some MA platforms, like Hubspot and Sharpspring, offer CRMs included in their offerings at no additional cost, although they are not as robust as a leading provider, like Salesforce. However, since most companies are not using their CRMs to their fullest potential, it is something of a waste of money to have a top-of-the-line CRM in place. 

With that in mind, a company hoping to get the most out of automation on a minimal budget, it makes more sense to purchase a subscription to an MA service than a CRM. And if you can afford the cost of a leading CRM, adding an MA service will increase the value and ROI of all your sales and marketing efforts.

Your company might be one of the few that has truly embraced modern digital marketing, but it is unlikely, especially if you have not seriously considered a marketing automation platform. From our personal experience at Footwasher Media, our use of MA has increased our ability to find new leads by an order of magnitude. Our clients who adopt it willingly have seen similar results. Those that rely only on the CRM do not see growth.

In our next post, we will get into the specific value of these tools in respect to content strategy and development.

If you'd like to talk about how to figure out this content strategy thing, drop us a line.

Our crisis of confidence and what to do about it

Our economy is struggling for a lot of reasons, but one reason that seems to get almost no practical discussion is the lack of trust.  Everyone knows it exists but very few believe it is their problem because, after all, each of us knows we are trustworthy.  Right?  Lawyers, corporate executives, politicians and journalists know their poll numbers are in the tank collectively, but individually they all believe that they are, somehow, different than everyone else.  What’s more, individually, they are appalled when they find out that, no, few people trust them.

“That’s their problem, Not mine!” Trustme
I understand that position and, personally, I believe most people are trustworthy and act ethically most of the time. Yeah, I’m naive, but if find that to be true more often than not.  What I also find, however, is that very few people invest any effort into presenting themselves as trustworthy and put no thought into how they present themselves. They merely assume people trust them.  What's more, they are not at all creative in how they present themselves. They just use what they have heard everyone else say about themselves… which means they don’t say things that are trustworthy.  The result is the only people that trust you are those that have invested the time and effort to get to know you. Your customers are not likely to do that and that's how we get into the economic problem.

Statistically, various polls have shown that less than 1 of 7 customers trust what any company says to them. And that’s current customers.  Imagine how few potential customers distrust companies trying to sell them something.

Corporations are spending an enormous amount of money on technology to distribute their current content to more people, faster and with greater efficiency.  Venture capitalists are investing 75 cents of every dollar into companies making technology to advertise to the customer base.  But they are using all these vehicles to say the exact same thing they have always said to their customer bases, which is the same thing that every competitor say, that most of the customers don’t believe. Why? Because it costs nothing, which is what it is worth. Moreover, the investment of nothing results in nothing.

A good example of this is the semiconductor industry.  Annual reports from SEMI have indicated that while more chips are being delivered than ever, overall revenues are down and multiple companies are entering into the second year of layoffs and consolidation.  Revenues are down because the companies have not provided enough differentiation or built enough trust to drive customers to do business with them on anything other than price.  The companies with the lowest price always win. Only 10 percent of the companies are reporting revenue growth, though not necessarily profit growth.

Our recent independent survey of 100 leading semiconductor-focused technology companies found only two companies with a documented content strategy: Intel and Qualcomm.  The rest had only invested in distribution means and more than 90 reported less than satisfying results.  Do you see the correlation? Ten percent with growth, 90 percent dissatisfied.

Let me spell it out in even more direct terms.  I’ve written extensively in the past about how the McLuhanesque paradigm of media was dramatically supplanted by social media; that the audience now controls the message, not the messenger.  I’ve also written about the almost absolute absence of strategy in corporate communications.  I’m not alone.  The Altimeter Group and the Content Marketing Institute have issued extensive studies on the success of strategic content programs, but pointed out that less than 5 percent of all businesses are adopting the strategies.

If you are one of the companies that have not invested in strategic content, you are probably among the 95 percent that are not seeing results from content distribution tactics.  Your customers don’t trust you and your potential customers can’t tell why they should choose you over anyone else, so they will always choose the least expensive alternative.  It doesn’t matter if you have superior technology.

Trust is the currency of modern business and you are broke.

It’s time you started building trust.  Shel Israel and Gale Porter are working on a book about how companies have lost trust are rebuilding it and it cannot come out too soon.  In the meantime, give us a call.  You will not succeed until you do.

This content marketing thing; I don't think it means what you think it does.

Had a chat with Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute today about how well content marketing is doing in US business

Had a chat with Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute today about how well content marketing is doing in US business.  Of course we've all heard the glowing reports, but it turns out that the success is still very limited to only those that are doing it right.  And there aren't many of them at that.  Gee, who knew?  Here's the discussion.


Trustworthy content is in the best interests of corporations... and good for professional journalists

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position. That assumption is misplaced.

It’s time to wrap up this series on truth and trust in content.  Over the past few posts I’ve talked about how truth appears differently to people, based on their personal perspective, and to report truth you need to view it from multiple angles.  I’ve also showed how modern media lacks the resources to gather that information adequately and how corporations, once dedicated to limiting that access through their marketing, now find it in their best interest to increase the flow of trusted information.  

Let me set the table.

Content marketing is not SEO. Tara Meehan’s post in iMedia Connection demonstrated how companies measure social on SEO metrics of clicks and unique visitors in the form of likes and followers, neither of which has the value they did 5 years ago.  This decreased value in SEO metrics is exacerbated by companies buying fake followers and B2B publishers paying people to comment and like content to boost their engagement.  This approach ultimately fails after a certain period of growth because those companies don’t provide anything worth reading.

Trust thrives in social media Brian Solis wrote recently that trust is the the most important issue in Brian-soliscontent development but corporations that focus on search to bring people to websites, fail to engender trust because people don’t trust corporate website content.  People trust people they know so that’s who they go to first.  Search comes after social now and social is all about content.

Tech journalism isn’t what it used to be.  Tom Foremski wrote that tech journalism has devolved to be a practice of product announcements rather than why those products exist and how native advertising is destroying the level of trust for third-party media. He stops short of pointing out that tech publications are so short of writers that they can do little else and native advertising is paying the bills, but his point is that the current paradigm has reduced the value of tech journalism.

That’s why this is a great time to be a journalist.

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position.  That assumption is misplaced. Few people trust journalists in general and B2B corporate sales staff are learning that what shows up in the press is much less believable because native advertising is becoming harder to differentiate from independent reporting.  Rather than wonder what the media will do to reverse that trend, corporations are learning they can do the job better by hiring or contracting with experienced journalists to do what they do best: find the news and report it accurately. Corporations have more relevant sources of content than the media.  All they need is the personnel to turn that content into trustworthy media.

Some technology companies have started putting journalists on retainer to develop engaging content that builds relationship and trust for the corporation.  Others are hiring them outright to run content programs.  They don’t need million-reader circulations because they know who they want to reach and it’s much lower than a million. 

That is great news for all the journalists who want a position that gives them the time and resources to do what they’ve been trained to do and be paid what they are worth.  As I’ve said, corporations are already finding the value in independent, in-house and consultant journalists and they are paying top dollar for them.  Working with this new breed of journalism requires accepting a level of ethics and independence of thought not normally found in marketing departments but is absolutely necessary for a successful outcome.  If we can’t be independent, what we create has no value to the sponsor or the reader.

 Traditional third-party media businesses are becoming the training ground for new journalists.  There will be an ongoing market demand for product-announcement venues that reach thousands of users so the online and print pubs won’t be going away, but corporations don’t need those venues to establish relationships and trust within their customer base.  They need people who know how to find truth wherever it is and report it, be transparent, and act independently for the benefit of the community.

Trustworthy content is the core of Footwasher Media’s business.  If you are interested in moving your business communications into the 21st century, contact us today.


Why we need a better measurement than SEO

Many companies tell us wondrous numbers about how many hits they get on their site, all produced by their amazing SEO program.  But when I ask how many of those hits are real people and how many are spiderbots and how many are RSS reads, they have no idea what I'm talking about.  All they know is their site gets a lot of traffic.  That is not necessarily a good thing

There is a minor skirmish in the media metric world over search engine optimization (SEO), mostly between SEO and content marketing experts (I generally fall in the latter area). Yesterday I found a story in the obviously slanted Content Marketing Institute that actually explained where the lack is.

When you need to sell a bunch of products to a bunch of people.  SEO is your number one web tool.  You need to reach a lot of people and making it easier for them to find you on the web is a great idea.  But if your business is selling a few products and services to a small number of companies, those customers are not going to base their decision on how high up you show on a web search.  It's not even likely that those customers will do a search at all unless they are looking specifically for your company.  They are going to make the inquiry based on what thought leaders say about you and your business.

That won't be affected by SEO.  As the article states, that is all about the content.

Unfortunately, determining if you have thought leadership is hard to measure in web analytics.  it can be, but you have to look for it and then you have to optimize your analytics to give you the data.  One way is time spend on site and time spent on page.  Most tools I've encountered give you that data if you dig but it's not easy to get. And when you do, you generally have to do the calculations yourself.

Most companies I've talked to, though, don't make that effort.  In fact, when I do an initial consultation with them, their eyes glass over when I ask how much time to people spend on their site and content.  So let me say here, especially if you are thinking about getting one of our free consultations, you might want to have that data available before we get there. It's incredibly important if you are concerned about thought leadership.

If you get a hit from, say, googlebot, that means you got pulled up in a general search for a term.  That doesn't mean you actually got a human being to your site.  If it comes from a specific URL with 0:00 minutes of time on the site, that means you probably got picked up in an RSS feed, but it doesn't mean it got read.  If it shows that the eyeball spent a few seconds, that was a scan-and-go.  But if it says they spent a minute or more on the page, that meant they actually spent some time reading or viewing the content.  The latter one is the only thing that matters when it comes to thought leadership.

That's what most people don't measure.  It is possibly more important for you than SEO.

At Footwasher Media, we spend a lot of time studying that number.  It determines what we write about hear in Communications Basics, and at New Tech Press, and on the Footwasher Media corporate site.  in many cases, we can trace it back to a specific audience member, or at least the department they are in.  for example, we know that someone in the executive suite at Newscorp reads this blog regularly (Hi, Rupert!).

Thought leadership can be measured by the number of Facebook "Likes" or Linkedin connections, or Twitter "follows" but none of those measurements really determine if you are leading thought.  The time spent on the content, however, is enormously important.  You can determine more about your audience and what they really want, need and value easily.

The problem is that number is infintesimal compared to the number of hits and RSS links, which means your marketing and web teams are going to want to avoid talking about it.  It's not as impressive to the undeducated.  So that's why I thought it would be a good time to do some education.  As I've said before, the value of social media is not whether you reach a lot of people.  The value is in reaching the right people.

Here's Google's Matt Cutts on how to increase that time-on stat.