At business conferences motivational speakers offer a welcome break from the more technical and industry-specific presentations on the agenda. When they are good the passion and performance of these speakers can sweep everyone up and leave behind a fuzzy afterglow of lingering smiles and good cheer.
Why isn't more content marketing like that?
Later, when you reflect on what these motivational speakers actually said--I know, I've taken notes--you realize that it wasn't anything very earth-shattering. Mostly they tell good stories about how we can all be successful on our own terms. Anything is possible if we are willing to step away from our comfort zone and take a few risks.
I don't know about you, but I've been hearing that since grade school. This is America after all. So if it's not the underlying message, the power is in the delivery.
A little passion goes a long way
While it requires some measure of innate talent, what it takes to be a consistently good motivational speaker and performer can be learned. The non-entertainers on the conference speaker circuit, those who've experienced some tragedy or overcome adversity, are the best example, like the guy who went hiking alone, got his arm stuck under a rock, and had to cut it off. A large part of what they bring to their audiences is the authenticity of their experience and passion about what they accomplished and learned. (These speakers also bring a well-honed storytelling ability, but that's a topic for another day.)
Online and everywhere in life, authenticity and passion build friendships and grow business networks, audiences, followers, customers and businesses. Why then does so much content marketing and marketing in general lack these magical attributes?
Motivational speakers can't be boring. It's part of the job description. They share the same business audience as B2B content creators and marketers. You can't afford to be boring either.
The Fun Theory competition and series of videos created by Volkswagen offers some interesting lessons on developing an engaging video content marketing campaign. Some of these are over a year old now, but if you haven't seen them, the most popular video by far, with almost 15 million views, features the transformation of a subway staircase into a large keyboard.
The underlying premise or "theory" being demonstrated in the video is that if you make something fun it can change people's behavior for the better. Volkswagen's related marketing premise is that more people will purchase smaller, gas-sipping, environmentally friendly cars if it's fun to drive them.
Fun is inherently engaging
One of the things that's interesting about these content marketing videos is that they engage the viewer just as they engage the participants in the experiment. Watching their delight makes you smile, and you have to share it with your friends on Facebook with the wish that someone would make the stairs you climb every day musical and more fun.
But in addition to being entertaining like thousands of YouTube clips, the experiments themselves are all about turning the everyday and mundane into something that's, well, fun. However fleeting it might be, in this case that heightened engagement can be quantified:
Granted, Volkswagen's Fun Theory video campaign is consumer-oriented. But if you can make climbing a set of stairs, throwing away trash, recycling, and driving the speed limit fun, and change people's behavior, then business-to-business marketers can make the everday interactions and communication that you have with your customers more fun and engaging.
I know I always appreciate it when someone does anything to take the dullness out of an otherwise lackluster workday. By expending a little creativity and effort there are ways to be both professional and fun, and more deeply engage current and potential customers alike. Stay tuned for more examples.
From press releases to case studies and research reports, I'm always on the lookout for examples of B2B content marketing that breaks the mold and isn't boring and formulaic. Send me your examples and I may feature them here. Thanks.
The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) launched a new consulting service last week. Knowing some of the folks behind CMI, I'm sure it will be a bang-up service for connecting with knowledgeable people who can help marketers develop a content strategy that delivers results. Check it out.
Much has been written about how to find the right consultant for a typical project. Standard qualifications include the right expertise, referrals and references, availability, and fee structure. But what are the unique qualifications and attributes that you should look for in a content marketing partner? Here are four:
Someone who listens first, talks later
Any initial consulting session should begin with a thorough exploration of your markets, your customers, your products, your services, and your company. Judge your consultant's listening ability by the caliber of his or her questions. Beware of anyone bearing solutions, especially of the social media variety, before understanding your audience and specific objectives.
Content marketing expert, teacher and coach
Strategy development will be a relatively short-term engagement, hopefully with periodic follow-up meetings to assess progress and make course corrections. Your consultant should provide specialized knowledge that will guide decision-making and execution on an every-day level after they are gone.
For example, the technical aspects of social media, e-marketing and SEO are rapidly evolving. Not unlike your IT staff or IT service providers, your content marketing advisor will keep up with the latest crazes, sort out what's relevant so you don't have to, and pass on appropriate guidance.
The biggest challenge for content marketers today is creating engaging content, as noted in this fairly rigorous study B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends by Junta42 and Marketing Profs. (Much more on this issue another day.) Engaging content has many facets, from topic selection to presentation style. At heart, it comes down to quality.
Your advisor should be an uncompromising proponent for quality. He or she should be able to articulate all of the reasons and research that connect high quality content and audience engagement with marketing results. You need someone who can help you stand up for the importance of quality content when your sales manager pushes to turn your white paper into a sales pitch.
Your advisor should challenge your team to break out of ruts, reshuffle resources, and take some risks. The exact nature and style of this role will vary. People who specialize in brainstorming tend to be good at it. The trick is to build on an idea, or a glimmer of an idea, or simply what you've always done, and flip it around, look at it from a radically different perspective, or simply give it another twist, so that it appears fresh and new. As demonstrated by the output of the best marketing agencies, creative thinking is a habit that can be cultivated.
A final thought. There's no substitute for experience. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't engage an advisor who doesn't have specific experience in your market or industry. Many product and service and marketing innovations result from the cross-pollination and adaptation of ideas from unrelated markets.
This isn't a comprehensive list by any means. What have I missed? What are some of the key attributes of the best content marketers, developers, writers and designers that you have worked with?
Feedback and constructive criticism, gently delivered—what Patrick Lencioni calls the "kind truth" in a slightly different context in his recent book—are like magic. It shouldn't be personal, or taken personally. The objective that you and your team of reviewers are working toward is to make whatever you're doing better. Be it a product design, a business plan, or content marketing copy.
Here's a non-client example. Our minister recently asked me to take a look at one of our church brochures. I looked it over and noted some redundancies and inconsistencies, pointed out some opportunities to simplify and make stronger statements, and marked some stylistic and copyediting issues. She thanked me profusely for my feedback, before pushing back with some other ideas. We went back and forth over several days until we arrived at words and a structure and a design that were much clearer and potentially more effective than either one of us would have come up with on our own. That's the magic. That's how it's supposed to work.
This post falls deeply in the execution category. Execution is where many content marketing efforts fail, or fail to achieve 80% (to throw out a number that's probably on the optimistic side) of their potential.
One benefit of coming from a journalism (and liberal arts!) background is that you're expected to ask dumb questions. People tend to presume that you know next to nothing about them, about their company, and sometimes even about business in general. I don't take it personally.
What they don't always realize is that asking dumb, a.k.a. basic, questions allows you to quickly understand the fundamentals of their business. In fact, starting with the basics and getting people to explain the core elements of what they do and why, is the first step to asking really insightful questions.
Once you understand their core business issues and processes, it's easier to see when an initiative or a program or even something happening on the factory floor doesn't fit or connect with what they say they're all about. You know you've identified something worth exploring and possibly developing into a story element that could be interesting to customers when the response begins, "That's a really good question…."
Early the other morning when I was reading instead of sleeping I was reminded of the value of asking dumb questions by Patrick Lencioni in his most recent business fable, Getting Naked. The book is about overcoming common business fears that can sabotage client loyalty. Because it reinforces a position of honesty and vulnerability, asking dumb questions is one of the practices that he explicitly recommends for overcoming the fear of being embarrassed and building loyalty.
In a consulting capacity asking basic questions about something in a budget or a business plan that doesn't make sense to an outside observer might only reveal your ignorance most of the time. But the few times that your questions spotlight real issues and potential pitfalls, Lencioni argues, is what clients will remember and appreciate.
Whether you're developing a case study, gathering primary research, or conducting an interview, ask the dumb questions and try not to care too much about revealing what you don't know. Dumb questions force everyone—especially subject-matter experts immersed in the arcane jargon of their specialties—to explain what they mean in everyday words that everyone can follow. The end product that you create will be better because the key points will be more insightful and it will be easier for your target audience to understand.
Have you asked any dumb questions lately and been rewarded or surprised by the response?
All organizations have processes—documented or not, well executed or not, effective or not—for doing what they do. Generally speaking, these processes depend upon the talent of your employees and contractors, your customer relationships, your fulfillment methods, how well your assets are developed and managed, and the resources of your investors. That list could obviously be much longer and deeper, but let's limit it to those elements for now.
It could be argued that management's core purpose, no matter what role you play or level that you are at, is to optimize the execution of these processes and sub-processes. The processes for which marketing is traditionally responsible are summarized by the American Marketing Association's (AMA) old definition of marketing: "Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals."
AMA's definition was updated in 2007 to: "Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." [emphasis added]
It now resembles the definition by Philip Kottler in his classic textbook Marketing Management: "We see marketing management as the art and science of choosing target markets and getting, keeping, and growing customers through creating, delivering, and communicating superior customer value." [emphasis added]
So marketing's scope has expanded from merchandising, which is still critical of course, to shaping and owning the customer value message. Thought leadership initiatives identify, articulate and communicate that value message. The challenge is to communicate that message using traditional research, white papers, case studies, etc., as well as social media outlets, in a way that continually engages your targeted audience. Ah, there's the rub.