Use Content to Show How, not Show Off


Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of developing a content marketing strategy is answering a straightforward question: What should be the content in our content marketing? Many brands seem to struggle with coming up with a correct answer to this question. Why? They adopt an old school, mass media mindset in which the means to the end goal (customer acquisition or retention) is pursued with brand centric messaging. The goal is essential for business survival and success, but the means to get to the goal can be easily dismissed by the very people targeted to persuade.

Content Marketing as Source of Utility

One of favorite activities during the break between fall and spring semesters is to catch up on reading. My reading list during the last few weeks of a semester becomes students’ case reports, strategic plan projects, and course participation reflection. The number one book on my list to read during the recent break was Youtility by Jay Baer. This book is a must read for any marketer using content marketing or a less experienced marketer trying to figure out what content marketing is and its usefulness in building customer-brand relationships.

For me, the most salient point made by Baer is that for a brand to succeed it can pursue being amazing or being useful. If we look around the marketing landscape today, there are a few amazing brands (Amazon, Apple, Harley Davidson, Nike, and Starbucks immediately come to mind), but most brands fail to wow us consistently. That leaves being useful as the approach most brands have the best chance of leveraging to successfully differentiate from competition.

Utility = Show How

The difference between being useful and being amazing can be viewed as a distinction between “showing how” and “showing off.” Showing how is outwardly focused, communicating to customers and others how a brand can solve problems, offer benefits, or otherwise be a resource. Showing off is just that- a brand-centered position of the business and its virtues. If we are smart, we will jump on the bandwagon and be a customer! This contrast makes it clear that showing how offers much more utility (benefit) for the individuals or groups targeted.

A show how focus is a three-pronged mindset for adding utility:

  1. Show how much you are interested in others- Content marketing (and social media, for that matter) should be about others- customers, community, or employees… not so much about your company or product. Listen, share, and celebrate what is going on around you to establish brand credibility.
  2. Show how well you understand customers’ needs– Content should focus on customer needs and problems and how to provide solutions or remedies. The latter could include your product… or it could not be about your product. Think about content (e.g., a YouTube video) that is useful to you. A need that I have occasionally is tips on how to pack business clothing in a suitcase without having massive wrinkles when I arrive at my destination. That is a customer need- a show-how mindset delivers answers to that need. But, it does not necessarily entail selling something. Well actually it does- you are selling your value as a problem solver.
  3. Show how your organization can be a resource to others– Many companies have amazing untold stories that exist in the background. Employees with outstanding talents or gifts, inspiring stories of courage or determination, or selfless service to others in their community. These stories could provide utility by energizing or motivating people who are exposed to these messages.

It’s Your Choice

The approach to take for pursuing business success is simple: Strive to be amazing or be useful. Some of you will build amazing brands and businesses. We need you and admire your accomplishments. The rest of us (I am including myself) will strive to make our mark by being useful to others. We need amazing and useful brands; figure out which stance you can take and execute.

SMH! SMS as a Marketing Channel


In the quest to establish a presence in social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest as well as build up an email marketing database, a connector that is potentially more effective than all of these may be in the palm of your hand… or actually in the palm of your audience’s hand. Yes, mobile holds great promise as a means of reaching people regardless of where they are. But, one aspect of mobile marketing is often overlooked: short message service (SMS), better known as texting.

 Advantages of SMS

No marketing channel is perfect- each one offers a trade off of strengths and limitations. SMS is no different; among the advantages of incorporating SMS into your digital strategy are:

  • High reach– 81% of mobile phone users text (Source: Pew Research Center)
  • Permission based– People sign up for your text messages because they want to hear from you
  • Immediate processing– 97% read rate within 15 minutes of delivery (Source: Pure360)
  • High click-through rates- URL click-throughs for SMS more than four times higher than for email (Source: Hubspot)
  • Cost effective– Pricing on SMS marketing software and services vary, but it is possible to communicate with an opt-in audience for a few cents per contact.

The permission-based nature of SMS marketing sets the stage for immediate processing and higher click-throughs on URLs in messages. Unless you are a spammer (and if you are you shame on you!), people receive text messages from your business because they opt-in to receive them. Brands build trust in the marketplace, and one way in which that trust is rewarded is when you are granted permission to communicate with people via SMS.

Pick Your Spots

It would be a stretch to say SMS could have a marketing role in every business. So what are conditions or situations that are most conducive to incorporating texting as a communication channel?

  • Use as a multi-channel strategy- Texts can be used to drive subscriber engagement with other channels (e.g., social media and email)
  • Conduct market research- Can be used to quickly gather feedback on customer experience by inviting recipients to complete a survey
  • Communicate information in real-time- If you have time-sensitive information or “breaking news” to share, SMS puts in front of your audience quickly
  • Encourage action– Text messages can promote sales or other promotions to drive traffic to your store or website.

Using SMS to reach customers and others who opt in to hear from you has obvious applications for B2C businesses, but if you are a B2B marketer do not dismiss SMS as irrelevant. Why? Business buyers and decision makers are people, and most people have mobile phones with SMS capabilities.

The Elusive Consumer

Today’s consumer can be described as easier to reach and harder to engage than ever before. The paradox is that we are easier to reach- mobile devices are indicative of our “always on” behavior- yet harder to engage as we are overwhelmed with messages that beg for our attention. A defensive posture is to ignore or tune out most of those messages, thus the “harder to engage” assertion. SMS plays into the easier to reach aspect by delivering messages to our fingertips. At the same time, SMS responds to the challenge to engage audiences by communicating only with those people who want to receive text messages. Making SMS work is no different than successfully utilizing social media, email, or traditional media advertising. Communication must be relevant to the audience and respectful of the their time and attention.

How to Fan the Flames of Content Creation


Content marketing may be the new black in 2014, but efforts to develop a content strategy can be derailed by a single obstacle: The equivalent of “writer’s block.” This obstacle is an affliction experienced by many businesses and individuals struggling to execute a programmatic approach to delivering content to their audiences. One has to look no further than inconsistent frequency of content posts in social media or on a brand’s website to recognize that a gap between strategy and execution plagues many marketers. I’ve been there, and if you are tasked with creating content you probably have been there, too. However, a recent article posted by Writtent, a content publisher, provides two valuable pieces of advice on how to stay energized and be a prolific content creator. The article featured an interview with C.C. Chapman, a marketing expert and author of the book Content Rules

Be Passionate or Be Quiet

One reason content creators lose their edge on publishing consistently is that they can occasionally burn out or at least hit a dry spell for coming up with new ideas. When Chapman was asked what to do if one loses passion for content creation. His answer was straightforward: “If you have no passion for what you are creating then stop.” He describes carrying out content strategy as “a long and ongoing road.” Content marketing is not a flavor of the month proposition; Chapman says you must always be creating content or be willing to hire someone who will do it for you. You must be all in- be passionate or be quiet- your desire to share ideas and information should drive you to be a content marketer, not tasks on a To Do list.

Listen Before You Speak

If you struggle with creating content, do not decide to be quiet just yet. Chapman offers advice on how to fan the flames of content creation. We must first be content consumers in order to be productive content creators. How do we adopt a content consumption mindset? Chapman describes his approach: “I read books, magazines and posts every day. I watch all sorts of video, look at photos and constantly try to get outside and experience the world around me.” This advice sounds similar to what is practiced by high performing salespeople- they are exceptional listeners. Great salespeople are not the ones who could sell ice to Eskimos. Instead, great salespeople actively learn from the world around them, whether it is gathering intelligence on competition, market trends, or customers’ needs. Then, they match their product’s capabilities to deliver value to buyers. Same goes for being a great content marketer- learn from the world around you to gather inputs for crafting content that is useful to your target audience.

Commit to Consume

I saw a friend remark on Facebook recently that “social media is easy when you have something to say.” While that may be a bit of an oversimplification, I think the statement fits the idea that committing to be a content consumer can make you a better content creator. When we allow ourselves to be exposed to more stimuli, the result will be that we are better at “connecting the dots” in the world around us and in turn, creating content based on our interpretation of the stimuli.

Buyer Personas versus Target Markets- What’s the Difference?

target vs personas

If you have done any reading lately on how to effectively implement content marketing and social media into your marketing strategy, you have likely come across the concept of buyer personas. In fact, understanding and clearly defining buyer personas is widely considered to be the first step to successfully engaging customers and leads via digital marketing. But if this talk about buyer personas is foreign, you may be wondering how personas relate to a cornerstone element of marketing strategy- your target market. Let’s delve into this issue by comparing personas and target market along certain key characteristics.

First, Some Definitions

Before going any further, defining buyer persona and target market is a logical starting point:

Buyer persona- Research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions, where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy. (Source: Tony Zambito)

Target market- The particular segment of a total population on which the seller focuses its expertise to satisfy that submarket in order to accomplish its profit objective. (Source: American Marketing Association)

Both concepts pertain to customers, but the similarities pretty much end there.

What’s the Difference?

The concepts of buyer persona and target market represent two different approaches for identifying potential customers and using insights gleaned to devise marketing campaigns to reach them. Below are five characteristics along which personas and targets are compared:


Buyer Persona

Target Market

Scope Individual Aggregation
Focus Persons (Buyer, customer, or user) Likely buyers
Influencers “Life characters” (e.g., family, friends, colleagues) Other targets (e.g., aspirational groups)
Data Points Personal story lines (Priorities, successes, obstacles faced) Descriptive traits (demographics psychographics, and behaviors)
Marketing Focus Gathering and understanding buyers’ stories in their own words Capturing historical data, trendspotting, and customer research

Buyer personas get to the heart of the marketing concept: Satisfying needs and wants. The research required to gather insights into the who, what, why, when, and where of their lives allows for a clearer view of the audience a business is attempting to serve. Why? A persona distills the crowd down to individual customer types. In contrast, target marketing historically has focused on aggregation- how to logically group together people or firms with similar characteristics that are our most likely buyers.

The difference in scope between buyer persona and target market is the most significant difference between the two concepts because it accounts for the contrast in the other four characteristics identified in the table above. It is no coincidence that the term buyer persona contains the word “person;” the characteristics of a buyer persona all relate to the person with whom you desire to engage in a relationship with your brand.

Don’t Discard Target Marketing

The purpose of this discussion is not to ask you to choose between buyer persona and target marketing as the tool of choice when formulating marketing strategy.Personas and target markets should play complementary roles in managing customer relationships. Target marketing is useful because it is a first step in reducing the population of potential buyers to smaller pools of the most likely buyers and users of your products or services. The need remains to drill down deeper to understand each segment you serve and in turn, how to respond to them via product design, distribution strategy, and brand communications.Creating buyer personas meets that need, providing clarity that can equip you to better serve current customers and successfully attract new ones.





Focus on Telling, not Selling in 2014


The new year is a time when many people and organizations establish goals. What accomplishments or improvements do you want to realize in the next twelve months? Some goals are very specific, often accompanied by a quantitatively measurable target and time period (e.g., lose 10 pounds by May 1). Other goals are less refined but provide needed direction. It is the latter type of goal that comes into play when considering how to frame your marketing efforts. I read a very timely article by Daniel Newman, author of The Millennial CEO, titled “2014: The Year of the Brand Influencer.” Newman’s article offers two useful takeaways as we venture in 2014:

1. Influence the Influencers

2. Tell, don’t sell

Market for Influence

Newman laments that traditional mass media communication is largely ineffective for creating desired results (i.e., sales and increased brand equity), yet many firms continue to throw their money at these channels. The attraction of mass media historically has been extensive reach. However, Newman points out that a majority of consumers believe that a smaller, more engaged community is better for creating influence than a larger, less engaged one. In other words, think quality of interactions rather than quantity of exposure when it comes to marketing. An example of a tool that can be used to foster quality interaction is a blog. It is designed for two-way communication, and it is largely free of the restrictions of time and space imposed on paid media placement. Yet, too often we complain that “I don’t have time to blog.” When we say that we are in effect saying “I don’t have time to reach out to customers and leads.” That mindset does not bode well for the long-term health of a business. View interactive channels like blogging and social media as an opportunity to allow others to spread influence on your behalf, not another task on your To Do list.

It’s not about You…

Or at least it is not about your product or company. If your marketing is still focused on features and benefits of your products or how great your company is, resolve that 2014 will be a time to shift focus outward. Use your content marketing and social media tactics to tell customers’ stories. Who are they? What are their problems? Celebrate their victories. Tell their stories. Oh, and if your products play a part in all of these pieces, that will come out. But, we are deflecting attention from us to those we serve. Similarly, tell the stories of your employees, the people who make your organization what it is. Employees that blog, tweet, or otherwise communicate on your behalf put a face on your organization with which customers can identify.

Commit to Influence

Resolve that 2014 be the year your brand becomes more influential. The secret is simple: Be useful. Being influential will come as people recognize the utility and value you offer. In turn, they will advocate on your behalf. But, you will need to commit to investing time and resources to building trust via your communications (esp. using content and social media channels).

May 2014 be your most prosperous year yet.

Content Marketing: A Tale of Two Definitions

Isn’t it interesting how different people can look at the same thing yet have significantly different perceptions. We have heard many times about “glass half-full” versus “glass half-empty” to describe people’s outlook on a situation or issue. The takeaway from the glass analogy is that what is real is what you perceive. The glass is at once half full and half empty; which half you choose to focus on is up to you.

Content as Message
This post is not about glasses of any degree of fullness, but the analogy came to mind as I read an article about the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s efforts to set industry standards for the practice of content marketing. The starting point for the AIB initiative was to establish a definition for content marketing. The definition developed is:

“Content marketing is the marketing technique creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience to provide useful, educational, or entertaining information on its own merit without a call to action.” 

The IAB definition of content marketing seems to focus on the practice as being about message creation and delivery. The message can be useful, educational, or entertaining, but it better not try to do anything more than that! The condition placed at the end, “without a call to action” is interesting. It is as if the AIB wants to disassociate “content” from “marketing.” One cannot help but think about the limitations of most media advertising- many ads can inform or entertain but are incapable of motivating the audience to take action. If the AIB definition of advertising is embraced, marketers may find content marketing to be this generation’s 30-second TV commercial in terms of effectiveness in moving the sales needle.

Content as Strategy
If the AIB definition of content marketing rings a bell, it may be because you have seen a large chunk of it somewhere else… on the website of the Content Marketing Institute. When asked, “What is Content Marketing?” the CMI says:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience- with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” 

To say that the AIB and CMI differ on the purpose of content marketing is an understatement. The AIB suggests content marketing avoid engaging the audience in a call to action at all costs. CMI says that is exactly why you use content marketing- to motivate the audience to take some kind of action. The CMI definition acknowledges that for marketing to be effective a person ultimately has to make a decision to engage in a behavior. Otherwise, we have succeeded in informing or entertaining and nothing else. Content marketing is used strategically to prompt needed audience responses throughout the sales funnel.

A Vote for Action
It is interesting that the AIB definition of content marketing borrows heavily from the CMI definition but distances itself when it comes to expectations of audience action. A plethora of impotent marketing exists already; watering down content marketing by discouraging calls to action would only add to the problem. Please note what the CMI does not say about content marketing- it is not all about selling product. Instead, content marketing should be about the audience- their stories, their needs, and how to help them meet their needs… and not about your product. Content marketing stands to be a game changer, but not if it misses a unique opportunity to engage audiences to take action (download, subscribe, call, visit, refer, follow, and yes, even buy).

SEO and Content Marketing: Friends or Foes?



Search Engine Optimization and content marketing are two priorities for many marketing organizations today. Depending on who you ask, SEO and content marketing can be put forth as the most important tactic  in a digital marketing program. In one corner, SEO advocates tout the importance of optimization in elevating a website in organic search results. Moreover, SEO plays a crucial role in an inbound marketing program that brings interested people to your online presence with the ultimate aim of converting them into customers.

In the other corner, content marketing has gained tremendous momentum because of its capabilities to actually engage people. I say “actually” because engagement is an overused word in marketing, having become cliché as many marketers are clueless about how to truly engage a customer or prospect. Videos, blogs, and social media content are three forms of marketing content that can be crafted to appeal to an audience without reverting to our desire to sell to an audience. Content marketing offers a long sought channel for increasing brand relevance.

Can SEO and Content Marketing Co-Exist?
Are SEO and content marketing friends or foes? Can they co-exist as complementary priorities in a digital marketing program. Here are some points to consider.

  • SEO and content marketing offer different perspectives on what is influential in driving website traffic- each has strengths that influence performance
  • SEO is measured on performance such as organic search rankings and conversions
  • Content can aid in helping SEO effectiveness and can target different stages of the purchase decision cycle
  • SEOanticipates demand by aligning website design and architecture practices with user search patterns and behaviors.
  • Content marketing creates demand (via informing and building interest); this thought comes from a recent post by digital marketing expert Lee Odden on the TopRank Online Marketing blog.
  • SEO has a goal of increasing visibility of content.
  • Content Marketing has a goal of influencing outcomes along customer’s buying decision journey

And the Answer is…
Should SEO or content drive digital marketing efforts? The simple answer is “yes.” SEO and content marketing tactics are not adversaries locked in an either/or battle for a marketer’s attention. Instead, they are complementary pieces of a digital marketing strategy. An optimization focus without great content is lifeless in that it does not put emphasis on telling the brand’s story. Similarly, a content focus without consideration for optimization would result in missed opportunities to attune relevant content with an audience’s search behavior.

I was at a conference recently at which a nonprofit marketer shared with an audience an internal debate about whether the organization’s website should focus on filling the homepage with as much as possible. Her contention was that it should be heavy on content for potential SEO benefits, but I cringed at the thought of what that website might look like. A website designed with a search engine in mind instead of the target audience probably looks like… well, a website designed for a search engine- fulfilling the criteria to be recognized by search engines but not necessarily aligned with the brand’s story.

So, listen to the SEO experts and content marketing gurus for they are both correct to assert that you need them to achieve digital marketing success. The conference session presenter, a CEO of a SEO firm, gave the best advice: Design online content for users, not search engines.

7.5 Ways that Content Marketing Advice May Be Destroying Your Brand

One of the greatest attributes of social media is its “share and learn” opportunities. Information is power, and the power is distributed freely via blogs, videos, podcasts, and social networking sites. We can learn about best practices from people who have developed ideas, tested them, and are able to share their experiences. Social networking sites Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in particular contain a steady stream of links to advice pieces and how-to columns for improving your content marketing efforts.

The advice given can be useful, valuable, and… detrimental. Huh? Marketers have access to volumes of ideas and suggestions for creating marketing content. The challenge is sifting through it to pinpoint which ideas or practices are most applicable to your business. Not all content ideas will be a good fit with your target market, marketing objectives, and brand characteristics. They can be excellent sources of information, but ultimately managers must discern usefulness from noise.

Two examples of techniques that can be useful or detrimental are numbered lists and provocative headlines. Both techniques are advocated by many content marketing experts as ways to gain attention and interest among your audience. But, if these techniques are being used extensively they seem to lose their effectiveness. Just for fun, peruse your Twitter feed or your RSS feed reader to see how many headlines contain either numbered lists (“10 ways to increase click-throughs on video”) or headlines designed to pique curiosity, or both. I could not resist as I wrote the headline for this post- the numbered list and provocative headline combined!

On a more serious note, there are reasons why blind acceptance of content marketing advice could not be good for your brand:

  1. Target market characteristics of brands vary; what appeals to the customer base of one brand may be of little interest to another brand’s audience.
  2. Widespread use of frequently recommended tactics (e.g., provocative headlines, numbered lists) dilute the effectiveness as content from competing brands begins to look alike.
  3. Focusing too much on best practices may lead to overlooking newer, innovative techniques.
  4. Marketing objectives that are pursued via content marketing vary by company and brand; content marketing message and mediums will be influenced heavily by the desired outcome.
  5. Is bad content better than no content at all? A good idea may be just that- a good idea, but it only works if executed effectively.
  6. You may experience “advice overload.” The ideas and best practices shared by experts and practitioners have value, but when you roll them all together do you have clarity or confusion about how to execute content marketing strategy?
  7. The step-by-step recipes offered in many content marketing pieces should be looked to as advice points, not a definitive instruction manual. Like a talented cook experimenting in the kitchen, use the recipes as a base and explore from there to gauge what might work (or not work) for your brand.

     7.5 There is no 7.5… but I have always wanted to use this numbering scheme, following the pattern often used by Jeffrey Gitomer.

Information is power, and we are fortunate that we can empower each other by sharing information and experiences. But, be careful to weigh what is learned against the marketing needs of your business.