Posts Tagged B2B Marketing
Remember that English teacher who taught you to write five-paragraph essays? The pattern was simple: introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Tell them what you’re going to tell, tell them, and tell them again.
From this basic structure, the writing assignments evolved. They moved from exposition to more complex arguments, pages instead of paragraphs, primary and secondary research, visual rhetoric, a companion video or slide deck.
For me, it all came together in a paper on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, arguing for an interpretation of Satan as epic hero that differed from popular criticism. My desk was littered with the flotsam and jetsam of my efforts—the primary text (PL); a position to take; a list of key points, supporting data, and examples from the text; a somewhat annotated bibliography of my research sources; what might pass for a flowchart that laid out the argument and possible objections; and a rough outline of the paper.
That desk doesn’t look much different today.
Those same writing and research processes from academia are useful tools for any kind of business writing, but especially for creating collateral such as white papers or case studies, or posts aligned with defined blogging strategy, or the email messages used in a lead nurturing campaign.
As content marketers, our most fundamental goal is to persuade an audience and motivate them to take action. We take a position—our unique selling proposition —and we develop, support, and defend it.
Sure, it feels good to say our main goal is to inform, educate, and nurture our audience, but a business needs to keep the lights on.
Each message in the customer lifecycle, from marketing to sales and services, is another piece of evidence in support of that position. Its effectiveness in getting, closing, and retaining customers is more measurable now than ever.
The ROI of our efforts is splashed in bright colors across the pie charts and graphs of our CRM dashboards.
While the simple five-paragraph structure is hardly feasible (or desirable) in our marketing communications, the exercise is. The creative process of writing that paper for English class can be adapted to help content marketers develop a messaging framework, and then use it to produce content that’s consistent and value-based, across marketing channels.
From 5 Paragraphs, 5 Concepts for Content
Whether writing a post on the company blog, a case study, or a status update, marketers can deliver an effective and consistent message by keeping in mind five basic concepts:
Audience. The art of persuasion is equal parts writer and reader. Good content is adapted for a target audience, never one size fits all. Not only do we need to create content for a specific buyer persona, but we also need to set expectations for that audience, and deliver a content experience that meets those expectations.
In B2B marketing, there are often multiple people involved in the decision-making process, each for different reasons. Segment that house list for targeted communications. Offer content relevant for the end user (how a specific functionality saves time), and something for the business decision maker (how the complete package saves money).
Argument. Again, the Unique Selling Proposition. Who should buy your product and why? How will they benefit? Do existing customers feel good about their purchase decision, and will they stick around? A product or service can’t be the best at everything for everyone, so this core concept should focus on what differentiates that product or service from others in the marketplace.
Appeals. To persuade and motivate that target audience, look to the Aristotelian rhetorical appeals ethos, pathos, and logos.
- Ethos refers to the appeal of the speaker’s character or authority. It’s how we position the “About” page and our online company profiles, what we put in our bios. A good example of ethos in advertising is celebrity endorsements.
- Pathos appeals to the audience’s emotions. It can be used to convey feelings of confidence and integrity in a brand and trigger the desired response.
- Logos is logical appeal. This persuasive strategy is usually marked by facts, figures, and data.
The most effective content combines all three appeals.
Evidence. This one is closely tied to logical appeal but worth calling out on its own. General statements only bring an audience so far. Providing credible evidence to support a claim shows the buyer how other people just like them have realized tangible benefits from a product or service. And it doesn’t need to be boring. The statistics part may be a bit dry, but things like video testimonials, case studies, and online communities can turn this evidence into a more interactive experience for the audience.
Opposition. What are the opposing viewpoints in your marketplace? The reasons for not buying your product or service? If the price point high, for example, then provide some quantifiable ROI data from current customers. Opposition to a change in process or technology? Reinforce the benefits of making the change with evidence, and remember that change brings about feeling of both excitement and fear. Build on the former while addressing the latter with a solid nurturing program.
Putting these concepts together in an internal corporate essay, so to speak, with an introduction, supporting ideas, and conclusion helps clarify positioning, communicate value, and motivate the audience to the next step in the sales cycle. Those ideas make up the parts of the whole, the overarching narrative told through our website, blog posts, social media efforts, sales collateral, and customer service.
It’s worth noting that the essay outline mentioned earlier wasn’t so much an outline as a collection of sticky notes and pizza napkins that could be rearranged while the argument in my paper developed based on new research and perspectives.
The corporate narrative should be organized this way, too—it’s a fluid process as we learn more about our audience and how they interact with our communications, or introduce new products and functionality.
A messaging framework based on audience, argument, appeals, evidence, and opposition helps content marketers tell a consistent and compelling story. It may not be the same as writing about Satan, sex, and the phenomenology of sin in Paradise Lost, but the same concepts of argumentation that we learned in English class can inspire a content strategy that adds color to the marketing dashboard.
This blog post originally appeared on B2Bbloggers.
Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting around a table drinking wine and sharing crème brûlée with some friends from graduate school, specifically the MFA program in creative writing at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Pulling up in my minivan I realized it had already been a good 5 years since my last writing workshop around that blessed, beat-up and beloved table in Weld Hall library.
One discussion stood out over the Cabernet and custard, perhaps because of where I’m at academically, professionally, and personally. It was whether an MFA degree had any value in today’s workplace for those not interested in teaching at the college level, and how those skills might be applied in the workforce.
At the table for tonight’s conversation were four MFA graduates and a faculty member. The grads included a software developer, a local magazine editor, a PhD student/professor, and a marketing director. Not a bad as products of the program, I’d say.
This post outlines some key areas where the MFA program directly relates to the creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills that are very much in demand in today’s job market. It’s time to start that dialogue around how those of us in the arts and humanities can create some pretty kick-ass careers for ourselves.
The perspective here is from a fiction writer (as opposed to poetry or nonfiction), and it’s from the marketing point of view (versus a visual art like design or a sales role such as business development). It deals mostly with applied professional writing—as a “creative” on an in-house team or at an agency, for example. (I’m sure the linguistics or communications theory-laden post will soon follow.)
One more disclaimer is that I have split personalities when it comes to writing about marketing. I’m a B2B marketer marketing an advertising product to folks who market B2C. But at the end of the day, we’re all fucking human. Write that way and you can sell a product or service or otherwise inform and persuade an audience. That’s all we really need to do.
Here’s that list, from my own experience as an MFA graduate with a pretty sweet career. I may not have been placed on that path because my credentials state this particular degree, but the skills needed to get there tie directly to experience in a creative writing program.
1. Tight Lines. These people have the ability to write tight lines that are both creative and persuasive. In fiction, the writer needs to create believability and truth, or verisimilitude, in the story.
2. Plot Lines. Web copy, for example, needs to drive a visitor along a certain navigational path that results in that person taking an action, whether it be submitting a contact form, calling a business, or even moving on to the next page. Creative writers, too, drive their visitor—their reader—along with intent. The audience is brought on that proverbial journey, as the business writer strives to both pull a prospect through a sales funnel and engage them in interactive content, and a fiction writer so convincingly delivers a narrative that can pull the reader along the story’s path without question of the reality or the characters created—they simply must get to the next part of the story.
3. Buyer Personae. This one is huge, but it’s covered in the Marketing/Sales Cycle section below.
4. Positioning. PR positions the company, setting the scene for the action to take place. It’s important in PR to be completely transparent, to stay away from embellishment, but this is where command of English language comes in handy.
5. Storytelling. These are the folks that tell the company’s story, and they need to do it well. Hire a storyteller. Or become one. Enough said.
6. Audience. Identifying and understanding a target audience for marketing efforts is akin to developing characters for a work of fiction. You know who they are, what they make a year, their educational level, where they eat and shop.
3., Part Deux. Buyer Personae. The ability to serve up content that’s relevant to the business audience is critical to everything from generating interest to keeping a customer. To do this, marketers need to create what’s called a buyer persona to guide their efforts, to know what makes that target audience tick. This is literally an outline or profile of a character—for me, it’s all those characteristics scribbled on sticky notes across my desk and color-coded to indicate mannerisms or role in the story. But again, working within the framework of buyer personae is where the ability to create and develop characters in a fictional work becomes a skill that transfers nicely.
For these writers, it goes well beyond the numbers that identify age, location, and income— the ability to create and give voice to these buyer personae, understand their pains and how to manage their egos, and bring them along on that storied journey are inherent in those who’ve spent time writing fiction in first person or as a member of the opposite sex, to name just one exercise in character development.
7. Lead Generation and Nurturing. Think like the characters do. Where would you place the ads that would reach you if you were that character? Where would you be located? And engaged in what media? Where and how do you participate online? Think of what content gets the most downloads, and later, analyze what content was downloaded by the most qualified prospective customers and focus your editorial efforts accordingly.
8. Content Strategy. Oversimplified, this is creating, running, managing an editorial calendar.
In addition to providing the right content for your audience, this includes understanding how to work with people in order to elicit guest posts and suggest changes that keep the contribution on par with the quality of other writing on the site while maintaining author’s style. Experience in MFA program workshop dialogue, copyediting, and working with any published or up-and-coming authors are all great ways to develop a foundation for business content strategy and how to execute on it successfully.
9. Engaging. For marketers, this means creating dialogue around a topic or issue, whether in person or online. For MFAers, it’s the ability to deconstruct, put back together, and discuss what we read. “Nice work” is a comment that brings nothing to the table.
10. Case Studies and White Papers. The former is an in-depth profile that tells the story of how a business solved a problem or made more money using your solution. The latter is a paper that also solves a problem, typically research-intensive and from a thought-leadership perspective looking at improvements that can be made overall in an industry (and of course, in the About section in tiny print on the last page, how the corporate author is positioned to solve those problems). Naturally, these are my favorite pieces to write.
11. Stories. Using sticky notes and whiteboards to piece together the story of how functionality or a process will work in a software application is similar to performing this exercise in order to piece together a novel, story, or poem, or even the core argument for an essay (for the creative writer, it’s possible the whiteboard is instead a Moleskine®). This also applies to telling the story from the end-user’s perspective and the actions they take during the software testing/QA process.
12. Complexity. Being able to understanding complex processes and communicate them is useful skill. The correlation? A research paper on something like “Burnt Norton from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets or Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
- Interviewing for a job (MFA: Engaging conversation and defending position in MFA workshop.)
- Taking (and applying) feedback and critique of professional work (MFA: Feedback from professors and peers during workshop.)
- Working independently (MFA: We write alone.)
- Write simple code for web development, design, and animation (MFA: Knowing how language works.)
- Research skills (MFA: If it’s out there, we can find it.)
Thus ends my preaching—for now—on the virtues of an MFA degree for those who aren’t ready to or have no plans to teach.
It’s interesting to note it wasn’t until later in the evening that said software developer, local magazine editor, PhD student/professor, and marketing director observed that none of us had actually graduated the MFA program together and were, pretty much, barely classmates. This attests to the community surrounding writing programs such as these and the craft itself.
If you do nothing else in life, perfect your craft. If you have a talent, use it. Get involved with the community around it. As fellow MSUM MFA graduate Kristen Tsetsi writes, “I no longer know the grass of forbidden lawns, because I drive past it.”
Exploring the craft before that forbidden lawn of unbridled creativity becomes unfamiliar is an experience that we’ll draw from inevitably in our careers, whether we realize it or not. We MFA grads had the opportunity to develop a mindset that allows for creative, critical, and analytical thinking–a stage on which to practice freedom in our art, engage in healthy debate and discussion, and advance our writing abilities both technically and creatively, all while participating in good conversation and community.
It seems that I remember the login info for this blog after all….
I wrote this as a guest post for a B2Bbloggers, and thought I may as well post it on my own blog, too. Enjoy.
Whether making a purchase decision for myself or for my company, I’m still a human. A communications strategy that recognizes this as every business buyer’s position can make the difference between an engaged prospect or an unsubscribe, a loyal customer or a lost sale.
The marketer’s goal is to get buyers into and moving through the purchase funnel of awareness, interest, evaluation, acquisition, and loyalty. The decision-making process for purchasing business software, for example, is longer and more complex than that which involves an individual consumer and an impulse buy.
Fortunately, business buyers don’t stop being human when they clock in for the day as managers, developers, and owner/operators.
Therefore, many of the rhetorical tactics and psychological triggers used in consumer marketing also work for B2B marketing, engaging the people who visit our websites, read our content, and use our products in their professional roles.
This post examines the business buyer’s position, how it differs from that of consumers, why it’s important to appeal to both rational and emotional decision making, and how to engage this audience throughout buying cycle and, later, the customer lifecycle.
(De)constructing the Business Buyer
Spending money on cute shoes you don’t need, or even an item with a longer consumer purchase cycle, like a flat screen TV, isn’t nearly as big a risk as signing off on an item with the company’s money, be it external marketing spend or a software solution.
The business buyer is in a position of high accountability for purchases, and often has multiple “buyers” to persuade. This presents some unique challenges to marketers:
• More people are involved in the decision-making process, representing different facets of the business. With a software product, for example, it may be the primary user who shows interest initially, but the IT team and business owner are also involved in the final purchase decision. The different roles have different needs, and your copywriter is dealing with any number of different buyer personas.
• The buyer isn’t spending their own money. ROI and other advantages must be clearly documented to justify investment in one purchase which may take budget away from another. This is the time for case studies, data, and proof of time/money savings.
• The risk factor is often greater. Buyers fear that a bad purchase decision could lead to loss of time/money/productivity/data/hardware/resources for their business.
Where the decision to buy the shoes was largely on impulse and based on design and emotional appeal (i.e., feeling good while wearing the shoes), the purchase decision for a business product such as a software solution takes considerably longer than the typical consumer purchase, even for higher priced items such as that flat screen.
This requires marketers and sales teams to build a relationship with their contacts and keep in touch as a prospect moves through the purchase funnel, however long that may take.
At work here is both the rational and the emotional brain. In general, the rational brain craves a logical approach to decision-making, hard numbers and facts. The emotional brain responds to more abstract concepts such as safety and trust.
• The rational buyer is going to look for things like product feature specs and proof of benefit from other customers to build a quantifiable justification for the purchase.
• The emotional buyer is persuaded more by their gut feeling in a product’s ability to fulfill its promise, the safety and trust they can place in a company or brand.
Engaging business buyers requires an appeal to both parts of the brain, using one to justify the other.
Promising time savings is great, but suggesting what they can do with the time saved is even better—putting it toward business development and getting ahead of competitors in the market, for example. Tell them the improved workflow will lead to better internal communications, higher team morale, and a better atmosphere around the office.
Just as desire motivates consumers to buy, it also motivates business buyers. Desire for efficiency, profit, data security, or even recognition for acquisition of an innovate product that impacts the bottom line.
The other primary motivator is fear. Here this could mean fear of losing business to competitors if the competitor has better resources.
A good way to build trust and credibility while at the same time dropping a few statistics and testimonials to prove the value of your product or business philosophy is through content marketing—white papers, case studies, email campaigns, social media, and the company blog.
Of course, if the product isn’t great, none of this will matter.
6 Tips for Getting Business Buyers Engaged
Let’s face it. Things like “BUY NOW!” in big bold letters and other techniques geared toward pressure and impulse purchase don’t work with these decision-makers. They need to be educated not only on the product, but how it will improve their business and professional lives which will in turn positively impact their personal lives.
To get a business audience engaged, marketers need persuasive content that appeals to both logic and emotion. The communication strategy should serve prospective buyers as well as current customers with lifetime value.
The first step, though, is persuading the busy business buyer to open your emails, or read your blog, or take your touch-base calls.
Here are 6 tips for developing a messaging strategy and writing copy that engages and motivates a business audience, wherever they are in the prospect or customer lifecycle:
- Be relevant. Target your content and communications based on the individual’s role (technical decision maker vs. end user, for example), pain points, and activity history. Use personalized content in emails, such as names with the greeting and closure, or content based on product interests. Get the timing right—send relevant communications based on where they are in the buying cycle. Marketing automation is a must-have if this is to be done efficiently and effectively.
- Answer why and how. Tell them why they need your product, and how it solves their business problems and pains. Create a compelling reason for them to buy, or to download your content, or subscribe to your blog, follow you, etc. Re-enforce value and purchase satisfaction with existing customers.
- Pique their interest. Write concise headlines and titles that set expectations but leave little mystery. Tell your readers how they can solve a problem. You can even use “how to” in the title, such as “How to Eliminate Manual Data Entry & Improve Workflow.” Focus on solution and benefit.Use numbers. It helps organize information and sets expectations with the reader. And who can resist a question?
- Educate early. Provide white papers, case studies, tips, and best practice content, tailored to the contact’s specific pain points and position in the buying cycle. Become a trusted source of information and content for your industry and the challenges its professionals face. Good resource for content marketing and copywriting are Junta42 and Copyblogger.
- Manage risk. The business audience needs to manage perceived risk later in the buying cycle, and you can help them do that by providing case studies and statistics. Testimonial blurbs at this point usually aren’t enough—the buyer now needs hard facts and case studies from similar companies to make a rational justification for the purchase. Emotionally, this purchase decision could be tied to either a promotion or a severance package, depending on the price tag and how it impacts the business.
- Make it easy for them to purchase your product and maintain a customer relationship with you. Keep in touch after the sale.
(This article appeared on B2Bbloggers at http://www.b2bbloggers.com/blog/6-tips-for-understanding-the-b2b-business-decision-making-process/ )