Sunday, November 25, 2012

Content Marketing Basics for 2013 - Compelling Value Propositions

If you want to implement an effective content marketing program in 2013, the place to start is with your customer value propositions. Value propositions are the cornerstone of your entire demand generation strategy, and they provide the foundation for your content marketing efforts. Most of the content resources you publish should be based on, or derived from, the core value propositions you offer.

Value propositions describe how your products and services create value for customers, and their importance cannot be overstated. The 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report by MarketingSherpa found that, on average, companies with clear value propositions enjoy lead generation ROI's that are 117% higher than companies without clear value propositions.

Despite their undeniable importance, many companies don't do a good job of identifying their core value propositions or creating content resources that articulate those value propositions in a compelling way. A recent survey of decision makers in B2B companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board found that only 57% of the "unique benefits" touted by sellers were seen by potential buyers as having enough impact to create a preference for a particular seller. To put it bluntly, you simply cannot create compelling content without first identifying compelling value propositions.

Over the past two decades, I've reviewed hundreds of the "value propositions" used by clients. What I consistently find is that weak value propositions usually fall into one of three categories.
  • They are too generic.
  • They focus on product or service features.
  • They aren't supported by credible evidence.
Not surprisingly, strong value propositions exhibit the opposite characteristics. They describe specific elements of value, they focus on business/economic results or outcomes, and they are supported by credible evidence.

Identifying your core value propositions comes down to answering six fundamental questions about each major type or category of product or service that you offer.
  • What are all of the significant reasons that people have for purchasing a product or service like mine? What problems or needs motivate the buying decision?
  • What kinds of organizations are likely to have the problems or needs that underlie these reasons to buy?
  • Who within the prospect organization is affected by each problem or need? Who has the most to gain if the problem is solved and the most to lose if it isn't?
  • What specific outcomes are these people seeking?
  • What features of my solution will produce these desired outcomes?
  • What will the economic benefits be if these desired outcomes are achieved?
Using these six questions to identify and describe your core value propositions will provide a solid foundation for your content marketing efforts. They help you identify your target market, and they provide the starting point for developing the buyer personas that I'll discuss in my next post. In addition, the answers to these questions will help identify the topics that your content resources should address.

I recently published a white paper that explains how to develop compelling value propositions. If you'd like a copy of this white paper, send an e-mail to ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.

Read Part 1 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 3 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 4 of the content marketing series here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Content Marketing Should Be a Core Part of Your 2013 Business Plan

With less than two months remaining in 2012, you've probably started planning for next year. If your marketing and sales efforts produced the results you hoped for in 2012, that's great! Congratulations on your success! Moving into 2013, you may only need to make minor adjustments to reach your revenue goals for next year.

On the other hand, if your marketing and sales efforts this year have not met your expectations, you may need to make substantial changes in your demand generation program to make 2013 a success.

If you aren't already using content marketing as a core component of your demand generation strategy, that's one change you need to make in 2013. Research by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs shows clearly that content marketing has become an essential part of B2B demand generation. According to the B2B Content Marketing:  2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends study:
  • 91% of B2B marketers are using content marketing in some form
  • 33% of B2B marketing budgets are now allocated to content marketing, up from 26% in 2011
  • 54% of B2B marketers say they will increase their content marketing spending in 2013
The essence of content marketing is the use of informative and/or entertaining content that is primarily nonpromotional. Good content is tailored for specific types of buyers and for specific buying process stages, and content must be fresh and current to appeal to potential buyers. Therefore, effective content marketing requires a significant number of content resources, and creating those resources can be a daunting job for many companies. In fact, the CMI/MarketingProfs study found that "producing enough content" is now the most difficult challenge facing B2B marketers.

The first thing you must do to create an effective content marketing program is identify what content resources you need. To some extent, of course, this determination will be based on the content distribution channels you choose to use. For example, if you decide to have a company blog, you will obviously need to create blog posts on a regular basis.

Even before you start thinking about content formats, however, you must determine what specific messages your content resources need to communicate. My next three posts will describe a proven process for identifying what content resources your company needs to implement an effective content marketing program.

In my next post, I'll explain how to identify your core customer value propositions. Your value propositions constitute the foundation for your entire content marketing program, so it's obviously critical to get them right at the beginning of your planning process. In the following post, I'll describe how to develop buyer personas. Buyer personas will help ensure that your marketing messages are relevant to potential buyers. The fourth post in this series will describe how to use a content audit to identify where gaps exist in your portfolio of content resources and where your content development efforts need to be focused.

Read Part 2 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 3 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 4 of the content marketing series here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's Time to Integrate Marketing and Sales

Marketing and sales "alignment" remains a hot topic among B2B marketing and sales professionals. Many people on "both sides of the aisle" now recognize that successfully finding and winning new customers in today's business environment requires a cohesive and coordinated effort by both marketing and sales.

A growing number of marketing and sales thought leaders are beginning to advocate more dramatic changes in the structure and character of the marketing-sales relationship and/or the techniques used to manage marketing and sales activities. Late last year, the Chartered Institute of Marketing in London published a report arguing that most companies should merge their marketing and sales functions.

Adam Needles, the author of Balancing the Demand Equation, argued in an  article for DemandGen Report that marketing and sales need to be more closely aligned against a strategic lead-to-revenue demand process. Commenting on Adam's article, Eric Wittlake wrote in his B2B Digital Marketing blog, "The real implication, although Adam doesn't say it, is that sales and marketing alignment is the wrong objective. Perfectly aligning sales and marketing on either side of the fictitious wall dividing them isn't the answer. Instead, the wall needs to be torn down and sales and marketing need to be integrated through the entire customer experience."

Research firm IDC has also entered the discussion. In addition to research, IDC provides marketing and sales advisory services to technology companies and has produced operational-level scorecards for both marketing and sales for several years. Now, IDC has introduced a Customer Creation Scorecard, which IDC describes as, "Operational KPI's for the Intersection of Sales and Marketing." The new IDC scorecard contains eight key performance indicators, including the combined sales and marketing budget ratio (marketing and sales spending as a percentage of total revenues), the ratio of sales spending to marketing spending, and the marketing investment per total sales headcount.

While IDC doesn't expressly advocate that marketing and sales should be merged, these metrics strongly suggest that managers should treat marketing and sales as components of a single "customer creation" process.

Rich Vansil, IDC's Group Vice President, Executive Advisory Services, has expressed something close to this view. In an article for BtoBOnline, he wrote, "I encourage b2b marketers to think about redefining the footprint of marketing in your organization, and by extension the footprint and impact of the marketing budget. . . Think about the totality of marketing plus sales costs. . . The best opportunity for marketing and sales productivity improvement continues to be at the intersection of these two functions."

Compared to other major trends in B2B marketing and sales, such as the shift to content marketing, the growing use of inbound marketing, and the implementation of marketing automation technologies, moves to integrate marketing and sales are just barely beginning.

As I noted earlier, most of the focus today is on aligning sales and marketing, and only a few companies have addressed the more controversial issue of marketing-sales integration. This is a touchy political issue, and I don't pretend to know how it will play out. There is still a significant amount of cultural and political baggage that separates marketing and sales, and there are legitimate issues regarding the consequences (intended and unintended) of integrating marketing and sales. In addition, no single approach to marketing and sales integration will be optimum for all B2B companies. What I do know, however, is that we can no longer afford to treat marketing and sales as completely separate functional silos.

Note:  For an updated view on this important topic, please take a look at Why Marketing-Sales "Alignment" Is No Longer Enough.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why Distributed Marketing Technology May Be Relevant for Your Company

My last three posts have discussed how technology can improve the productivity of distributed marketing. By the traditional definition, distributed marketing refers to a marketing model in which both a corporate marketing department and local organizations or business units share responsibility for performing marketing activities. The stereotypical example of a distributed marketing organization is a franchise network, but distributed marketing models are also frequently found in industries like insurance, financial services, and manufacturing.

In my earlier posts, I've described how distributed marketing technologies enhance the productivity of distributed marketing operations. These technologies enable corporate marketers to maintain brand consistency, while simultaneously allowing local marketers to customize materials to fit local conditions. Just as important, these technologies simplify and automate marketing processes and make it easy for relatively inexperienced marketers to develop and execute effective marketing programs.

The main point of this post is that the benefits provided by distributed marketing technologies are not limited to companies with "classic" distributed marketing organizational structures. In fact, the same technological capabilities can also improve the marketing efforts of virtually all kinds of companies. Here's why.

Its now abundantly clear that relevance is an essential component of effective marketing. To cut through the ever-increasing clutter of marketing messages that fill the environment and create meaningful engagement with potential customers, marketing messages and materials must be relevant.

The need to make marketing more relevant is the driving force behind a growing emphasis on "localized" marketing. In a recent survey by the CMO Council, 86% of marketers said they intend to look for ways to better localize marketing content. While most marketers are committed to increasing localized marketing, it is not a simple task. The reality is, it's difficult for marketers in a central marketing department to truly understand what's needed to make marketing effective in diverse local markets.

One solution, of course, is to decentralize marketing, to place the responsibility for making marketing decisions and running marketing programs with individuals who are "closer to the customer." Decentralized marketing is not a new idea, and global enterprises have been decentralizing some marketing functions for years. However, despite the obvious benefits, many companies have been reluctant to decentralize marketing for three primary reasons.
  • Corporate marketers fear losing control of brand messaging and brand presentation.
  • There is often a lack of marketing resources and expertise in branch locations or other local outlets.
  • Decentralization can lead to duplicative or otherwise inefficient marketing processes.
These are the specific issues that distributed marketing technologies are designed to address.

The important point here is that the capabilities provided by distributed marketing technologies can enable any company to implement a more decentralized approach to marketing without sacrificing brand control or marketing process efficiency.

If your company can benefit from more relevant localized marketing (and virtually all companies can), you should carefully consider how "distributed marketing" technologies could improve your marketing efforts.

Read Part 1 of the series here.
Read Part 2 of the series here.
Read Part 3 of the series here.