If you write it they will come? Not necessarily

If you write it, thyey will come.A tight economy means you need more focused marketing efforts

In a tight economy, doing more with less is the reality for product marketing managers. Many companies slash marketing efforts that focus on branding and name recognition and get back to basics – lead generation. In recent years, white papers have emerged as a staple in the product marketer’s toolbox, largely due to their reputation as powerful lead generation tools with an attractive cost-benefit ratio.

 In fact, the power of an effective white paper to connect with prospects and produce abundant, quality leads is unparalleled. According to the TechTarget 2008 Media Consumption Benchmark, “80.5% of buyers find white papers to be either very effective or somewhat effective in the decision making process, more so than any other marketing tool.”

 Why white papers fail

Even so, some white papers simply fail to generate leads. And no one can afford to spend precious resources on efforts that return lackluster results.

 When white papers don’t perform as expected, the quality of writing is usually at issue. According to a recent MarketingSherpa report, the main reason white papers fail is their readability factor; “the topics are uninteresting, titles blah, and content far too salesy or just plain dull.” 

 Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that a white paper is just another data sheet, or just another product brochure, and turn this critical piece of writing over to an engineer or junior marketing copywriter.

 The problem for product marketers is that, in a market saturated with marketing messages, a poorly written white paper is not only a waste of the time it takes to produce it, but could end up turning off prospects and sending them running to the competition.

Outsourcing costs less and produces better results

Creating white papers that command attention and deliver leads is a highly specialized skill. A professional white paper writer charges from $4000 to $7000 for a white paper depending on the market and their experience level. While hiring a professional writer may, at first glance, seem like an unwarranted expense, when you look at the numbers it starts to make a lot of sense.

Tasking an internal employee to write a white paper when they are not practiced at it can take their time and focus away from more business critical projects for a considerable period of time. The deadline tends to slip as other initiatives pop up and take precedence, and soon your white paper is not only poorly written, it’s late to market and has cost the whole team in productivity and added stress.

By outsourcing your paper to a professional, you get a compelling white paper with a greater ability to attract leads, much faster and without the drain on your internal team. Still think it’s not worth it? Ask yourself this – how many solutions do I have to sell to recoup the investment? Now, in this economy, can you afford not to?

TMI – How Much is Too Much for B2B Marketing Collateral?

Marketing CollateralIt’s a fine line. You want to tell your prospects EVERYTHING as soon as you get their attention. They want only enough info to make a quick decision about taking the next step. So how do you keep from scaring them off and / or boring them to death and actually get them more interested in your product?

I could make a lot of comparisons to dating here, which would be totally relevant. But an even easier exercise is to ask yourself this two part question:

  1. What is the next step you can reasonably expect your prospect to take after reading this piece of collateral?
  2. What information will they need in order to take that next step?

Of course, answering these questions is not an easy matter. While you might like every prospect to call you begging to order your latest product from a single banner ad, that’s not very realistic. Unfortunately, a lot of companies expect a whole lot of bang for their buck. But that “bang” may be the sound of them shooting themselves in the foot.

In general, brochures, emails, product sheets, traditional and social media, and even your top level web pages are an invitation to find out more. While each of these are different length and styles, the main goal is to give the prospect just enough information to pique their interest and then provide them with clear instructions on how to find out more.

Case studies, white papers, technical specs and the like are the main course of decision-making. Your prospects will want to dig into as much info as you are willing to give them – and probably forward it and discuss it around the office – before they pick up the phone to talk to a live sales person.

Once they’ve done their own background research, the next step is to call a sales rep for more answers. So make sure your “deeper” collateral has appropriate calls to action and contact information.

If you try to jump the line on any of these steps you run the risk of looking unprofessional or worse – desperate. That can shut the prospect down and send them looking for a competitor who will give them the information they want – when they want it.

Autoresponders – What Are They and Why Don’t You Have One Yet?

email autoresponderWhile most folks in the B2B marketing world have certainly heard of email autoresponders at this point, these set-it-and-forget-it marketing tools still have a fairly low adoption rate. In some cases that’s because they aren’t seen as a good fit with the types of products and services being offered. But in many more I suspect it’s because they simply aren’t understood very well.

What is an autoresponder?

An autoresponder is an automated message sent in response to either an email or a web form inquiry. It can be something as simple as “Thanks for contacting us!” to a series of ten or more emails sent at specific, pre-determined intervals.

At a very basic level, you set up the response in an autoresponder system, and set the parameters for when it gets sent. The automated program then takes care of the rest. Almost everyone I know uses either ConstantContact.com or AWeber.com to handle their autoresponders, but there are many providers out there catering to specific needs and budgets.

Who needs an autoresponder?

I would argue that unless company emails and web inquires go to a specific person who responds personally to each one within a few hours, you should – at the very least – have an autoresponder set up that thanks the person for contacting you, lets them know when they can expect a response from a real person, and provides them with a phone number they can call if they need help right away.

Using autoresponders to walk prospects through the sales cycle

A more sophisticated (though not necessarily more complex) way to use autoresponders is to set up a series of emails that helps walk a prospect through the sales cycle. For example, if a web visitor fills out a contact form on your website and checks a box saying she would like more information on product X, you can respond with a series of emails that go something like this:

1 – Immediately: send the prospect a thank you email along with a product brochure. Give them the contact information for a sales rep if they should have any further questions.

2 – Week one: send the prospect a follow up, including a deeper piece of collateral, such as a case study involving the product. Again provide a call to action with the email and telephone number of a sales rep.

3 – Week two: Send a helpful email with a few FAQs and a client testimonial.

4 – Week three: Send the latest white paper and offer to set up a web conference to go over the solution with all members of the decision-making team.

5 – Week 4: Send along an industry report on the subject.

6 – Week 5: etc…

As you can see, setting up an email responder series for each of your products and services creates a hands-free follow-up system that keeps you top-of-mind with your prospect for weeks or even months.

Of course, be sure to follow SPAM guidelines and always make it easy for a prospect to “stop receiving emails” if they want to. It’s only good business.

Have you set up an autoresponder series that ought to be featured in AdAge?

Been annoyed to tears with an inappropriate or unwelcome barrage of auto responses?

Share your stories in the comments section!

Three Steps to Make Sure You Get What You Want from Your Freelance Pro

Hire a freelance pro copywriter

Hiring a freelance marketing pro, copywriter, web designer, etc. is a great way to get fantastic results without laying out the cash required for a full-service agency or full-time employee. But hiring a freelance pro is not the same as ordering a pizza for delivery; you will have to put a little work into making sure your freelancer has what they need to succeed. And doing it right isn’t that complicated, it just takes a little concentration and a brief conversation before the project begins.

Knowing what to expect and what is expected of you will help your project go smoothly and ensure you get the best possible results. Your pro should actually help guide you through these three steps – if they don’t, proceed with caution.

1)      Be prepared to bring your freelancer up to speed. No matter how qualified, experienced or specialized your pro is, if he or she has never worked for your company before you will need to give them what they need to hit the ground running. For most projects this can be a link to your website and a copy of any style or messaging guides you have developed. It is helpful to send this over before the first project meeting so that your pro has a chance to look it over and prepare any questions.

2)      Be specific about what you want. Professional or not, freelancers aren’t mind readers, and there are a lot of industry terms that get thrown around pretty loosely. If you’re talking about a “white paper” but what you really mean is a case study or solution brief, you’re not going to be happy with results. Talk about length, audience, tone and content. Send over some examples of similar work you have admired. Your pro can guide you to the right terminology.

3)      Give appropriate feedback. Let’s say after all the prep work you still got something that wasn’t exactly what you were expecting. Shooting back a terse email that says “This isn’t what I wanted – try again” is a sure-fire way to not get what you want on the revision either. Give specific feedback on content (Is it correct? Is it covering what you wanted it to?), messaging (Is it addressing the right audience? Is it conveying the right message?), tone, length, and purpose will make your revision rounds much more productive.

Hiring a freelancer is easier than doing it yourself, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little prep work involved on your side. Knowing what to expect and being prepared for the experience can lead to a smooth happy experience for everyone.

Freelancers and employers – Do you have any more tips on how to make projects run more smoothly? Share them in the comments section!

3 Simple Title Tweaks That Can Help White Paper Marketers Drive More Leads

Drive more leads with good titles

You have created the perfect white paper.  But you can’t drive leads or close sales if your target market doesn’t notice it.

Luckily, grabbing your prospect’s attention is as easy as spending some focused energy on your title. And once you understand the formula, it takes almost no time at all to transform your paper into the sought-after gem it deserves to be.

To understand how important titles are to the success of your white paper, imagine that you have created a white paper about your company’s newest software offering. It is designed for improving throughput in a manufacturing plant. Your preliminary title reads:

 ABC’s new software positively affects throughput for manufacturing plants

So far this title sounds very professional and seems pretty focused. But try to imagine how it sounds to your ideal target. A little self-serving? A little dry? Delving into what your prospect wants to hear can help you craft the titles that will grab their attention.

Step One: Identify the problem

Business executives buy solutions to problems. When creating the title for your white paper, ask yourself “What’s in it for them?”

In our example, it sounds like we have identified the problem: a need for better or faster throughput. But let’s dig a little deeper. What does a manufacturing company get when they have better throughput that they are not getting now? If they can produce more units with the same number of employees, they are lowering their costs and therefore increasing their profit margin. That’s way more exciting than “throughput.”

Step Two: Identify the prospect

No one wants to waste time reading about a solution that is not relevant to them. Again, in our sample title, it seems that we have identified “manufacturing plants” as our target, but we can be even more specific. The IT director is the person who is likely to making the decision on software purchases.

Step Three: Identify the solution

Our solution is a software product. But there are a lot of software products out there. If look closer, we can also identify that it is a user-friendly software product that requires little technical savvy and that it can be implemented in less than a day.

Voila: The perfect title for your perfect paper

Now all you have to do is put it all together:

 A manufacturing IT director’s guide to user-friendly software solutions that can begin increasing profit margins today

Following these three simple steps will help your white papers stand out and help you get more return on your white paper investment.

Three Free (Or Dirt Cheap) Marketing Strategies You Can Put Into Place NOW

Cheap or Free Marketing StrategiesI don’t have to tell you that times are tough these days. We are all pretty tired of hearing it. It can be frustrating when management cuts the marketing budget during tough times, but sometimes that’s the reality. Whether you’re facing a slashed budget or rolling in the dough, there are three fairly easy and mostly free things you can add to your marketing efforts to drive more leads – even when times are tough. If you aren’t doing these already, it’s time to jump in.

Start a blog

Blogging gets people involved with your brand, gives you an opportunity to address customers on a more personal level, and gives some serious kick to your Google search rank. If you have never blogged it may seem intimidating to start one from scratch. Don’t worry, nothing could be easier.  There are nearly unlimited free resources available online for the beginning blogger.

Wage a PR campaign

Press releases have long been recognized as an excellent way to get free exposure for your brand. These days they can also help with your Google search ranking, providing both inbound links and juicy keywords. Make a plan for putting out press releases and stick to it. Once a week is great, but once a month is fine, too. Once you write the press release, you can release it using several online services, for example, PR Log lets you post press releases for free. (http://www.prlog.org/) Put together a list of local and national publications that deal with your industry, and email the story to the editors of those publications as well. Then be sure to post the release in the “news” section of your website.

Get social

Yes, I mean social media – Twitter, Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn and the rest. While it seems like social media has been hyped to death over the last few years, it is still growing as a great way to connect with prospects and customers. Not every social media outlet is going to be right for every company, so do your research and put your heart into the ones that make the most sense for your brand.

A shrinking budget is no excuse to be a shrinking violet; it is simply a call to put more effort into low cost and free lead generation. Who knows, maybe you’ll even stick with it once the economy turns around…

Have any great ideas for cheap and free marketing? Share ‘em here!

Social Marketing FAIL – How not to use Twitter

Twitter TweetThe other day I received an auto-follow message from someone I had “followed back” on Twitter. I usually ignore auto messages, but this one had a link to something that looked interesting to me, so I clicked on it. The link was bad. I messaged the original sender and asked if there was a mistake. He replied with the correct link, which I opened. I was fascinated by the offering, it was actually a business SaaS (software as a service) product that I have been meaning to look into but haven’t yet. Talk about a perfect social marketing pitch by this guy.

So what’s the “fail?” Well, it turns out that the website is either under development or having a problem, because when I went to check into pricing, the link didn’t work, and when I went to the contact form there was a message under the form that said (not kidding) “The submit button doesn’t do anything, so stop clicking it.”

Because I was so interested in this product, I actually made the effort to get back in touch with the guy to let him know I was having problems with the website. His response? <crickets chirping>

If you are going to use social networks for marketing, it can’t be a half-baked effort. Taking your prospect half-way down the path and then leaving them hanging is worse than never reaching out to them in the first place. If you are going to foray into social media you need to be prepared to follow-up, follow-through and check your account religiously. Anything else is just a fail.

If you don’t have the resources to support a full-time online community director or some such other fancy new media title, there are plenty of social media freelancers who will lovingly foster your presence in online communities. (I am not one of them, but if you want to get in touch I can send you some contact information.)

Have you had any remarkable marketing experiences with social media? Share them here!

Before You Hire an Ad Agency

AdvertisingSo maybe you’re a start up with limited funds, or maybe you’re one of the growing number of larger companies with no internal marketing department and a limited marketing budget. Whatever the reason, when you suddenly need a new brochure for the upcoming trade show, a website makeover, or you’re launching a new product and need to update all of your marketing collateral and send out a press release too – who do you call?

The most well-known option is a marketing agency. A full service agency might have anywhere from 3-30 people on staff and can provide the full range of marketing services from branding to concepting right down to putting the finished product in your hands. Of course, all that overhead has to be recaptured somewhere. That is why agencies command a hefty fee for services, and many will only take on clients with an extended monthly retainer contract.

Now let’s say you just don’t have that much need, or you have a one-time project that will require a lot of heavy lifting and not much after that. Or you don’t want to contribute toward the rent on those fancy downtown offices. There are options out there that can give you just what you need for a lower cost AND with more personalized attention. You can hire freelancers to take care of every aspect of your project from start to finish.

I know what you’re thinking but…

Some common misconceptions abound about freelancers:

It is easier to just hire an agency because they will provide all the services and manage the project with one point of contact.

If you want one-stop service from a freelancer, ask. I personally have a network of freelance marketing and branding strategists, designers, photographers, public relations specialists, social marketing consultants and even a packaging designer and printer that I can coordinate for a completely turnkey project. Most freelancers do.

The agency will have better, more experienced talent.

A lot of agencies keep the core staff to just project managers and outsource all the creative to freelancers. I work for several agencies in this capacity. The only difference between hiring me or the agency is that they tack on a 50-100% premium on my regular hourly fee when they send you the bill.

An agency will be more professional, and more accessible:

Freelancers are running their own one-person business. That means they are heavily invested in their relationship with you and highly motivated to give you the best possible results. Even if you would be a small fish for an agency, you are probably a big fish for your freelancer. My biggest clients are around 300 people. My smallest are around 3. All of them are equally important to the success of my business so I make sure they all get great service and attention.

Have you had any experience hiring freelancers in your business? Or do you currently use a marketing agency?

Must-have Marketing Collateral

White paperI do a lot of work with start-ups and so I run into this issue frequently. They either have a limited amount of time, money, or both, but suddenly have a trade show coming up and they need something to give to prospects. Or they simply need to start creating marketing materials, and don’t know where to begin.

The following are “must-have” pieces of marketing collateral:

1. Website: It seems almost too obvious to mention, but the website is the place to start. If you already have a website, you need to look at it critically. Is it customer focused, professionally designed, and easy to navigate – or was it hastily thrown together just to “get something out there?” I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have an inviting and informative website. After all – you are hoping all those trade show attendees will eagerly check you out after the show – don’t turn them off before they get started.

2. Company and product /service literature: For those on a very tight budget, a two-sided sales slick with an overview of company offerings and a boilerplate about the company can be a suitable amount of information to hand out to overwhelmed trade show attendees. For those with complex offerings and a larger budget, a series of two-sided solution/product briefs tucked into a well-designed folder along with a one page company overview and a business card will do the trick nicely.

3. In-depth research and information: If there’s still time (and budget), the next step on the collateral ladder is creating information-rich documents that take the prospect further down the sales cycle. These include white papers, case studies, and relevant third-party research. Case studies are particularly helpful when prospects might have a hard time envisioning how a solution will be implemented and what they can expect from it. White papers are great tools for establishing thought leadership and providing in-depth information on the benefits of your solution.

Don’t forget your hook

Collateral alone is not enough to make sales. You need to have a strategy for how to use it. What can you offer the prospect that they would deem valuable enough to give you a chance to win their business? What you come up with will depend on your product, your market, and your prospects.

 If you have developed white papers and case studies, don’t just freely hand them out – offer to send them via email to prospects who request it. When you don’t have a white paper to offer, you can get a little more creative. As an example, a client of mine (who didn’t have time to revamp any collateral before the trade show) recently offered green energy show attendees a free initial assessment of whether their property was an appropriate candidate for solar or wind energy. Because they were offering something of real value to the prospect, they had a very high sign-up rate.

What are your must-haves for the trade show? Do you have a no-fail hook you’d like to share?