Using Content Marketing to Drive Sales

Content Marketing Is Driving Brand ConversationsSocial media offers brands a set of inexpensive tools that can quickly get marketing messages out through interactive discussion and rapid word of mouth and, properly managed, can deliver measurable results.

You can use content marketing to create conversations around topics and social channels related to the need for your products.

Use a two-pronged approach to creating awareness and driving interest and sales

To do this successfully, you need to take advantage of both a top down and a bottom up approach to social media.

  • Your top down strategy is to create broad awareness and credibility among experts and consumers
  • Your bottom up goal is to drive consumer awareness and engagement through grassroots and in-market activities

How to spark and drive sustainable conversation and recommendation

Social media platforms for your content marketingHere’s how to spark and drive sustainable conversation and recommendation through social media:

  • LISTEN:  Track and identify key trends, stories, posts and influencers
  • DEVELOP:  Build content that makes it easier for consumers to share and recommend your brand
  • ENGAGE:  Work together with consumer influencers to drive discussion, posts, reviews, give feedback, conduct contests and share recommendations with others
  • OPTIMIZE:  Ensure both new and existing content is tagged to make brand discussions easily searchable and sharable
  • PROTECT:  Establish a protocol for responding to negative word-of-mouth and mitigating damage from competitors and brand detractors
  • MEASURE:  Build-in metric that demonstrate the impact of engagement at each point in the Conversation Engine

The most important step in building your social media foundation is creating a “sharable story”

Sharable story is like an elevator pitchA shareable story is basically an elevator pitch story with messaging that connects your key points together in everyday, natural language.

The sharable story shapes all engagement to ensure the story you want to tell is infused into all of your conversations.

Become the leading expert, resource, authority and trusted partner in your space

Next, you need to engage leading industry eminents across all relevant vertical channels. Find and engage those individuals who can influence people to consider your category and become interested in your brand.

Screen influencers using rigorous criteria to ensure identifying only the leaders:

  1. Reputation
  2. Reach
  3. Visibility
  4. Accessibility

Remember, these influencers are going to give you credibility so focus on engaging the right online influencers.

Track & identify key trends, stories, posts and influencers

Track & identify key trends, stories, posts and influencersThrough either subscription-based tools or through publicly available free tools, develop a daily monitoring routine to identify opportunities, influencers, and key trends.

Create conversations around topics and social channels related to the need for your products

Social media platforms for your content marketing

Now you are ready to activate your online social media channels. You want to create conversations around topics and social channels related to the need for your products.

Consider doing this in stages so you don’t overwhelm your team or confuse consumers by creating online content but not having the time or energy to keep it fresh and current. A possible phased approach is to launch on Facebook and Twitter initially.

Once you have Facebook and Twitter up and running smoothly, and the team is comfortable managing and posting content, it’s time to expand to additional channels like Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Google+, etc.

These channels allow you to broaden your content and create additional content that your created and control to help further enrich the consumer education process and provide opportunities to link into your customer websites with rich content.

Your goal is to drive fans and followers with these two sites. Remember, these sites require you to engage regularly. That means you need to manage and moderate daily, especially since you will quickly find consumers using these sites to post customer service, quality or warranty issues.

Don’t worry if there are negative comments. Ultimately your goal is to bury these comments under an avalanche of helpful tips and advice on where and how to buy your brand. It’s this kind of news that will ultimately shape your brand conversations.

Focus on building assets that make the benefits of owning your brand shareable and portable

This will allow you to leverage the full capabilities of online multimedia sharing sites to maximize visibility and reach.

  • Action Words Bullhorn Megaphone Motivation MissionCreate checklists for occasions or life events that should include your brand
  • Build video demonstrations and distribute to YouTube and beyond through services such as TubeMogul
  • Build photo libraries that illustrate specific benefits of safe ownership and distribute to publicly indexed networks like Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram
  • Encourage consumer-generated testimonials (stories, videos, photos) – leveraging the capabilities of Facebook and Pinterest for running sweepstakes and contests

A good way to draw consumers to your social media sites is to host contests. It’s a straight forward way to build followers of your brand and ultimately to have them “opt-in” to being open to receiving email offers from you for new products, services or promotions.

Create and share content regularly that engages consumers and encourages them to share, recommend and, ultimately, buy

The final step is to measuring the impact of your online social media efforts.  A great way to do that is with a measure call an Earned Digital Engagement or EDE.   Earned Digital Engagements are the metric you can use to measure the direct impact of your online social media efforts, independent of natural conversation.

Using an EDE methodology, you’re able to provide a comparable measure of the number of people reached online, but this form of measurement also accounts for their action.  The EDE measures the number of people reached through a brand’s social media efforts across channels – from blogs to Facebook to Twitter and YouTube and Flickr.

An earned engagement consists of the number of people influenced by an interaction with your brand that results in a:

  • Post
  • Tweet
  • Photo
  • Video
  • Or public Facebook engagement

Forrester Research said it best: “…interactive marketers must move beyond experimentation by making social applications a permanent part of marketing, measuring and demonstrating their value, and integrating them into marketing efforts.”

What’s Your Advertising Agency Accountable For?

Hold your ad agency accountable for resultsAds, of course.  Lots of ‘em.  Creative ones.  Ones that win awards.  Ads your boss will love.  Ads the agency loves to work on.  Beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written ads.  Oh, and a media plan.  Carefully crafted for the highest delivery, more points, lower CPMs.

That’s all swell, except you don’t need ads or CPMs.  What you need are customers that are buying your product.  Unfortunately, what many advertisers fail to do is to hire an advertising agency for accountable results.

Amazingly, accountability is a concept that often strikes fear in the hearts of both ad agencies and marketing managers.

 in the hearts of both ad agencies and marketing managersIs that because the agency’s creative director is more interested in making “cool” ads than boosting sales?  Is your marketing manager more interested in going on the photo shoot than delivering customers?  Is the account executive spending more time on the fairway than talking to your distributors?

You may have heard (or even made) those kinds of accusations at one time or another.  But, in all likelihood, they’re unfounded.  The real problem is the lack of a plan.  Without a plan, neither the agency nor your marketing staff know, with confidence, what is expected of them.  The accountability for the advertising plan starts at the very top of your corporate ladder.

There are four essential links in the planning chain that precede the ad plan.  Like any chain, if you remove a link, it falls apart.  And, if you expect to make your advertising agency accountable, they need to be familiar with all the elements that provide the foundation for the advertising plan.

In order of occurrence and importance:

1.  Mission Statement – Whether you’re a billion-dollar public company or a half-million dollar retailer, you should have a straight forward mission statement that everyone – yes, positively every employee in your company – should know and understand.  In one simple paragraph, you should state why you’re in business.

2.  Strategic Plan – This is a three to five-year view of how you plan to achieve your mission.  It anticipates risks and opportunities in the marketplace, and strategies to prepare your business for them, through organizational structure, capital investments, distribution channels,  product mix, etc.  A strategic plan should be a continually evolving document, although one that changes too radically or too often is impossible to implement.

3.  Marketing Plan – The marketing plan is an annualized version of the strategic plan, emphasizing tactical implementation:  What do we want to do this year and how do we plan to do it?

4.  Communications Plan – One of the subsets of the marketing plan, the communications plan should incorporate advertising, public relations, employee communications and community relations.  It should clearly identify communications objectives, strategies and tactics.

5.  Advertising Plan – Finally, we’re there.  But don’t get too comfortable.  You’ll probably need multiple advertising plans, one for each campaign or each brand, product or service that you plan to advertise.

Who Is Responsible for the Advertising Plan?

The ad plan should be written by the agency – probably a team effort of the account supervisor, planner, creative director and media director.  They don’t pull the information out of thin air – the input comes from the client.  The ad plan encapsulates all of that input (often gleaned from days of meetings and pages of research) into a simple and brief document (not more than a couple of pages) that confirms the agency knows what is expected of them.  The plan should be presented by the agency to everyone responsible for approvals at the client company, and a consensus reached.

What’s In the Advertising Plan?  

Avoiding badvertisingThe advertising plan consists of a series of basic questions and simple, straight-forward answers to each.  Specifically:

Why are we advertising?  There is only one reason to advertise:  To create a fundamental change in consumer behavior.  What behavioral change are you trying to make with your advertising campaign?  Among the most common possibilities:  Cause consumers to buy your product and not your competitors’ products; Cause customers to buy your product more often; Cause customers to pay more for your product; or, Cause customers to visit the point-of-purchase more often.

“To increase sales” talks about internal goals, but doesn’t address changes in consumer behavior.  Similarly, “to improve our image” or “increase brand awareness” are attitudinal rather than behavioral changes that fail to address a tangible result.

Beware of multiple answers.  If you have more than one goal, you should expect the results of each one to be diminished accordingly.

The next two questions need insightful, unbiased knowledge of your marketplace.  Whether you commission your own research study, purchase syndicated research or get the data from a sophisticated trade association, it is essential that you reach beyond your own empirical knowledge of the marketplace.

Who are we talking to and how do they act?  This question combines quantitative and qualitative issues.  “Who are we talking to” is a matter of defining your target audience in every possible respect.  Traditional demographics (age, gender, income and geography) are essential data for a consumer media plan.  For a business-to-business plan, the answer must identify markets and/or industries, typical titles of buyers and influencers, etc.  The more narrowly you define the audience, the more effectively targeted the advertising can be, in both media and creative terms.

“How do they act” addresses behavioral issues.  For instance:  Are they skeptical, conservative buyers that demand proof or are you after early adopters?  Are they driven by practicality or status?

What do they think of our product/service/company?  Do consumers perceive your product as the best quality, most desirable, best value, lowest cost, market leader, prestigious, – or all the opposites?  Maybe they don’t think of it at all!  If you’re launching a new product, go further and identify consumers’ attitudes towards your brand.

What do we want them to think of our product/service/company?  How do you want your product positioned in the minds of consumers?  Should it change?

What is the competitive environment?  What other messages are consumers receiving from your competitors?  What threats or opportunities do they pose for your advertising campaign?

What is the single most persuasive idea we can convey?  This is sometimes called a unique selling proposition, or USP.  What is the most important reason someone should buy your product or service over your competitors’?  The answer should always be stated in terms of consumer benefit, not simply product feature.

Why should they believe it?  The last question was reason to buy, this is reason to believe.  Your ad makes a claim, back it up.  Offer a free trial, cite independent research, refer to past experience – the more real your claim, the more sound and credible the evidence must be.

What 3 to 5 words define the brand personality?  Brands, even institutional and industrial products, have personalities associated with them.  Words such as “elegant,” “tough” or “trustworthy” convey that sense of personality.  Researchers sometimes ask consumers about personalities in terms of animals: “If brand-x were an animal, what would it be?”  Answers to this question can be enlightening and frightening!

Bewitched ad teamHow will we know if the advertising was successful?   Finally, we’re back to accountability.  To answer this, you’ve got to go back to the first question about why you’re advertising.  Having identified that goal, how will you measure it, and what performance is acceptable?

If you want your agency to be accountable, you have to agree to a plan that everyone can follow, beginning with a mission statement.  Include your agency in goal-setting, and the budgeting process to meet those goals.

Let your agency know that they’re accountable for results, not for ads or CPMs.  What about those great creative ads and brilliant media plans?  Truth is, they’ll never deliver results without them.

Special thanks to Todd Steele for his help with this post.

8 Steps to Building a Customer-Focused Commercialization Strategy

8 Steps to a Commercialization StrategyBefore a commercialization plan can be developed and implemented, it must be driven by an overall commercialization strategy. By taking a strategic approach to your commercialization strategy, you will be better positioned to be successful with your new product launch.

The commercialization strategy should not contain a lot of financial detail or “how to,” but it must be consumer focused and customer centered and not technology focused. A key issue in a commercialization strategy is to set the direction to explore and understand the market. The commercialization strategy must focus on what satisfies the needs of the customer.

8 questions you need to answer in your commercialization strategy

1. What’s the Offering? (What are we trying to provide or create?)

Commercialization Strategy TipsAt a high level, clearly state what products and services are being offered to the market.

Identify what other products/services may need to be provided to be a credible supplier to the customer and the channel. Identify, at a high level the anticipated pricing strategy at the end-user level and for the expected distribution channels.

2. What is the Adjacency Assessment of the product or service? (How does the product or service align with the core business areas?)

Chris Zook in, Beyond the Core, addresses the concept of Adjacency or the relationship of an opportunity to your core business and competencies. Zook defines several things when looking at an opportunity:

1)    Core – Known business strengths and competencies

2)    Adjacency – Relationship to the Core ranked from 0 (identical to the core) to Diversification (a completely new area).

 3)    Shared Economics – There are five dimensions that when evaluated and measure the distance from the core and can be used to determine the degree of relationship to the core:

  • Customers – Are they the same as, or different from, customers currently served?
  • Competitors – Are they the same as, or different from, competitors currently encountered?
  • Cost Structure – Is the cost structure (infrastructure) the same or different?
  • Channels of distribution –Are these the same or different?
  • Singular capability/technology – If there is a singular capability (brand, asset, technology) that gives the core business its uniqueness, then is this relevant in the new opportunity?

3. Who is (are) the Targeted Customer(s)? (Who do we really think will want the product/service and Why?)

Identify who is (are) the targeted customer(s) – end-user, big box retailer, distributor, internal business unit, etc. Who are we trying to sell this product or service? Keep in mind that the targeted customer(s) may change as more marketing and Voice of the Customer data is collected.

Why is this customer believed to be the real customer? It is toward this customer that the Business Proposition will be initially oriented. It is toward this customer that the Business Plan will be structured.

4. State the “Business Proposition”

Strategy and Marketing traffic sign in the handThe business proposition describes what the product or service offers that no other product can.

It is important that the Business Proposition be benefit focused. For example, Coke quenches thirst. Coke is also a good rust remover but it will NEVER advertised as such.

The Business Proposition should take caution not to over advertise advantages – in other words, DON’T clutter the message. The more focused the message, the more likely to clearly communicate it.

Have a single Value Proposition – Keep It Simple – the KISS principle.

When developing a business proposition think of what people are buying.

Customers are not buying a product – they are buying what that product does for them. Customers don’t typically buy a product because they fall in love with the technology. Customers buy the SATISFACTION OF NEEDS. The Business Proposition MUST clearly state how that need will be satisfied.

Doug Hall, in his book, Jump Start Your Business Brain, addresses three key elements to Stating Value:

1) Overt Benefit to the Customer – What is the real benefit to be realized? Engineers love to talk specifications – “This car will go from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds.” Buyers want to feel the wind in their hair and the thrill of feeling the force of their heads being pushed against the back of the seat.

2) Dynamic Difference – What makes our product/service any different that what is now available? Unless this product is for a total new and untapped market, customers have choices.

3) Real Reason to Believe – What gives the customer confidence that we can deliver the product or service we are offering? For example, “We have had Z years of 100% customer satisfaction as measured by JD Powers.”

5. State the “VALUE CHAIN”

Sales leadership stepsThe Value Chain relates to the business processes of the company selling the product.

Questions to be answered are:

  • Who will sell the product? Whoever has sales responsibility must be aligned with the Value Proposition – they must care that the product/service really does meet the customer’s real need.
  • Where will the product be sold? This may need to be clarified in later, but initially, choose the logical area(s) that fits in with your Value Proposition.
  • How do you distribute your product? What is (are) the expected distribution channel(s)?

The Value Chain and Business Processes must be aligned as close as possible to the Value Proposition. The closer the alignment, the greater the probability of success.

6. How will the product/service be Marketed?

Brand idea chartAt a high level, what is the basic marketing approach? Consider the following:

  • Who will provide the marketing activities?
  • Who internally will oversee that the marketing activities are done correctly?
  • Identify logical points to test assumptions, validate alignment with the Value Chain and/or Business Proposition, and logical changes/adjustments to the marketing approach, the Value Chain, or the Business Proposition.
  • What is the overall Communication Strategy for getting the message out to potential customers?

7. Provide a rough-order-of-magnitude Business Plan

Given the information available, give a high-level assessment of the business potential for the three years after commercial launch. Try to be realistic, meaning not overly optimistic nor overly conservative.

Items to consider are:

  • Sales
  • Gross Margin and Gross Margin as a percent of Sales
  • Operating Income and Operating Income as a percent of Sales
  • CAPEX
  • RONA

8. Major Commercialization Risks/Issues/Obstacles/Support Requirements?

What significant commercialization items can keep this effort from being successful? What support is needed from management, gatekeepers, resource managers, etc.

Write out what the risks are and rate them High, Medium or Low. Put a few ideas down on how you can mitigate these risk.

Don’t use a Ready, Fire, Aim commercialization strategy

readyfireaimTo maximize your chances for success, you need to be thoughtful in developing the strategies behind your new products.

Innovation can happen in the commercialization of a product as easily as in the product itself.

Think about all the ways you can build upon and leverage your commercialization strategy and you might find your sales teams more engaged in the product launch, your customers understanding what’s in it for them, and ultimately your new product goals being achieved.

Good Selling!

A special thanks to Lowell Dye for his help in better understanding the product development process and in writing this post.

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