Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by Alysa Seeland, a content marketing expert for early stage startups. See more about Alysa below.
“Written kisses don’t reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts. It is on this ample nourishment that they multiply so enormously.” – Franz Kafka
The digital age provides perhaps the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to gain customers. We’re in their pockets, at their fingertips and in their newsfeeds. Being top of mind has never been so accessible. So why does it feel like an echo chamber?
As with any age, the digital age is simultaneously and opportunity and a dilemma. We’re poised on the tipping point of virality and obscurity. We have to craft every tweet, every blog post, every landing page for the possibility millions of viewers, often to find one or two who are truly listening
2.73 million blog posts are written daily – not to mention tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos etc, etc, etc. That’s quite a few “kisses” that never reach their destination. The sheer volume of content has produced what Jenna Walker, CEO of Artifact Uprising, has called “digital paralysis.” In many ways, our customers have simply stopped listening.
What does this mean? It means good content is more valuable than ever. Here’s how to make sure your content connects:
1. Listen First
The most important part of any form of communication is listening first. This can take place in a number of ways, but my favorite ways to do this are customers interviews (yes, actually get on the phone with them!), perusing the comments on popular blog posts in your industry, and reading the tweets around a particular subject.
As you’re doing all of these tasks, take notes of the themes that come up (on an actual notepad!). Then zoom out and take a look at what you’ve discovered. This will probably require some interlinear spelunking because as it turns out we’re not always good at saying what we mean.
As marketers, it is our job to connect the dots. We’re the Great Translators, and unless we do the diligence of understanding what it is our customers want, they’ll never care to hear what we have to say.
2. Speak To Add Value
One of the biggest mistakes I see content marketers make is the incessant need to publish something. When quantity increases, quality runs away with the spoon. Instead of tweeting every hour on the hour or publishing a blog post every day, gain your audience’s trust by starting small and concerning yourself with finding or creating quality content.
You want to train your audience to be interested in what you have to say. That starts with surprising them with your intentionality and ends with teaching them to expect great things.
3. Mean What You Say
“When you take a word…you must realize that you have not taken a tool that can be thrown aside if it will not do the job, but you are fixed in a direction of thought which comes from afar and stretches beyond you.” – Hans-georg Gadamer.
Just as your customers may not always mean what they say, you must doubly make sure that you do. Are you making your audience think of the very thing you wanted to avoid by telling them “Don’t think of a pink elephant”? Your job is to submit yourself to the significance of the “sign” or the meaning behind the words. Here are some questions I consider:
- What are all possible interpretations of this word?
- What is the likely interpretations given the socio-economic backgrounds of your varying customer profiles?
- Are there negative connotations of the word?
- Is it still worth using?
- Is this the best word available to me given how my customers talk about this problem?
Phew! That’s a lot. But when it comes to content, a little bit of dynamite on the right fracture does the same amount of work as lacing the whole mountain.
4. Your Audience Isn’t Everyone
“True communication entails a communion, a sharing of inner experience.” Leo Lowenthal
If your company is truly solving a problem, you’ll be able to find it through one or two shared experiences of pain, frustration, delight or bliss. When you narrow it down to these experiences, you get a clear sense of who you’re talking to, and most importantly, what they care about.
For example, if you’re a company selling a chemical-free product for pets, you’re targeting pet owners, not baseball fans. Trace the breadcrumbs back to the puppy days, to the belly up naps in their lap, to the muddy paw prints on their floor, to the toxic chemicals under the kitchen sink – ack!! You’ve found it – the place where pain threatens delight and that’s where you come in.
The goal is not to reach everyone or anyone, it’s to reach someone. That happens when you truly know who they are and what they care about.
The Takeaway? Make It Stick
In the incessant stream of content vying for people’s attention, success boils down to one thing. Want to know if your pasta is cooked? Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. Content marketing is like that. The truth of the matter is you can do all of the above and still not quite get it right. That’s a frustrating place to be. Resist the urge to apply crazy glue and keep cooking. If you are truly paying attention to your customers and adding value to the conversation you will find something that sticks. And that, my friend, is an exciting place to be.
About Alysa Seeland
Alysa is the Content Manager for KDMedia LLC. When she’s not sipping espresso, creating an email campaign, or chasing one of her boys, she employs visual storytelling to create effective videos for SMBs. With both B2B and B2C experience, Alysa found her home in early stage marketing and believes success comes not from a secret formula, but navigating the everyday day violence of ordinary events.
By Kristin Dziadul
It’s hot. It’s sticky. We’re in no mood to put up with scope creep or petty debates when we’d rather be poolside soaking up every ray of sun this summer. But is that our biggest problem? Do we get too excited for the summer weather (and I don’t blame you, I’m born and raised in New England) and lose focus and make sloppy decisions? Possibly.
Yet, it’s not just this season that cause a lack of focus — it’s the lack of understanding for how to focus and where to focus that can be our real downfall. We’ve all been in those over-attended meetings where everyone throws in ideas, people get excited, and before you know it, the whole messaging platform and feature set of the product has expanded and shifted. Wait… What?! So what happens when your team doesn’t know how to get out of that black hole?
Having experienced this happen time and again, here’s how to focus your marketing efforts and core feature sets, even during the hot and sticky summer months:
Always remember what you stand for
This past weekend I was at Cape Cod and observed a beachside walk-up restaurant demonstrating clear signs of a lack of focus. First, there was a massive line — and I mean 40+ people. I tried to figure out why. Then I saw it: the menu. 50+ options, spread across multiple whiteboards, on printed out pieces of paper, and posted all over the side of the building. How could customers ever make a decision? This small restaurant was trying far too hard to be everything to everyone — even offering calamari and Cod dishes! Instead, they should have kept it simple with 1 easy-to-see menu with about a third of the options. I’m positive that would have cut their line down significantly.
After observing this, I realized it applies to so many companies that try to be everything to everyone. They feel they need to add more and more features and functionalities that don’t match the core of what the company does, and in turn, that causes all facets of the company to suffer since they’re spread too far and wide. So in short, remember what you’re on a mission to do (and do well) and stick to that. You will turn some people off, but perhaps they aren’t even your ideal customer.
Customer Needs/Wants/Desires First
You’ve probably been in those meetings where someone says “It’d be awesome if we had this in our app!”, and everyone claps and smiles at the idea. On occasion its fun to brainstorm all of the possibilities for what your product can do, but at the end of the day, it’s what your customers want and need that matters in your product. You and your team may not even be the target customer for your product, so as much as you’d love to see a feature added, do your users really want it?
Your customers may not be ‘wowed’ at all if they can’t even focus in on what to do with your product! Center back on your them and make sure that what you do is focused on the core set of features that makes them truly happy.
Realize your budgets, team capabilities and timeframes
It would be great if you could use every ad platform out there to accelerate lead gen and spread your messaging, but is that really affordable and manageable? Probably not. And yes, it’d be awesome to have an absolutely massive booth at your next conference to garner attention, but how much will that cost and do you have the staff to plan for and man that? Maybe not.
So anytime you’re planning for the next marketing campaign or activity, keep in mind how much money you realistically have to spend, how much time your team has to devote to it and when you need to realize results by. That will all be a big determinant of what you can do, and will keep you focused as well.
So whether it’s the summer heat making you tuned out and tired, or just the lack of organized decisions within your teams, use these above principles to bring back focus to the core of what you do. So have fun, dream of big plans, but always remember to focus in like the lens of a camera to make the right impact.
What other ways do you and your team maintain focus? Have things gone seriously awry, and how did you fix that? Leave your advice or experiences below!
By Kristin Dziadul
“We should hold this off until fall — no one does this in the summer so let’s start planning at the end of August instead,” said nearly every marketing and product team, ever.
While it’s not the greatest time to launch a product or get a lot of PR, it’s definitely a great time to start planning ahead. That impending product launch? Yup, that needs a lot of planning put into it. That inbound tool your engineer has been working on? That will need a PR plan behind it to give it some leverage.
I personally love summer because it gives us marketers (and anyone, really) time to (a) reflect on progress and (b) decide what you need to accomplish in the next several months. It would be a failure on our part to let these months pass by idle.
While the appeal of suntans, sandy beaches, bonfires and Coronas may be calling your name (and I don’t blame you!), you can still muster up the energy during the day to set yourself up for success this summer.
Here are the top five marketing-related projects you should be focused on the next few (hot and sticky) months:
1. Review Progress and Metrics
Progress reviews and metrics reports are a living-breathing thing that should be done regularly anyways. However, the summer months provide you the perfect opportunity to really hone in on some particular metrics and gather actionable insights and ideas from them.
For example, you should be reviewing:
- How many users have you acquired? How does that stack up to your goals?
- How many users are considered “active users”? What can be done to get more active users?
- How have your blog posts been performing? Are they written around a few central themes related back to your company’s core messaging? Do they include strong CTAs? Are you converting as much from your blog as you had expected?
- What is your PPC conversion rate per channel? Are there some channels that are underperforming and should be cut? Are there channels that are doing outstanding and should be ramped up?
- Is your website bringing visitors on a desired path? Is there the right amount of strong CTAs?
You should also check out this fantastic SaaS KPI Metrics chart, put together by David Skok of Matrix Ventures to help you frame your metrics reports and understand what you should be measuring and reporting on.
2. Revise your editorial calendar
If you find that your blog posts are underperforming (in terms of traffic, conversions, etc.) or that more can be done to bring attention to them, it’s time to revisit your editorial calendar. I actually recommend that companies do this every 90 days or so, especially if things are changing fast with your company and product.
Evaluate the following during your editorial calendar revamp:
- Core Themes:
- Have you decided on 2-4 core themes that you want to be known for? If not, you should — ASAP. If so, have you related all your blog posts to those themes?
- Take a quick look through the last 10 or so blog posts on your blog. Are your headlines actually compelling? If not, check out these surefire headline formulas to help you structure your next headlines.
- Internal Blogging Program:
- Does your team have the capacity to blog more? If so, it’s the perfect time to start an internal blogging program with at least a few contributing team members. And if any of the contributors (and yourself) have some extra bandwidth to blog now, why not begin creating a backlog of blog posts so you can fire them away throughout the year?
You should also check out Janet Aronica’s eight recommendations for blog post topics that should be on your editorial calendar — it’s awesome, seriously.
3. Plan for Q3 & Q4 PR
While the summer certainly isn’t the perfect time to pitch to the media, you can instead start planning for PR-worthy stories.
A few ideas:
- What product announcements are coming up that deserve attention and traction?
- What major hires are being made, or advisors brought on, that can be announced?
- Is a round of funding expected to close?
- Is a large customer going to close soon? Are they willing to team up with you on an announcement?
- Are there any major partnerships in the works that the world would be interested in?
- Are you launching any tangential products, such as an inbound tool, that can be pitched as a story?
- Have a ton of data? Bring it together into a report or infographic and tell a story with it.
The lesson here: create news whenever you can.
The summer is also a good time to revise your media list, pitch message, byline topics, etc.
4. Find new sources for content and ideas
Have your sources for social media content gone stale? Are your followers bored with the topics you’re sharing? When you don’t have blog posts and announcements of your own to share out, it’s always a good idea to share out third party blog posts that relate to your company’s mission and beliefs.
To refresh your social media content sources:
- Subscribe to new blogs on Feedly (their search functionality is fairly good)
- Regularly check out posts on LinkedIn Pulse and from LinkedIn Influencers
- Refine your Google Alerts or Mention alerts
- Subscribe to new newsletters to get targeted content delivered right to your inbox
For reading material that will inspire your own blog posts, or if you want to learn more about your industry:
- Review what your competitors share
- Search around for keywords and phrases related to your product and industry to find new blogs and media outlets
- Ask colleagues and friends in the same (or similar) space what they read
I’m always looking for new content both to share out and learn from — both for my clients and for my own professional development, so I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.
5. Build an inbound tool (or two)
The summer could be just the perfect time to build something new, such as an inbound tool, and have it ready come fall.
A few popular ideas for tools are:
- Grader tools (such as Hubspot’s grader tools)
- Calculators (such as this Inbound Marketing Calculator)
- Cost Estimators (such as this App Cost Estimator from Kinvey)
They’re a great way to (a) instantly provide value to your target audience in a way they’ll appreciate, (b) collect new leads to later convert to your main product, and (c) leverage for additional PR (as described above).
While you’re at it, get creative with your tool. Start by answering questions such as:
- What does your target audience want to solve immediately?
- What will really hook them and wow them — so much so that they’ll be interested in speaking with you about your main product too?
I could go on and on about what you could do in these hot, sticky summer months. In short, don’t want until the fall to cram your schedule with 12-hour days to get done what you should be doing today. If you’re not spending the time actively promoting new products, announcements, tools, or answering influxes of customer emails and tweets, then shift your focus to metrics and planning to set you and your team up for success. And you just might impress your boss with all that you find — especially if they take a nice long vacation, giving you added quiet time to focus :)
What other marketing activities do you find effective to do during the calm of summer? I’d love to hear it — please share in the comments below!
My marketing consulting work for startups often involves kicking off a content marketing program.
For some companies, that means starting the blog from scratch.
For others, it means taking an existing content marketing program and using this as a jumping off point for a more cohesive, proactive, and effective approach.
In both cases, setting up an editorial calendar is always a part of the process. An editorial calendar is basically just a schedule of posts you plan to write for the upcoming month. It’s a key step towards making content a priority at your company.
The Templates You Need
This post will prep you to perform a competitive analysis and content planning session with your team.
These free content planning templates will help you take action on the tips we talk about in this post.
Develop an Editorial Calendar
For startups, planning content a month out is perfect. I wouldn’t plan further out than a month because things change so quickly. If you plan for less than a month it’s not worth it, and you end spending more time in meetings about the content than you do producing it.
As far as how often you should post, you should publish content as often as you can while maintaining the quality and still having time to hustle the content on social. This may only be one time a week for the first month. If that’s the case, that’s awesome. Use that as a starting off point, and accelerate from there.
Your editorial calendar doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark.
You shouldn’t copy others, but you should have a sense of what worked for them and what didn’t work for them to guide your own original strategy.
Here is a step-by-step process for performing a competitive analysis:
- Collect two or three months worth of competitors’ blog posts in a spreadsheet like this (Competitor Analysis tab).
- Check out how many social shares the posts got using MuckRack’s Who Shared.
- Record the number of shares in the spreadsheet.
- Review the results to identify patterns. Which content formats worked best? Which topics fell flat?
- Discuss this together as a team.
Of course, social shares are only a rough proxy for a blog posts’ success. But it is the metric that’s available to you from the outside looking in and a good starting point for your strategy.
The Blog Posts You Need
Here are the types of blog posts you should put in your editorial calendar.
1. Something Evergreen – Explain something that your customer wants to know about and will be popular even two years from now.
2. Something Shareable – Format this post with this in mind: How will I get 1,000 shares on this article? Mention other people in the blog post so that you can tag them in Tweets (a list of quotes or brands works) and get them to share the post. Use Click to Tweet to create Tweetable links of quotes or statistics.
3. Something That Shows You How to Do Something – This can be step-by-step instructions or a list of tips. Get tactical.
Example: 25 Ways to Run Faster Right Now
4. Something Timely – Offer your take on a current event, new study that just came out from your industry, or a recent announcement that would be important to your customer.
Example: How Much Should I Pay for Facebook?
5. Something That Worked for a Competitor – Find blog post topics and formats that worked for others. Then add your own spin and do those on your blog.
6. Something That Shows Off a Customer - You want your users and customers to come off as pioneers/experts, as that success will be associated with you.
7. Something Controversial – Controversial doesn’t mean culturally offensive or mean spirited, it’s about drawing the line in the sand and taking a strong stance on a topic. Taking the contrary opinion and backing it up is a good way to think about this content.
8. Something Repackaged – Once you have almost a month’s worth of blog content, think about how you can re-package the stuff you’ve already done in a new format. For instance, collect all the statistics you have mentioned from your previous blog posts into a “25 Facts About _____” Slideshare presentation.
Example: At my last company, I turned this blog post by our CPO into this Slideshare presentation, which was featured in the Leadership and Management section, has gotten more than 4,000 views, and inspired a few articles from the community.
Sit down with your team, this content planning spreadsheet, and this list. Then fill in what posts you’re going to write about for the next month or so. Then, get writing!
Wrapping It All Up
Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:
- Figure out the main messages you want to put out into the world as a company first. It’ll make repackaging those messages into different kinds of content much easier.
- Planning is important. It holds people accountable, and by making this a priority in your schedule, you will produce much higher quality content.
- Your content doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Don’t copy competitors, but use their past mistakes and successes to inform your own unique approach.
- You don’t always have to start from scratch. Re-packaging content into new formats is an opportunity to not only save time, but also to reinforce messages.
- With a focused strategy and regular look at the metrics, you can calmly review what is working and not working, and improve from there.
How do you plan your content? Let me know in the comments.