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“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway
As we all bloggers know, Hemingway did nail the writing process in his quote above. Yes, it’s hard; yes, it’s time-consuming; no, it’s never right the first time around. Writing is rewriting. For a 1000-word blog post, I would say the average blogger would write at least 10 drafts before he is reasonably satisfied with the result. He is lucky if he has an editor to help with the polishing, but that is not usually the case.
However, in this day and age of content marketing, you would be crazy as a marketer if you did not sit down at least once a week to create or repurpose some written content to post on the Internet. Let me highlight in this post the features of good blog posts and how your business could benefit from them.
1. Search engine optimization: provided you offer useful and original content, employing the relevant key words, blogging will help your business show up on the SERPs (search engine results pages) of your prospective clients. I don’t know many people today who will not go to Google at some point during the buying cycle to do a search before actually purchasing a product or service. So, to be available, to show up, it will help to have a carefully SEOed (search engine optimized) blog to pop up on the first page.
2. Answer your customers questions: the buying process – the cycle your prospects go through before committing to a purchase – consists of the the following phases: first, the prospect needs to identify a need or problem; second, they will try to learn about possible solutions; third, they will start shopping for the ideal solution; afterwards, when they are ready, they will look for directions to actually buy it (online or offline); finally, when they start using the product, they might have problems or questions about it, so you need to offer them prompt customer service. Your blog needs to account for each one of these phases and provide the appropriate answers to help them at the stage they are, moving them along the sales funnel. It takes close communication between Marketing, Sales and Customer Service to identify the customers most frequently asked questions and issues, and try to solve them through your blog content. So it’s time to cooperate (there’s no need to tell me how hard this can be, but it’s worth trying): salespeople and customer service professionals need to develop their marketing skills, while marketers should learn more about the customers from sales and customer service so they can provide qualified leads.
3. Thought leadership: by covering content that speaks to the different needs of your customers at the different stages of the buying process you will soon develop a reputation of an expert in the field. Even if you don’t get conversions in terms of sales at the first moment, your customers will grow to trust your opinions and respect your points of view. When the time comes for them to make a buying decision, who do you think they will turn to?
4. Style: your blog is not supposed to be a work of art if you are a marketer. So write as simply and elegantly as possible, as if you were actually “talking” to the prospect. A marketer’s blog is not a piece of literature, so tone down your message, and be objective and direct. Of course it would help to be aware of the reading level of your audience, but “according to many reports (including the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics’ 1992 Adult Literacy survey), the average reading level is the 7th or 8th grade. Combine that with reports of increasingly low-attention spans of Internet users who require even milder language and you’re looking at a reading level of the 6th or 7th grade” (http://blog.ezinearticles.com/2013/10/ezinearticles-asks-what-reading-level-should-you-target.html) . If you really wish to fine tune your text’s level of difficulty, there are some tools on the Internet (try the Readability Test Tool, for example, http://read-able.com) that will allow you to measure it.
5. The title: the importance of a catchy title to crown your blog post cannot be underestimated. This is the first impression you will make on the reader, and you only have a couple of seconds to entice them. So think carefully about it. Putting yourself in the shoes of a journalist may help, after all, this is your headline. Research says that questions are a good way to go, as they tease the reader into looking for the answer in the text.
6. Promoting and Repurposing: to make the most of all the effort you put into writing your piece, promoting your blog is a must. Use your social media channels with this objective. Putting links to your blog post repeatedly, however, may not be the solution (although you’ll have to do it occasionally). Be careful not to make your audience feel spammed. Another solution is to repurpose your content and distribute it in different formats to suit the different social media channels: write a summary of the content as an image (for Instagram); use the photos you put in your blog post with a link to it (Instagram, Facebook); write a headline for your blog with a link to it (Twitter); turn it into an infographics poster (Pinterest); use the main points for a slide presentation (slideshare), etc.
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Some people say they blog everyday so they can improve. Research indicates that to be excellent at a skill you need to have spent at least 10,000 hours at it (read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” for a deeper explanation on this). Maybe you don’t have that amount of time available anymore, but I would say it’s never too late to get started. What you can’t afford to do as a marketer is NOT to have a blog. How about starting today?
The personal uses of Instagram are quite known to everyone, especially teenagers and young adults: you may use the platform to post as many photos of your cat as you wish. Don’t ever believe it if anyone tells you they bore them to death, it’s not true. We all love to see each other’s cats on Instagram (or on any other social media platform for that matter) – endlessly. We can never get enough of it. Another thing that we love to see is your selfies. Post as many as you can, as we can hardly survive a couple of hours without seeing your crazy looking eyes with a fake grin staring back at us from the iPhone screen. Food you are about to eat, or has just cooked yourself, and numberless shots of your legs and feet dangling over the swimming pool on a sunny day are also big hits. So there’s nothing to teach you there.
But how can you use this powerful platform, which is able to congregate 75 million viewers daily – and growing – to tell the story and consolidate the personality of your brand? Can you use Instagram for marketing purposes even if you are not in the photography business? Of course you can. And this happens to be the objective of this blog post. We want to help you use Instagram as yet another tool of your content marketing arsenal. Here are a few tips:
1. Build a list of followers: the first thing you need to do is, of course, add as many clients as you can to your Instagram community. You can use your Facebook and Twitter profiles to help you find friends you already have on these platforms. Using relevant and popular hashtags on your posts will also be very useful to help you get found. Don’t overdo it, though: the last thing you need is to look spammy.
2. Backstage peeks: you can use Instagram to show the world how and where you work. Behind-the-scenes views of your office, your colleagues at work, the cafeteria (if you are lucky to have one) and its wonderful offers, the projects in the pipeline, discreet shots of your happy-hour gatherings at the local bar… Everyone loves to take a peek inside the company they do business with. It breeds familiarity, which makes it easier for the customer to relate to and trust more.
3. Showcase your products: you can use Instagram as an effective virtual shop window for what you sell. Take enticing pictures of your product and refer customers to your website for more information and purchase. Or give the information straightaway as the caption of your post. Be selective in choosing these pictures, as you don’t want to appear amateurish in displaying your product.
4. Set up a picture contest: remember that content marketing should be more about your client than anything else. It must be a way of celebrating the clients and their association with your brand. If they do not see the benefit of looking at your pictures and have a chance to participate in the conversation, it will be hard to build a long-term relationship with them – and that’s what you need. So why don’t you give them an opportunity to appear on your Instagram? Set up a picture contest somehow related to the product or service you sell, and ask them to enter their pictures (if you sell cat food, this will be heaven, as the customers will have yet another chance to show Tiger relishing your product for the whole world to see. Total win-win.). Set clear rules about what can be shown in the photo beforehand and let them know. Then you may portray all the suitable entries, and give the winner something special, like a coupon or a discount on their next purchase.
5. Post awesome pictures related to your business: if you have a language school, for example, you could post amazing branded pictures of the countries in which they speak that language; some kind of typical food; local festivals; touristic locations; historical places, etc.Try to avoid being corny though.
6. Your personal pictures: people prefer to relate to companies as if they were people. In this case, if you feel comfortable, personalize the relationship with your customers by posting some of your private pictures: vacationing, having fun somewhere nice in the company of your family and friends, etc. Marketing gurus say privacy is no longer an existing concept – I beg to disagree – but I can certainly attest the success of many brave people out there who expose themselves totally on the web (if you decide to do it, you’ll be walking a tightrope, though).
7. Images are not necessarily photos: you can post quotes, memes or whatever inspiring thought you might want to share on Instagram. There are a number of apps which will allow you to build professional looking images on the web using amazing backgrounds with phrases on them. PowerPoint, for example, can do the job.
As long as you get started, you will find out that many more ideas will pop up in your mind as you think of original ways to entertain, educate or inform your audience about your brand. I wish you all the best in your endeavors as an Instagram content marketer.
Don’t forget to post your comments and share your stories with us.
Content marketing is a digital strategy that consists of creating and publishing a range of alluring pieces of content and distributing them freely on the Internet to get the participation of your target audience in a conversation with you. Its objective is multidimensional: to entice your clients and goad them into interacting with you (maybe by signing up to a newsletter or blog); to build your image as a thought leader, that is, to get them to trust you as a genuine expert and problem-solver in your industry; to bring your audience closer and closer to you by raising their interest and engagement; and to finally do business with them.
These steps are generally referred to as the sales funnel: leading a number of people through progressive stages towards your business goal, which is hopefully a sell that represents a win-win situation for both parties involved. Content marketing is a form of inbound marketing, therefore, which means that, instead of interrupting your prospect through broadcasting, you start a conversation using a topic they like to talk about, and then attract them to you for more content that will hopefully inform, entertain or teach them something useful. The best metaphor is meeting guests at a cocktail party and then inviting them to a more serious conversation in your office at a later date.
Most of the readers of this blog are in the language business. They are either school owners and teachers, or publishers and consultants. You are, therefore, in the best position to exercise this form of strategy we call content marketing, as you deal with language itself: a vehicle to convey and discuss all forms of different content, as long as they are of interest to your audience. We are all working more and more towards niches, the market is fragmented and we are all discussing how to best make use of the so-called long tail, reaching very specific audiences by catering to their needs.
Another interesting characteristic of these times is that the lines between sales, marketing and customer service are blurring, as most businesses are directing their customers towards the internet for promotion, sales and help. Salespeople and Customer Service professionals are becoming high-level consultants, and it will soon become a privilege for a client to receive a real salesperson at their office to do business with.
So, in all departments of our companies, we should be producing digital content to communicate with the clients about our respective areas of expertise and skills. How do you produce content that can be used to build a relationship with your audience, solidify your position as a thought leader, gain their trust and finally SELL your goods and services to them?
I will outline a number of steps that will help you get started:
Define your buying persona: who is your typical client? How old is she? Where does she work? What kind of content would she be interested in? How does she use the Internet? Remember: the tendency is to sell to a niche, so try creating a realistic persona for each specific niche you want to reach.
Decide where you targeting audience is: this question was partially answered in the definition of your buying persona, but now let’s dig deeper. What is the best social media channel to find the people you are trying to sell to? This will be best done through testing and measuring. It will be hard to know beforehand what channels will provide the most response, conversion and sales rates, as the clients go down the sales funnel we mentioned before. Start with the major ones: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Then follow the metrics and start refining your strategy.
Create a content strategy and a calendar: breakdown your content output in the following way: 40% of it should be general interest content loosely linked to the product or service you sell. If you are a language school, for example, write or post images about interesting places, different cultures, national festivals, etc. Then the next 30% of your content should be directly connected to your product or service, although you are not selling it in a hard way yet (still using the example of a language school: give tips on learning strategies, good books to read, meaning of slang used in TV shows and films, interesting facts and figures about languages, quizzes, etc). Another 20% should consist of direct offers to sign up to specific communications, take advantage of promotions, give away coupons, etc., aimed at those who are already at the stage of making a firmer commitment to you. Finally, get your customer service team to use the remaining 10% to help your customer deal with post-sales problems and issues, by harnessing a frequently asked question page or producing how-to videos.
Assign different people in your marketing, sales and customer service teams to produce the content they can: ask your team what skills they have and what kind of content they would feel comfortable producing. Are they good writers? Do they make videos in their spare time? Are they weekend photographers? Illustrators? Would they like to use their beautiful voices to read a scripted podcast? Of course, if you are lucky, you may count on a professional design department, but these are becoming harder to budget for. Fortunately, the apps available on the Internet are making this facet of the job accessible to many of us who lack sophisticated designer skills. Everybody should be expected to contribute.
Measure, measure, measure: and adapt your content strategy accordingly. Don’t obsess about absolute metrics in your measuring process, as different platforms will give you different figures for a number of reasons: focus on trends over time and try to improve your KPIs (key performance indicators, as discussed and approved by your senior management) over time.
There is a lot more to say about content marketing. We will continue the conversation in future posts. For now, please share your ideas and comments with us in the blog.
I’ve had the chance to be directly involved in sales, and, eventually, train salespeople at different stages of my long career as a marketer. I was a consultant/rep for many years at Pearson at the beginning of my publishing days, so I experienced firsthand what it’s like to spend the whole day visiting clients and presenting products. I covered the whole country. At McGraw-Hill, years later, I was lucky to work alongside reps (salespeople) in many countries of Latin America and the Middle East. Not only did I train them on the sales methodology of the company, but also learned a lot from good, intuitive reps, or natural salespeople, as we like to call them. These are very charismatic people that build close relationships with their customers, and, therefore, would be the ones that most benefited from formal training, as they already had the right kind of personality.
Formal sales training
Of course you can train anyone to be a rep as far as techniques go, even if they lack the natural charisma typical of great salespeople. The sales process methodology used by different companies may vary in terminology, but they are basically the same: asking the customer the right questions; selecting which features of the product to present, based on their answers; giving a skillful presentation with emphasis on benefits; and closing the deal. It all comes down to structuring a sales call, finding out what the customers’ problems are, and finally offering a solution that fixes it. However, if one can do without layers of natural charm, not many people have what it takes to soldier on in this hard line of work, where you get NO for an answer as the norm when you try to close a deal, despite all the work you put in following carefully the phases of the sales process.
Salespeople need to have a very high level of self-esteem to be able to manage all this rejection, understand that it’s not personal (in most cases), and start the process all over again the following day. For those who have the drive and persistency to carry on and keep honing their skills through (self-)training and practice, the rewards to reap can be more than worth it.
However, in these days of inbound marketing and social media, where we expect the client to come looking for the product as they need it, it takes more than excelling at the sales process for reps to succeed. The client is in control more than ever and that changes everything. Reps need to learn to emulate the charisma some people naturally have by building an online relationship with prospects and clients. They need to incorporate marketing skills to their sales tool kit and start promoting their own personal brand.
The marketing department of the company they work for should be able to provide them with the necessary leads. But we all know that is not enough. Successful salespeople will never rely solely on the leads provided by Marketing to do their job. They must create a professional persona and promote it heavily, using the same tactics available to Marketing. The objective is to get closer to a client, initiate and keep the conversation with them, before finally closing the deal.
Salespeople as marketers of their own personal brand
Salespeople can replicate the proven tactics of content marketing and the use of social media channels to promote themselves as a brand to reach customers they may not have the chance to meet otherwise. Therefore, salespeople had better start thinking and acting like marketers. Get closer to the marketing team in your company and, with their authorization, start personalizing the content already made available to generate leads (one simple way to do this would be just to share this kind of communication on the real state of your own Facebook profile, for example, rather than the company’s). Salespeople will also need to begin building their own community and fans on the Internet. Remember, though, that content marketing needs to be subtle. You will need to genuinely engage with your audience by providing a lot of useful free content (invitation to webinars, how-to videos, explanations about the product, relevant articles to their business, ebooks etc.) and dutifully interact with them (by answering their queries, for example) before you gain the right to sell anything.
Building a community and working on promoting your personal brand is the best guarantee that you will keep your a job in these unstable and changing times.