Content Marketing


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The Enrollment Challenge

Retirement readiness decisions are a daunting task for most employees. According to a 2012 Participant Engagement Study conducted by Lincoln Financial:

  • 41 percent of employees are only somewhat engaged or fully disengaged from any retirement plan
  •  7 percent of employees only are fully engaged and interact with their retirement plan on a regular basis.

Plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to better understand their employee benefits and make better enrollment decisions to achieve better outcomes.

Communication Is Key

The U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration’s ERISA Advisory Council published a key report in 2010 on how plan communication practices and design options impact participation and contribution rates. They researched strategies for tailoring communications to different subgroups of employees through direct communication, and their effectiveness in influencing participants of diverse demographic market segments, including segments categorized by income level, household status, generation, gender, and ethnicity.

The report then provided recommendations of best practices for enrollment that are statistically proven to be effective, including education to plan sponsors on specific proven techniques and communication practices. In evaluating what communication methods are most effective in encouraging participants to save for retirement, the following considerations were made:

  • Cost: an effort was made to balance the need for comprehensive plan communications against cost.
  • Delivery: A variety of methods were explored including the use of current and emerging social media.
  • Plan Design: The study reviewed how plan designs relate to increasing participant enrollment and savings. In particular, the Council studied the use of automatic features. Automatic enrollment plans automatically choose the employees’ contribution percentage and enroll the participant in an investment vehicle. This raises participation rates to close to 90 percent. However employees enrolled at low contribution rates of 3% or less tend not to deeply consider or increase their contributions.

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9 Recommendations and Best Practices

The Council found that effective plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to understand their employee benefits, make better financial decisions, and achieve better outcomes.

Given that the most successful plan communications make use of many channels from print to external websites, online tools, social media, and creative marketing, the Council highlighted best practices that balance personalized, targeted content to help employees evaluate benefit offerings with cost efficiency. They highlighted specific techniques and communication practices that have been statistically proven to be effective in increasing the involvement of employees in saving for retirement. The following are 9 recommendations:

  1. Communications tailored to particular segments drive results
  2. One-on-one or small group meetings increase participation
  3. Immediate “on the spot” communication is most effective
  4. Short, simple and focused communication drives participant response
  5. Multiple “touches” with various creative formats increase participation
  6. Increased technology use is effective and cost efficient
  7. Behavioral economics and “social norming” can increase participant involvement and savings
  8. Incentives given by sponsors and “gamification” help trigger participant involvement
  9. Responsive marketing principles may assist plan sponsors in improving communications

Here is a brief synopsis of these 9 practical recommendations and some best practices:

1. Communications Tailored to Particular Segments 

tailored-skill-development-imageThe Council found that communications that target participants based on their interests, background, and/or economic status were more successful than the “one size fits all” approach.

Understanding the culture and background of the workforce being targeted is key. For instance, since Hispanics will soon constitute one-third of the US population, Council member Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial Group stated that in her experience education materials typically are translated from English to Spanish, whereas she recommended that sponsors design the material using the reverse approach, developing  materials first in Spanish to address specific cultural needs and language differences.

Human Resource professionals also have found that allowing employees to map out an action plan rooted in realistic scenarios is an extremely effective tool. Some plan sponsors have successfully used a “three-pronged” approach to reach out to their participants by combining simple income replacement projections, behavioral finance strategies and a personalized message. For example, JP Morgan developed 36 different personas based on three age groups (younger than age 30, age 30-50 and older than 50). The firm also targeted participants based upon their regional median income (e.g., Kansas’ median income is $30,000 while in New York City it is $70,000). The basis for this approach was to enable these groups to compare themselves against their peers and take the appropriate action toward saving for retirement.

By narrowly tailoring their target audience on behalf of the plan sponsors that retained them, JP Morgan subsequently monitored whether employees opened their email communications and took action toward saving for retirement. If the individual took action, that person was considered “active,” while someone who opened the email but did not take action was considered “interested.” Based upon the action taken by the individual, the participant received specifically targeted information. This technique resulted in three to four times the response rate of participants who were not targeted.

However, some witnesses advised that there is a general concern regarding the use of targeted communications because complex data collection may provide gender or ethnic identification. Thus, there is concern over whether specific segments identified based upon race or gender could raise discrimination or deferential treatment issues. The Council heard testimony from Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial and Thomas Ryan of Fidelity that the use of particularly sensitive demographic information causes concern among plan sponsors. There are also practical concerns about housing information technology. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion received during testimony was that targeted communications work.

Branding helps targeting through the use of communications that include a unique positive image that is the group can relate to.

Here are some best practices of participant-centric communication methods:

  • Best Practice 1 – The Power of Example: Trustees of the Elevator Constructors 401(k) Plan used materials featuring the story of three employees who made different savings decisions during their careers. The narrative of the three employees was used throughout one-on-one sessions with printed materials to demonstrate how a 401(k) contribution would benefit participants in a variety of circumstances including temporary layoffs, hardships and early retirement. As a result, plan participation rates increased from 26.56 percent to 29.82 percent in 2011. The plan also experienced an 85 percent increase in plan activity from meeting attendees.
  • Best Practice 2 – Employer/Employee-Centric Content: M.A. Mortenson Company, an international construction firm, employed construction-related themes in its financial education to engage participants and foster pride in the company. Financial education was made mandatory and workshops were divided by career stage, age, and gender. The plan sponsor focused on participants’ preferences by surveying them after the workshop and making recommendations based on their feedback to yield desired results.
  • Best Practice 3 – Bilingual: Consolidated Citrus Limited Partners wanted to 1) increase attendance at plan educational meetings, 2) increase plan participation, 3) increase deferral rates and 4 encourage participants to maximize their match. Ninety percent of the workers spoke only Spanish, and the majority of their day was spent in the orange groves. An in-language campaign was initiated. The company’s Spanish speaking leaders met with small groups in the orange groves. Straightforward collateral in both Spanish and English Collateral were available on site, including announcement posters. By bringing the meetings to the employees, 95 percent of the targeted group attended the meetings. Plan participation increased from 40 percent to 75 percent and deferrals expanded from 4 percent to 8 percent.
  • Best Practice 4 – Branding: The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan was implemented for artists working at Southern California animation studios. The sponsors worked with the Guild’s representatives to obtain insights and develop a branded communication urging participants to remember to enroll. The response rate increased over eight percent from the previous year, with 135 new enrollees. Another employer cited in the research increased participation by 30 percent by keeping the message fun, simple and “cool” to target younger workers.
  • Best Practice 5 – Multicultural: The Four Seasons 401(k) Plan needed to convey an important plan change to an employer profit sharing employer matching contribution. The sponsor obtained feedback from bilingual meeting presenters in designing the campaign, and provided materials tailored to Hispanics and presentations also were created in Spanish designed to be culturally and linguistically accurate. As a result, the average deferral rate of the targeted group rose from 2.9 percent to 5 percent, and significantly increased beneficiary designations.

2. One-on-One or Small Group Meetings 

OneonOneAfter a study by Lincoln Financial found that 66% of participants prefer one-on-one guidance, Lincoln made it a component of its financial education model. They found that the need for individualized information is particularly acute for groups with low participation rates, including women and minorities.  Various studies have shown good enrollment and contribution results when employees request in-person group workshops facilitated by financial experts.

  • Best Practice for One-on-One Meetings:In 2012, MassMutual representatives spoke with 150,000 employees in face-to-face meetings. Forty-six percent of these individuals took action to improve their retirement readiness and, in one-on-one meetings, 75 percent of employees took action.
  • Best Practice for Small Group Meetings: Costs and timing may prevent plan sponsors from providing one-on-one meetings, but small group meetings and audience segmentation have also been successful. The FINRA funded Nurses Investor Education Project had small group meetings for well-educated nurses interested in taking action toward their retirement. They found that generally, the nurses’ lack of basic knowledge, or their perception that they did not know enough to attend these sessions, prevented them from attending their plan sponsor’s meetings. As a result of using small group meetings as a forum, the nurses perceptions changed and attendance at their employer’s retirement plan sessions improved.

3. Immediate “on the spot” Communication 

onthespotThe ability for participants to take action at the time they are thinking about retirement savings is more effective in increasing enrollment. For example, having computers in the room at the time employees are learning about the plan would allow them to sign up and take immediate action.

  • Best Practice: A US Army mandatory financial management course found that providing the enrollment forms for the Thrift Savings Plan during the financial management course resulted in a sizeable increase in participation, with soldiers signing up for the Plan before leaving the classroom.

4. Short, Simple, Focused Communication 

focusedBehavioral studies show that the most effective communications use simple, straightforward language specific to a participant’s personal situation.

  • Best Practice: Time constraints mean that any impediments to action should be identified and mitigated. For example, on a website, any extra step, such as the need to retrieve a PIN, may prevent employees from taking action. Solutions include sending the PIN directly to their email account or a mobile number, or mailing a postcard with the website’s uniform resource locator (URL).

5. Multiple Touches With Various Creative Formats 

profileConsistent, continuous and on-going meaningful communication can be achieved by repeatedly sending out simplified mailings. Social media can help alleviate the cost of additional touch points, and yet, few companies use social media channels for retirement information.

  • Best Practice: The Council’s Professor Madrian cites a company in which the third mailing of a simplified reply form requiring the checking of a box to enroll doubled enrollment from 22 percent to 45 percent of non-participating employees.

6. Cost Effective Technology 

advancement-of-technologyEvery demographic group is now using the Internet as a preferred source of information, via home computer or mobile devices. In addition, electronic media provides the ability to track responses, which is unavailable when the communication is sent through printed materials and regular mail. Another cost effective technological advance is Dynamic Page Publishing,  reviewed at the conclusion of this article.

A Deloitte study in 2012 that found:

  • 93 percent of Americans place Internet access as the most valued household subscription;
  • 54 percent of Americans own smartphones, and the rate is increasing 29 percent annually.
  • One of three Americans over age 50 has downloaded an application to a smartphone, and 28 percent access their bank accounts via smartphone.

Engaging Millennials: Electronic media is the most effective method of communication to engage younger generations in retirement planning, including Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979).  In order to combat inertia caused by competing financial priorities, such as student loan debt, it is important for this group to be engaged through “YouTube” videos, Facebook forums, Twitter, email and mobile delivery, including providing “one click” transactions and incorporating elements of “gamification.”   Millennials also demand simple, personalized, and action-oriented communications, and prefer human contact for complex tasks.

  • Best Practice – Email: Thomas Ryan of Fidelity Investments testified to the Council that Fidelity makes all channels of communication accessible, and finds that email communications have generated higher response rates than direct mail.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Fidelity: Fidelity has studied the preferences of Generation Y, or “Millennials”  for using electronic communication, and found that this group tends to rely heavily on the Internet to interact with representatives from Fidelity, although they appear to be the least engaged when it comes to the frequency of contact. Millennials serviced by Fidelity have the lowest 401(k) participation rate, at 58 percent, compared to 67 percent for all other populations. Design changes made to simplify online interaction with Millennials resulted in a 40 percent increase in web utilization by this group.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Putnam: Lori Lucas of Callan Associates discussed Putnam’s roll out of a plan primarily for Millennials that encouraged participants to bring their tablets to an nteractive meeting to log on to the benefits website. As a result, 40 percent of attendees increased their deferrals within 90 days after attending the meeting.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – MassMutual:: Offering enrollment and savings increases using iPod Touch devices in group meetings resulted in action rates of 85 – 90 percent among those attending. The use of targeted and tested mail and email campaigns resulted in $150 million in new deposits over three years and a 3.9 percent increase in action rates.

7. Behavioral Economics and “Social Norming” 

choiceThe way certain information is presented can have a resounding impact, including the way choices are presented to the participant, a method referred to as “anchoring”

Presenting options in a different order or with a higher default percentage has increased deferral rates. While communications traditionally list contribution percentages in ascending order from one to five percent, studies have shown that reversing this order so that the first option shown is five percent markedly increases enrollment in the five percent option. This method is referred to as “placement.”

 “Social Norming” reflects the fact that people tend to benchmark themselves against their peers. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that participants tacitly compete against peers in similar socioeconomic conditions.

8. Incentives and “Gamification” 

carrotThe use of games (gamification) is an effective tool in reaching  individuals who may not be easily engaged in retirement decisions (“non-savers”). Gamification can be used to reward people if they engage in the correct behaviors. Plan sponsors may also use incentives to provide rewards to participants with who exceed a certain benchmark contribution amount. Other techniques include raffles.

  • Best Practice 1: The NFL’s “Play 60” campaign  incorporates the use of the NFL brand to incentivize children to play a game for at least 60 minutes a day.
  • Best Practice 2: A rug manufacturer in northern Georgia had a series of meetings for people working multiple shifts, giving away lottery tickets to encourage attendance, and experienced standing room only for the meetings.

9. Six Marketing Principles Improve Communications

Communications that are uninspiring and difficult to undmarketing-300x200erstand leave employees confused, bored and unmotivated. The communicator’s “curse of knowledge” is a bias in which the communicator’s knowledgeability makes it difficult to demonstrate it from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The Council highlighted six principles of communication that plan sponsors should consider when drafting documents or presenting to their participants that will inspire action:

1. Show Empathy

empathyTo  determine the relevance of a message to an audience, it is necessary to engage them and ask questions that the content of the presentation or the communication should then be tailored to answer. For example, an energy company developed a program to help consumers understand and lower their energy bills, using this computerized question:

Can I help you with your bill?

  1. Yes, help me understand my bill.
  2. Help me save money.
  3. Both of the Above.
  4. I’m Here for Something Else.

By showing empathy to what the consumer cared about and giving information and tips to help them feel more in control, these questions presented helped raise consumer satisfaction.

2. Use Metaphors and Analogies

analogCommunications also reference a metaphor or visual picture to help the recipient relate to the message. For example, when Ridley Scott presented the screenplay for Alien to his producers he used the popular movie Jaws as a reference, and the metaphor “it’s like Jaws in space,” to frame a concept that the producers easily understood

3. Use Storytelling

icon-storytellingPeople tend to forget facts that are presented but usually remember a story. Stories are easy to absorb when people are overwhelmed with information. They also eliminate extraneous facts to capture the recipient’s interest and relate to him on an emotional level.

4. Use a Conversational Voice

conversationalUsing overly technical information, compliance or legal jargon can loose an audience. For example, it is difficult to convey the benefit of voluntary life insurance individual and spouse buy-up options in which election of coverage for a spouse can equal up to half an individual’s buy-up,  depending on the desired level of coverage. An effective way of communicating this is as follows:

“The company is going to buy life insurance for you. If you want, you can buy extra life insurance. Whatever extra life insurance you buy for yourself, you can also buy up to half that amount for your spouse. Now, depending on how much additional insurance you’d like, one or both of you may need to answer some questions about your health to see if you qualify for it.”

5. Surprise the Recipient

boxing-glove-surpriseUnexpected methods of engaging the recipient get the individual’s attention when a subject is ordinarily challenging and abstract. The use of humor, as shown below, can be considered an example.

6. Use Humor

humorUsing a little humor in the message will keep the audience engaged and make the message easier for audiences to relate to.

 

Plan Design Considerationsicon-design

Automatic Enrollment

A study by Brigitte Madrian and Dennis Shea shows that automatic enrollment increases average participation rates from 65 percent to 85 percent. It is particularly helpful for low-income workers with annual wages under $20,000, where participation increased from 27 percent to 82 percent. Average participation for employees under age 30 doubled from 41 percent to 82 percent, and the best improvements have been among the segments that had the lowest participation rates.  This was corroborated in as presented in the testimony of Lori Lucas.

Mandatory Contributions and Automatic Escalation

Defaults that are too low can  impact workers who would otherwise have contributed more. Since studies have shown higher default contribution rates have not increased opt-out rates, employers should consider recommending higher default contribution rates.

One solution is a stretch match (increasing the maximum amount of pay that can be matched and decreasing the percent matched, to keep the employer’s costs flat.

Another way to increase savings is automatic escalation in which sponsors automatically increase a worker’s contribution rate by one to two percent  of salary at each pay anniversary until a cap, such as 12 percent of pay.

Best Practice – TIAA-CREF: David Richardson of TIAA-CREF found that 403(b) plans typically have much higher contribution rates, ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent of pay compared to 5 percent to 7percent for all 401(k) plans, due to mandatory contributions from both employers and employees as a requirement of employment.  The 403(b) plans TIAA-CREF administers experience much higher annuitization rates — 40 percent compared to 4 percent for all 401(k) plans.

 Conclusions and Implications

red pencilThe Council found that continuous, simplified, personalized communication using multiple channels, connected with humor and empathy, are effective ways to communicate with plan participants to encourage participant engagement.

Benefit Program Marketers seeking to increase employee plan participation need to be more flexible, customizable and responsive than ever to introduce, present, promote and clarify the particular offerings and choices the employer has agreed to sponsor. Dynamic Publishing platforms are becoming a key tool in executing this strategy DPP is a way of designing publications in which layout templates are created which can contain different content in different publications. In cases where the same content is being used in multiple layouts, the same layout is being used for several different sets of content, or both, dynamic page publishing can offer significant advantages of efficiency over a traditional system of page-by-page design. Future articles will explore Dynamic Publishing in greater depth.

Related Blog Article:

Content Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising

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According to the Custom Content Council, in 2012, 68% of CMO’s will be increasing their budget for content marketing. While big and small companies alike are seeing the shift, smaller companies are devoting a higher percentage of allocated budgets toward content marketing:

  • 34% of a company’s advertising budget with ten or less employees goes toward content marketing.
  • 26% of the advertising budgets of companies with 1,000 or more employees is going to content marketing.

blurbThere are numerous reasons for this shift, and one of them is that technology has changed consumer behavior. Consumers today aggressively search out information about your industry online. According to Ryan Northover of Hatchd.com, before making a purchase decision, consumers now search out 10.4 sources of information vs. 5.3 back in 2010, when just 30% of consumers had Smartphones. This is rapidly changing the face of marketing and creating the necessity for content systems that engage, inspire, educate and inform information seeking consumers.

Here are 5 compelling reasons why you need a clear and robust content marketing strategy today, in comparison to traditional media advertising :

1. More Trusted 

A Nielsen survey of OECD consumers found:

  •  Only 10% said they trusted messages from display advertising.
  • However, 90%  said they trusted brand recommendations from friends or users they trusted online.

2. More Lead Conversions

Traditional advertising methods are generally directed to a broader audience, while content marketing’s  ‘narrowcasting’ strategy focuses on a smaller, core group of potential, high quality consumers. As a result:

  • Content marketing can convert 30% more organic traffic into high quality sales leads, according to MarketingSherpa (See case studies here)
  • Content marketing is aimed at high value customers who will return for more content.
  • Content marketing produces 3 times more leads per dollar than SEM and costs 30% less, according to Kapost & ELOQUA (ebook here)

3. Greater Influence Over Consumer Decision Making

A study by McKinsey Consulting shows that consumers are already well along in the sales process when they engage directly with a brand. Traditional advertising aiming for brand recognition may occur far too early in the sales process to make a difference at a critical juncture in the decision process. Additionally, heir search is more focused, targeted and active. According to a Roper Public Affairs study cited in Forbes:

  • 80% of business decision makers prefer to access company information via a series of articles over advertisements.
  • 70% of decision makers said content marketing made them feel closer to the brand.
  • 60% said content marketing helped them make better purchasing decisions.

4Enhanced SEO and Social Media Effectiveness

Search engines are steadily improving in delivering the right information to seekers of content. And as today’s search engines heavily weight relevance, social sharing and link buzz, the more engaging, shareable and targeted your content is, the better your SEO rankings will be.

Content is also the basis of social media strategy, because compelling content is what drives consumers to engage with your brand on social networks.

5. Greater ROI

Expensive paid advertising campaigns typically only run a few weeks. Content can last for a much longer time, which enhances your return on investment. Revisions in content marketing can keep it relevant even longer. Content marketing can also generate earned media because users and media outlets may share your content to many more users, potentially producing millions of dollars in free brand exposure.

“Content Is Queen”

Because good content marketing aims to help, inform, inspire and entertain a more skeptical, engaged and demanding audience, it is not experienced as a pressure pitch or disruptive. This is why major brands are heavily investing in content marketing. This helps brands capture mind share and position themselves as leaders in their category.

But if content is queen, it also demands to be treated as one. Content strategy requires many months of planning and strategic development to build the most effective content platforms, inventory and engagement streams.

Overcoming the Challenges

According to a Marketing Profs & Content Marketing Institute study in 2012, the top 5 reported challenges are:

  • Producing enough content: 29%
  • Producing the kind of content that engages: 18%
  • Lack of budget: 14%
  • Lack of buy-in / vison: 7%
  • Lack of knowledge, training, and resources: 6%

Overcoming these challenges requires ownership, consistency and measurement.

1. Ownership: Some committed organizations have appointed a Content Marketing Officer to drive these efforts and to be accountable for their success. As companies are slowly but surely becoming their own media, they will have to appoint an Editor in Chief responsible for overseeing this part of Marketing, and managing internal as well as outsourced resources.

2. Consistency: It takes consistent efforts to build a captive audience through the creation of  a body of content worthy of the attention of search engines and of your target audience. Understanding what content types and what channels create the most engagement and generate leads takes consistent effort and experimentation. Generating interest and engagement for your brand, products and services requires a commitment to sustained and continuous investment in producing various types of content on a regular basis. By way of illustration:

3. Measurement: Naturally, the defined success metrics (KPIs) will vary according to the market, media and product. However, the ROI of content marketing is generally defined not by generic Web activity metrics, but  by a sales conversion funnel.

A typical conversion funnel could look like:

Step 1: user lands on homepage
Step 2: user reads a blog post
Step 3: user reads a product or service page
Step 4: user fills in a contact form

Defining performance in terms of web activity such as overall visitors and pages views of a website won’t reflect performance as much as much as measuring how many users start at step 1 (arrive on a landing page)  and progress to step 4 (conversion).

Takeaways: As shown above, the realities of today’s markets demand that a very focused and robust content marketing effort is put in place for an organization to position themselves as a thought leader, differentiate themselves in a crowded market space, and  reach the buyer at the critical stage in the purchase decision process to make a difference and drive conversions. Since companies are struggling beneath the weight of the sustained effort needed to become thought leaders through content marketing, investment in dedicated resources is increasingly recognized as indispensable.

Related Post:

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What Stands in the Way of Compelling Content?

Nasheen Liu, VP of marketing at The  IT Media Group,  discusses hindrances marketers face in creating compelling marketing content and and recommends three strategies to overcome them.  Two key problems she identifies are:

  1. Lack of control over the subject-matter.
  2. Feeling too removed from their audience.

She shares some approaches for overcoming those  challenges that allows markerters to more effectively create and repurpose compelling content.

Three Strategies

Strategy 1: Be an avid journalist to your internal  audience

In brief, there is no substitute for interaction with your field organization and customers.  Your notes from these interactions should include insights  from customers that can be summarized in a report and communicated to  your stakeholders.

Liu’s recommendation is to repurpose these valuable insights as “Industry Newsflashes,”  “Customer Insights,” and “Opportunity Analysis” for your internal audiences.  Why is this important?

Marketers often fail to realize that their most important audience is the  internal one. To market anything successfully, one must first and foremost  create as much visibility as possible internally. Every employee is your message  carrier. You will not become a rock star marketer if you don’t have the support  of your internal stakeholders.

Strategy 2: Insource your content, but control the  output

To get a good handle on your subject matter, it’s important to identify the domain experts  – at least one person in each cross-functional area who can serve as your go-to resource. This will give you a ready supply of content.

Getting subject experts to be responsive is a key challenge. You’ll need to schedule some time interviewing them in person. The conversation should be targeted to extracting content from them in 30 minutes or less.  One way to set this process in motion is to create an editiorial calendar.

If you promote your experts and give them visibility, you can gain you loyal sponsors and  support for your endeavors.

Strategy 3: Outsource your topics to industry  experts

One of the most common failures that I see marketers make in trying to promote themselves as thought leaders or impress audiences with their products and services is the mistake of “singing your own praises.”  To gain the attention and trust of the customer, it’s much better to get someone else to do the praising in an indirect way.

In the technology space, I engage industry experts, media personalities, and  well-known bloggers. The kind of perception you are trying to create is this:  “Wow, these guys are associated with her? Impressive.”

To build on this,  you can build  an onging campaign in which your expert can help you in various activities. Some ideas:

An initial article can turn into a moderated customer forum. The  findings from the forum become a whitepaper. The whitepaper can be used to  develop a video case study. And so on. Such linkages can continue to develop and  mature over the life of the catmpaign.

As Liu points out, “content is the bread and butter of what we do in the world of marketing.” Yet it often seems to get lost in the flurry of planning and execution, and becomes an afterthought. A successful marketing organization exists as part of a larger context of consistent messaging accross all touch points, internal and external. Nothing promotes an organization’s brand value more effectvely than shared messaging.

Bri Bauer  of iMedia Connection provides some interesting tips on how to get customers to open emails and act on them.

Understanding the ROI

An effectively implemented email marketing program can drive significant traffic, According to the 2012 Channel Preference Survey, conducted by the digital marketing group ExactTarget, email is the preferred permission-based marketing and service channel:

  • 76% prefer email over all other channels for customer service messages.
  • 66% of teens (ages 15-17) prefer email over all other channels for permission-based marketing.
  • 96 percent of online consumers use email at least weekly.

It’s also highly effective:

  • 66 percent have made a purchase after receiving an email marketing message
  • Email marketing drives more consumers to make a purchase than Facebook and text messaging combined.

Once people have signed up to hear from your brand, they want to be kept informed. You want to provide them with communication that gets opened and drives them to take action. Here are 5 practices that drive results.

1. Refresh Your Address List

A recent Experian survey found that more than 90 percent of companies suspected that up to 25% of their data is inaccurate. Look at the number of bounce-backs or routinely un-opened emails.

2. Create An Engaging Title

To avoid getting preempted by a spam filter, avoid spam filter-friendly language such as “free,” “act now” and “limited time”.

3. Develop User-Friendly Design

Make the communication responsive and scalable to  multiple platforms, allowing users to take action, whether they are viewing it on their mobile device or desktop computer. “Avoid the sophistication trap – email marketers see the most success with layouts that have  little noise (graphics, photos, video and scrolling)  with a clearly visible call to action.

4. Understand Their Motives for Signing Up

Knowing what motivated people to sign up for your emails in the first place will help you understand them as a community and facilitate delivering what they want:

  • Are they looking for discounts?
  • Do they want something to do?

Based these insights, you can provide them with relevant content to inspire their curiosity.

5. Provide Value

Your emails should offer relevant substance and value to your readers, including news, brand insights, and customer survey information and spare body copy.

HubSpot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog’s 30 Amazing Marketing Tools, Tips & Tricks We’re Thankful For, by  Amanda Sibley lists some of the tools, tricks, and tips that marketers say help them do their jobs better. Here are a few:

Social Media Tools

Facebook Global Pages – This newly developed tool tool allows marketers to create one central maintenance location with better targeting options instead of having to choose between a single Facebook page for an entire global audience, or multiple pages to target specific audiences.

Audience Targeting in Facebook Advertisements – Facebook’s ad platform audience targeting allows marketers to create ads for a specific target audience. This makes your ads more relevant and allows you to target custom audiences from email addresses in your database

Content Creation Tools

Evernote – Note-taking apps are helpful for writing or brainstorming content on the go.

Factbrowser  helps you find compelling stats or data points as you create content. It breaks down data by topic, source, format, region, and/or demographic.

CreativeCommons – This gives you another option for finding images for your marketing content. Instead of using stock photography or creating the images yourself, you can use CreativeCommons to search for free photos that are that are allowed to be used commercially, provided you give credit to the artist.

PowerPoint for Design – Marketers can create professional looking calls-to-action, ebooks, and infographics without hiring the services of a designer by using PowerPoint as a design tool.

Snipping Tool – This Windows tool lets you easily take screen captures. Hubspot provides an  overview.

Hubspot’s free template to help you easily create infographics.

SEO Tools

Free Site Crawl Tools – Free tools like Xenu and Screaming Frog crawl your entire site, and provide you a spreadsheet of all the pages, URLs, and broken links on your site.

Analytics Tools

VLOOKUP – You can use VLOOKUP in Excel to search for and identify particular sets of data, allowing you to analyze data quickly.

Statistical Significance Calculator – When you’re running tests in your marketing, statistical significance calculators can tell you when your test’s results are actually meaningful.

Collaboration & Planning Tools

Google Drive (Google Docs) – This tool helps everyone on a team to see and update information in real time.

Sales & Nurturing Tools

Landing Page Creation Tool – It can take a long time to get landing pages created working with IT.  to get landing pages created. Easy landing page creation tools like HubSpot allow you to create a landing page in minutes, making it easier to launch offers and lead generation.

Superheroes Teach the Art of Storytelling

Bryan Eisenberg of ClickZ recently attended Comic Con, and interviewed  Shane Gibson, chief social officer for Wizard World and Comic Con to discuss the power of these iconic brands and to discuss social media marketing with these audiences. The takeaway, according to Bryan, is the level of engagement people have with the characters.

Great content marketing planning follows the structure of a powerful story; using an inciting incident that compels you into the narrative arc, strong characters including a hero (protagonist) and an enemy (antagonist), and a sense of conflict and resolution.

Brand Persona As a Superhero

People relate to comics in very personal ways. They represent a form of wish fulfillment. Through them, we can safely explore our own hidden aspirations and desires – reflections of our values and beliefs. For instance, teenagers can relate to Spider Man as an insecure teen with problems just like them. Batman gives voice to our inner frustrations and deep seated need to prevail over what oppresses us. Superman or Wonder Woman express the strength of character within. During times of national trial, as in World War II, comics reflected our inner need for patriotic heros. Through the Hulk, Wolverine, and Daredevil we can come to terms with and prevail over our flaws.

We are likely to identify with certain heros more than others, since we see ourselves, our values and beliefs personified in them. A brand persona that can capture these feelings is highly successful. In Apple, we see ourselves empowered by technology and on the cutting edge of change. An automobile brand or brand of perfume magnifies our sense of what we long to be and feel ourselves to be deep within.

What is a Content Marketing  Persona?

A Content Marketing Persona is a related, but slightly different concept. These are a means through which we can better understand the customer’s perspective. If we know what our customers need in order to achieve their goals, we can better understand about their journey through the buying process.

While a Brand Persona is an image that our customers can identify with, a Content Marketing Persona is a reconstruction of our customer’s inner voice – the whole person that our customer is – how the customers see themselves now, what they aspire to become, and what they face as they make their way through life. In short, the Brand Persona, as opposed to a static, if evocative image, is a full and complex story.

Content and social media marketing should be focused around the conversations we are having with your customers, and the only way to deepen the conversation is to mirror the customer, just as we do when we have a meaningful conversation with a friend. As Bryan puts it:

Too many companies and their agencies are so wrapped up in their own sales processes they forget that customers have a different angle of approach to the problem or need that they could solve if they took the right perspective.

To truly communicate with your visitors, you must put yourself in their shoes…There are many segments and your personas can represent these segments…Personas will allow you to evaluate your content and identify the gaps in your content strategy to meet your potential customer’s needs.

Expected Result: More Relevant Conversations and Interactions

Once you begin to develop customer personas and write from these perspectives, we can begin the process of planning content marketing scenarios that will draw people to participate in the conversions and experiences that are critical to the success of our business.

 

Questioning the Conventional Marketing Wisdom

The conventional wisdom on content marketing is that you need a lot of content to generate sales.

At best, a typical B2B supplier can expect to get 12% of a customer’s total share of attention across the purchase process. So marketers are betting that increasing the frequency will maximize their share of attention. The mathematical logic of as explained by Patrick Spenner in Forbes is as follows:

  • You need 4 personas for different target audiences.
  • You must identify their top 3 needs.
  • You must develop content for all the channels that matter – conservatively, 5 channels.
  • You need to refresh your content periodically – monthly updates total 12 per year.

That’s 4 x 3 x 5 x 12 = 720 pieces of original or versioned content.

With so much content,  you tend to create a mass of mediocre content that becomes part of the noise for your customers, which actually dilutes your share of attention. In following the conventional wisdom of B2B marketing, marketers are sacrificing quality for quantity, and the content they develop become just more of the noise that surrounds customers every day. The implications of grinding out frequent content:

  • You risk reducing even your 12% chance of being noticed.
  • You decrease your odds of influencing customers to act.
  • Your expenses increase as you increase your investment in marketing automation, process, dashboards and metrics to support the drive for content, and divert resources to get content produced.

Distinguishing Quality from Quantity

Patrick Spenner‘s follow up article discusses what really matters most in content marketing. To determine what high quality content really is, CEB reviewed the research studying the B2B customer and purchase path. Their findings suggested that effective content needs to go far beyond just capturing attention:

Breaking through the noise to simply win the customer’s attention isn’t enough.  High quality content has to fundamentally change the customer’s direction by teaching and motivating the customer in specific ways.

The Customer Purchase Path

The research shows that information-empowered B2B customers are seeking to answer three questions:

  1. Relevant Features: What is important? (in terms of buying criteria)
  2. Quality: What is an acceptable level of performance? (a minimum threshold for each of those criteria)
  3. Price: What is the lowest price I can pay?

Self-Directed Product Research: Spenner draws an analogy to how we making a complex family purchase decision, like when we buy a car.  We typically answer the first two questions about the relevant features and quality online before visiting a car dealership, and show up at the dealer lots with a specific car already picked out.  Knowing all the options we want,  we’re just looking for the best deal. In other words, we have reduced the role of the sales department to that of the fulfillment department.

Suppliers Engaged Late in the Purchase Decision Process: Likewise, in B2B purchases, empowered customers self-direct their own product learning, waiting until late in the process to engage suppliers late in the process:

Implications: Content Must Sell: This research strongly suggests that supplier content needs to do more than simply gain the customer’s attention and generate a lead, but must change the customer’s direction on buying criteria in a way that narrows their choices down to you.

Content that Changes the Customer’s Direction

Results from CEB’s B2B customer research, in which they surveyed thousands of customers about a recent B2B purchase are summarized in the chart below.  Those customers who say that they experienced a significant change in buying criteria direction described the most influential content characteristics that caused them to change direction on their buying criteria. The number by each bar is the regression co-efficient for each characteristic—essentially, showing the impact of each characteristic on likelihood to change the customer’s direction. The most statistically significant drivers of purchase direction were just these two:

  • Know Your Customer: Teaching something new about the customer’s own business needs/challenges.
  • Call To Action: Providing compelling reasons to take action.

These are the characteristics of the supplier content that caused customers to change their purchase decisions along the path to purchase.

Snap! principle of Content Marketing:

To cut through the noise, increase your odds of reaching more customers and effectively influence their buying decisions, you need to focus less on content saturation and hone in on the quality of your content.

Related Article:

“Content Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret”

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