Ardath Albee is someone all marketers should be paying attention to. Not only because she's a superb writer about B2B marketing, and not only because she's author of the indespensible book eMarketing for the Complex Sale, but also because she is one of the brightest strategists in how to use your content to drive revenue for your company. She was kind enough to answer my content marketing questions last week:
You've spoken and written a lot about the necessity to create buyer personas. If it's so important, why do so few companies use them?
That’s an interesting question. I think the reason companies don’t use personas is because they don’t understand what difference they make. When used well, personas can contribute to creating content and conversations that produce a much higher return on their investment in marketing programs.
The biggest shift that B2B marketers are facing today is the extended length of their responsibility to support and engage prospects during their buying process. A persona that can help you flesh out informational needs based on problem resolution can help marketers create more and better content to fuel engagement over the longer term. A profile that indicates only title, industry and company size gives you nowhere to go with a storyline. The fact that most marketers don’t understand how or why to build a storyline for content marketing programs minimizes their perceived need for personas.
How do successful marketers use personas once they have created them?
Successful marketers use personas as the foundation for all of their marketing programs. Everything they do is focused on what their prospects want, need and will find useful for issue resolution that impedes their goals and business objectives.
As an example, I was recently working with a company to create personas. I told them to sit down and write a story about how a specific prospect viewed his company and challenges from a day-to-day perspective. They wrote three pages about “Sam”—what he saw as challenges, what kept him from addressing them, his concerns, hopes and passion for his business and what he thinks his customers want from him.
What resulted was a narrative with a boatload of ideas for developing content that would speak directly to Sam, educate him, reduce his perceptions of risk and help to build a relationship that will, hopefully, result in buying conversations.
But, what was really interesting was the transformation of the marketing team. Suddenly they felt like they actually knew Sam. They weren’t just trying to sell their products, they wanted to help Sam. Just that shift in outlook has changed the way they’re approaching their entire content marketing strategy.
From that persona, we were able to pull a series of questions that Sam probably has about solving the problem that this company’s solutions will make possible. The answers to those questions will be the content the company creates for their marketing programs. And, determining the order of use becomes simpler because someone asking a question such as “Why should I care?” obviously doesn’t need the same information as someone asking about the best practices for execution.
You've talked a lot about "perpetual marketing programs." How is that different from the approach most marketers have taken in the past?
In the past, companies executed on the campaign mindset—three touches and a sales pitch and they’re on to the next campaign. Unfortunately for many, this is still the norm in today’s marketing.
Until the short-term campaign is replaced with a continuous engagement program, marketers won’t see the need for personas because they’re only focused on scraping the low hanging fruit for sales and then looking for more. It’s an outdated mindset with diminishing returns as buyers continue to self-educate and broaden their networks, expectations and sources of useful information.
The point marketers need to understand is that the “conversation” never ends. Prospects are online searching for and digesting information every day—on their schedules and in formats they prefer. They no longer rely on a marketer’s schedule to get the information they need as it’s now easily available from a simple search query. If marketers want buyers to get that information from them, to become credible, relied-upon resources, they’ve got to market consistently and often with tightly targeted content.
What's the biggest mistake you've seen people make in developing their content marketing plans in 2011?
Treating channels with a siloed approach.
An example would be starting a blog without first updating your website to ensure that the audience for the blog will also connect with the content on the website. As the adage goes – you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Another example would be hosting a webinar as a one-time event rather than the hub for a content marketing program. Instead of sending invitation emails to drive attendance, holding the event and then sending the link to the archived recording and stopping – they need to integrate that program with other channels.
The transcript for the webinar could become an eBook or white paper. Several points made in the webinar could spawn blog posts. A Q&A post could be developed from the questions asked at the end of the program. Several 3-5 minute slidecasts can be pulled from the webinar recording, plus a few 2-minute podcasts. The slide deck can be posted on SlideShare and embedded in a blog post.
The possibilities are huge for creating content consistency across channels. Given the various methods, devices and platforms that prospects use to engage with companies, marketers need to pay more attention to how they all work together.
I challenge them to go look at all the places where their content is available to see if the experience is consistent and credible across all of them—telling the same umbrella story as a whole.