In this Forbes article, “Content Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret,” Patrick Spenner, Managing Director of the CEB’s Marketing & Communications Practice, expresses his concern about the amount of content required for a targeted campaign. If you are targeting four personas, he estimates it would require 720 pieces to speak to every persona in multiple channels over the course of a year. As a result, he fears marketers are sacrificing quantity for quality.
Here’s the conundrum: Spenner is at the 20-mile mark in the content marketing marathon, while too many marketers haven’t even reached the starting point. Consider this statistic from the 2012 MarketingSherpa Lead Generation Benchmark Report (free excerpt):
To develop 720 pieces of content without any formal lead generation strategy is like attempting to run a marathon with only one shoe. You’re not going to go far; one doesn’t work without the other.
Furthermore, to draw the analogy out to excruciating lengths, it’s like expecting a first-place finish from someone who trained by planting herself on a couch and eating bonbons for a year.
A lesson on pacing yourself
That’s why, when Tracie Manor told me how she moved forward this year with the first-time efforts of her content marketing and lead nurturing for SICK, a manufacturing company, I couldn’t wait to share her story. The public relations, advertising and communications editor is:
- Starting off slow and testing to make sure she’s heading in the right direction
- Proving to her leadership that content marketing works
She’s accomplishing this with whitepapers: not 720 of them, not even 20, but just 12 – one whitepaper a month for 12 months. Get this: Each whitepaper has produced the same number of leads, if not more, as a trade show, but at less than 10% of the investment.
Manor is looking forward to measuring the quality of these leads, but it’s too early to tell.
“We haven’t gotten that far down the road yet., but we’re definitely going to look at the type of lead and see if there are better leads coming from whitepapers. All of these things factor into the marketing mix when you’re deciding where to put your money,” she explains.
Here are the basic steps she took to begin her foray into content marketing:
Step #1: Review existing content. SICK’s material was heavily product focused and had a global perspective, as SICK is a German company. She wanted to base content on the needs of the company’s North American customers, so Manor knew she would have to create content. She chose whitepapers because of their educational nature and ability to reinforce the organization’s expertise.
Step #2: Gather ideas. Manor met with division managers and sales managers – those who were on the front lines with the customer – to find out customers’ most common complaints, problems, issues and challenges.
Step #3: Refine them. Manor polished these rough ideas by meeting individually with product managers. From these conversations, she developed highly detailed whitepaper outlines.
Step #4: Think forward. “In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about what kind of lead we would like to get back. ‘Do we want to receive a lead back that is at the 50,000-foot level or the 5,000-foot level?’” Manor explains. “This helps formulate the direction of the whitepaper.”
Step #5: Identify writers. Even though Manor is an editor and has a journalism background, she didn’t have the bandwidth to write the whitepapers herself. So, she needed subject-matter experts who could write well.
She prefers technical journalists over internal engineers.
“If you have an engineer who has the time, (and) can write a compelling, non-biased whitepaper that isn’t so technical that most people can’t understand them, you have a rare commodity,” she says.
“Journalists, on the other hand, are accustomed to writing documents that are non-biased and educational. They know how to do research and ask the right questions,” Manor continues. “They bring another level of expertise that you’re likely not going to get with an internal engineer.”
To find subject matter experts in SICK’s industry – sensors, safety systems and automatic identification products for industrial applications – Manor turned to the trade magazines where her company regularly advertises. She sought out writers who:
- Demonstrate expertise as whitepaper authors.
“Always ask for samples,” she advises. “Just because someone can write an article doesn’t mean they know how to write a whitepaper.”
- Demonstrate expertise in the topic.
“To write about machine safety, for instance, you have to find someone who is expert because there are so many regulations and standards; they need to be familiar with those. You also don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s safety,” she explains. “It’s imperative the writer knows the industry extremely well.”
Step #6: Provide a detailed outline. Manor emphasizes, again, that it should point to what kind of lead you want to get back.
“Make it very clear that while you will appreciate any sort of industry knowledge they can provide and perhaps additional ideas for an introduction, they are not to go off topic,” she points out.
Manor learned this the hard way when a whitepaper veered off in a total different direction, and she had to rewrite it.
“Now I’m crystal clear on the direction and the target audience,” she says.
Step #7: Set limits. Manor limits whitepaper length to 1,200 to 1,500 words for which she pays $1 to $1.50 per word.
“We feel three pages or less are more easily digestible; the reader won’t bail out before the end.”
Here’s an example: Easily Solve Three Common Quality Control Problems in Packaging with Vision Sensors
Step #8: Distribute it even without (gasp!) a marketing automation tool or the perfect CRM software. Here, Manor once again turns to trade publications that send an email to targeted subscribers inviting them to check out the whitepaper.
While Manor’s approach isn’t as sexy or by-the-book as 720 pieces of content sent by marketing automation to four personas over several months, it does make content marketing accessible for the 75% of marketers who are struggling with the concept of lead nurturing and content strategy.
Manor is using tools and resources she already knows and has; she didn’t want to wait for the money to get marketing automation tools or hundreds of pieces of fresh content. And, chances are, considering the realities of this marketplace, it would have been tough to sell this to her leaders without proof that the investment would pay back.
Thanks to her whitepaper campaign, however, she’s off and running, gathering proof that content marketing pays off, and she couldn’t be happier.
“When I learned about the intricacies of lead nurturing at the MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011, I couldn’t wait to get started,” she recalls. “I was so pumped! It was like, ‘Wow! Marketing can finally prove how it’s directly impacting sales revenue.’”