Feeding Social: A Collaborative Effort

Companies everywhere are trying to harness the amplification and audience-building powers of social media. As social business gets more entrenched, companies are on the hot seat to consistently generate standout content that informs, engages and nurtures the learning (and buying) cycle. This has led to a dramatic rise in investments in content marketing.

To win the time and attention of its target audience, content must be informative and educational. To create great content, companies must build a culture of content and dismantle job role knowledge siloes in favor of collaboration to discover and build an arsenal of content that actually helps customers with their challenges.

According to the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends 2015 report, B2B businesses are turning to the following social media channels to gain traction:


Those surveyed reported the following rates of social network effectiveness for each channel:

A Cluttered Content World

Chase McMichael from Infinigraph shares what happens in a typical Internet minute now:


It can be overwhelming when you consider the amount of noise that your content will compete against to win the time and attention of your prospective customer. In this piece about essentials of successful content, KISSMetrics talks about how content must supply answers to customer questions. Content that answers the questions your prospects are typing into search engines is an important dimension, but you can also take this further based on internal company investigation.

You can start by asking your sales team, “What are the questions that prospects and customers ask you?” And, “Are there common, recurring challenges for the industries or types of businesses we serve?” Work within your company to find and articulate the patterns because they provide important clues to what kind of content will be worth curating and sharing, as well as creating. Once published and shared, content that educates, like a company blog post, can have a long digital life as it works to attract visitors and search engines to your site.

Harvesting the Knowledge Wealth Within

Experts exist in every part of your company and have much to contribute, but it’s often up to the content strategist to help them realize they are the keepers of such great information. John Bell talks about a number of great strategies you can use to encourage your internal experts to be part of the collaboration process. When developing and nurturing internal thought leadership, it’s important to find ways to motivate your internal voices. Empower them to share articles and information they would normally only share within their department or with a few potential customers.

Here are some questions you can ask colleagues to discover which forms of content your company should be investing in:


  • In your sales calls with customers or prospective customers, what are the most common topics of discussion? Sometimes you can find informative content on these hot topics on your company web site, but other times it will need to be created.
  • What resources or tools do you send to prospects to help educate them about how the company offering can help solve the challenges they face? Research from the Corporate Executive Board Company shows B2B buyers are 57% of the way through the purchase cycle before they actually pick up the phone to talk with sales. Sales tools can be repurposed into content for your web site.
  • Do you ever send 3rd party materials (like analyst reports or industry studies) to add context and information that helps customers navigate the solution marketplace? If the answer is yes, you should link to these and reference them in content you develop.
  • What sorts of materials do customers tell you are the most helpful? Are there specific formats they prefer or find easiest to digest (for example, white papers, short videos or infographics)? Where, why and how your customers spend their time and what they use to make decisions should guide your content strategy.

Product Management

  • Who are the experts in the industry whose work you follow? Why do you follow them? What is important and relevant about their work and ideas? What others find inspiring may also help your target customers.
  • Do these experts bring up topics that engage you to write a rebuttal or respond with a different or opposite perspective? What moves you to take part in a debate may also be important to your customers. This is a clue that you should use to keep a pulse on these industry hot buttons. The instincts of experienced professionals are invaluable!


  • Are customer questions being recorded? Common questions may be turned into useful marketing content for the company—for example webinars, white papers or blog posts.

Good content begins with taking stock of the wealth of information you have within. Employees are a company’s most precious asset—value them and invite them in to collaborate, be recognized and share what they know. The content you create will demonstrate their value and keep interest in your company high because its value is readily available on social channels.

Communicating Under Pressure

One of the fastest ways a company stands out from the crowd (for better or for worse) is how they communicate with the world when facing difficult circumstances. The tone that is set during these challenging times will resonate far and wide.

It is likely that your company will experience a delicate situation at some point in the future. (Perhaps you’ve already been through one.) What’s most important is how you communicate internally — with your executive team, other company leadership, and your employees. It is this tone that will then be conveyed outside your company, so you want to be sure to do a great job communicating internally before doing anything else.

Rumors of layoffs, potential buyouts, and pending lawsuits can spread like wildfire through your organization. Those rumors are often more frightening than the situation itself. Honest, clear communication from company leadership can put a halt to speculation and ease fears that may otherwise halt productivity and focus.

Yes, at times the details are classified or confidential. But if an information leak has occurred, it is better to devise a communications strategy before the news spirals out of your control. Rumors flying around internally soon make it outside of your company walls, and the media can disseminate the information — whether it is true or not — faster than you can contain it.

After communicating what you can with your teams, relaying a unified and thoughtful message to the rest of the world becomes priority. Your investor and public relations departments will be key in crafting and then communicating your message. Press releases, media alerts, television or radio interviews, blog posts, and social media, when used properly, can all relay your message quickly and clearly.

Honesty and transparency mixed with some tact and thoughtful compassion is a great formula for setting the tone of your message.

Accessibility, willingness to communicate, and reasonable response times can halt negative reactions and criticism.

Setting expectations appropriately and then meeting those expectations keeps trust in tact. (It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver!)

When a sensitive situation arises, balance out your speed of response with the time it takes to craft a thoughtful response. A hasty reaction without considering all of the potential impacts it may have is a mistake. The phrase, “slow is steady, steady is smooth, smooth is fast” is a good one to remember here!

Above all else, remember that you’re dealing with people and their lives. The situation you’re handling will have an impact on your employees and your customers. By being willing to put the people first, ahead of the company, you’ll gain loyalty and trust.

Let me give you an example.

The popular investment show Shark Tank recently featured a small home-grown business run by a young couple. They literally ran their business out of their garage, had no employees, and made many of their products by hand. They received a rather large investment from one of the “Sharks” and the moment their episode aired on TV, they sold out of every bit of product they had in stock.

Even factoring in the show’s estimated increase in business based off of past companies’ experiences, they surpassed those estimates by over 100%. They had to scale, and quickly! The holiday season was approaching, they had tens of thousands of new customers, and they simply could not keep up with demand.

What did they do? They communicated! They communicated often. It was with honesty, integrity, and compassion. They did their very best to ramp up production, hire a team, set up multiple manufacturing and fulfillment partnerships, train an entire customer service department, and handle the overwhelming response to their product.

Were they perfect at this process? Absolutely not. Some of the promises they made still weren’t met, they still had a large amount of unhappy customers, and it took them a number of months to get on their feet. But through it all they communicated with grace. When they were all caught up, they sent out an apology email with a large discount coupon for a future purchase. I’m certain they retained most of their new customers.

No company knows exactly what is coming around the next corner. No team or individual will always make the right decision in how to communicate during a crisis. However, making wise communication a priority during the tough times will strengthen your relationship with your employees and your customers. It is absolutely essential to success.

Communicating Effectively with YOUR Audience

In a prior blog post, I discussed the fine line between keeping your company communications professional, yet personal.  I suggested that high-quality communications are a positive representation of your company, and a personal touch can really help to draw in your audience so that they make a connection with your company.  This balance is extremely important to maintain and can make a big difference in your marketing efforts.

Today, I’d like to take this a step further and talk about how to communicate effectively with your target audience.  All too often, companies miss the mark when talking about their products and services by not realizing that their audience may not have enough background knowledge to understand their technical terminology.  Even though your engineers and scientists may be able to explain company concepts most accurately, it’s important to “translate” this information into common, everyday language.

Here are a few keys to keep in mind:

  • Acronyms can be exhausting.  Even though the employees of your company may have them down pat, you cannot expect your customers to remember all of your acronyms.  If you are going to use them, be sure to define them clearly and often.  Limit the number of different acronyms you use.  Focus on the most important ones, and build recognition by repetition.
  • Internal company lingo or made-up words are cool, but they can also be confusing!  If you’re trying to get a new word to pick up traction with your target market, be sure to introduce it in a clever way and use repetition to make the word stick.  Eventually, it will hold some value – if you position it correctly.
  • Use examples, especially ones that give your audience a mental picture of what you’re talking about.  Some people learn best by visualizing.  Photographs, diagrams, and videos do a great job of saying a lot in a short amount of time.  A picture is worth a thousand words!
  • Step outside the box.  Or rather, step outside of your company’s four walls – and into the shoes of your audience!  A marketing or sales pitch that makes perfect sense during an internal planning meeting may not make a lot of sense to a stranger on the street.  (Have you ever seen a commercial that just made absolutely no sense to you, or was so off-the-wall that it actually made you not want to buy the product or service?  That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.)  Do your research, test out your pitches on your target audience, and listen to their feedback.  It can be very valuable.
  • Ask for help.  Find someone on your team who is really good at taking technical, difficult-to-understand concepts, products, and terms, and have them help write the “everyday language” version of the information.  This person should be involved with your marketing and public relations team as well.  Then, leave it to the experts!  Your marketing team (whether internal or external) will be able to communicate your information even more clearly.  Often times it helps to have someone not associated with the company do the majority of your writing.  Because they have to first understand and grasp your concepts in order to write about them, they do a great job of putting it in a way that anyone will understand.

If you keep these tips in mind when preparing your sales and marketing communications, you will certainly notice a better response from your audience which will translate into more success for your company.  Not only do we want to keep our communications personal enough to be engaging and professional enough to garner respect, but we also want to speak appropriately and effectively to our audience.  Stay tuned for more communication tips in the future!

What is Communication?

com·mu·ni·ca·tion [kuh-myoo-ni-key-shuh n] noun

  1. the act or process of communicating
  2. the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs
  3. a connecting route, passage, or link; a joining or connecting

Communication is one of the single most vital aspects of running a successful business. Great communication draws people in, informs them, and helps them engage in what you’re trying to accomplish. Poor communication drives rifts (often times irreparable) between companies and customers.

Communication is “the act or process of communicating.”

It is an “act” or a “process” – it requires deliberate action. Communication doesn’t just happen on its own. It requires careful planning and preparation, such as developing key messaging and a story that can be told, or putting together an elevator speech for that perfect once-in-a-lifetime moment you have to pitch your big idea. It includes crafting honest and genuine responses to questions, complaints, and criticisms that may come your way, and planning ways to say “thank you” to those loyal fans and followers who support you no matter what. Communication is deliberate.

Communication is “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information…”

Communication is freely giving information to others. It requires anticipating those questions or concerns that you may receive, and providing answers before the question is even asked. It is sharing the details that go into why a decision is made or how you developed your idea. It is letting people in and trusting them with the details. And it is being brave enough to accept the flow of thoughts and opinions back to you, and then addressing that information.

Communication happens “…by speech, writing, or signs.”

I’d like to add that it also happens with behavior patterns, facial expressions, and what is not said. Companies communicate with press releases and press conferences, with magazine articles and televised interviews, with corporate filings and radio shows. They also communicate with blog posts, public forum responses, and Twitter and Facebook updates. Company spokespeople communicate with their body language, similes or sighs, and savvy avoidance of certain questions, too. They even communicate certain things by their style of dress, or the company culture that is portrayed on a website or in photos.

Finally, communication is “a connecting route, passage, or link; a joining or connecting.”

Communication is the way in which we reach our audience. It is how we relate to them, connect with them, and draw them in. It’s how we gain a team of loyal customers and followers who turn into spokespeople and brand ambassadors. Communication connects the business world to our personal lives, and makes others feel a part of the solution to the problem, or part of the team accomplishing the mission.

The way in which company leadership communicates with their Board of Directors, their executive team and managers, their employees, their shareholders, their customers, and their prospective customers sets the tone. Is there clear, open, two-way communication between leadership and workers at the company? Is there clear, open, two-way communication between the company and its customers?

If the answer to those two questions is not a resounding YES, then a communications check-up may be in order. Some people are fantastic at leading, motivating, rallying, and steering a company in the right direction. Others are fantastic at planning, structuring, engineering, and developing the products to sell. And other people are truly fantastic at planning and implementing that “connecting route” of communication that allows a company to gather loyal employees and loyal customers. Make sure you have those communicators on your team! They can help you set the tone that is appropriate for your company and then convey that tone to the world.

High-Tech Start-Up: How to Attract Investors & Prepare for the First VC Meeting


When preparing for meetings with VCs to hopefully gain funding your high-tech start-up, it is important to understand your audience.  VCs are investment bankers.  They all want to know:

  • What is the likelihood that they will get a return on their investment?
  • When will they get a return on their investment?
  • How much will that return on investment be?

VCs review hundreds and thousands of companies to make just a few investments each year.  Here are the 5 top criteria they evaluate to decide whether or not to invest.

  1. Competitive Differentiation.  All VCs want to know in the first few minutes of the meeting exactly what you do and what makes it both unique and compelling.  This is more than just an elevator pitch.  It must be framed with the competitive landscape in the select target market(s).  If you are unable to articulate this clearly and succinctly, they will tune out and start checking their watches.
  2. Team.  Once the VCs believe that your offering is compelling, their second question is whether the company can execute.  Ideally, they look for a complete senior management team who have worked together before and have been successful in a start-up before.  It’s the very reason that it’s so hard to get funded for the first time.  Though you may not meet all these criteria, you must convince them that you have assembled a team that can make this happen.
  3. Traction.  VCs expect that you will have much more than a demo or proof of concept.  Whether your offering is B2B or B2C, they want to see a significant number of existing customers or users.  They expect your company to be generating and growing revenue over time.   Without traction it is nearly impossible to get funded.  Significant traction immediately reduces their risk, makes them more likely to invest and improves your terms.
  4. Market Opportunity.    VCs love money, so the bigger the opportunity, seemingly the better.  Not always the case.  Many focus on niche plays rather than broad plays so they can minimize risk.  In contrast, CEOs know that it’s just as much work to run a company whether the opportunity is small or big, so they tend to think big.  If you do have a broad play offering, capture a target market or market a subset of the offering to illustrate ROI.  For example, WebEx was built as a revolutionary communication platform, but monetized it by selling a conferencing service.
  5.  Time and Money.  VCs want to see that friends and family believe in you and your company and have provided an initial seed round.  They want to know exactly why you are raising a specific amount of money for the “A” round and how exactly that money will be spent.  When will that initial round run out?   What will you do then?  When will the company become profitable?  What is the exit strategy?  When will we get our money back?

There will be more preparation for your first meeting.  You will need to submit an executive summary and perhaps a slide deck that will include the above and more.  You should be prepared to demonstrate your offering at the meeting.  Submit the materials in advance, and make sure that in the meeting that you are hard hitting on the 5 items that matter most to investors!

Increasing the Quality of Company Communications (Without Losing Your Personal Touch)

In this blog post, Carrie Brooks, a nationally recognized Merit Scholar and communications professional with a bachelor degree from University of Central Florida, Rosen College, highlights keys to keeping business messaging both interesting and professional.  Carrie has recently joined the Attain Marketing team and will be providing public relations program support as well as uncovering new strategic opportunities for our clients.  Welcome to the team, Carrie!

There is a fine line that must be walked when attempting to produce written communications or give verbal presentations that are both professional and personal.  It is far too easy to stray too far in one direction or the other – professional to the point of being dull and “boring” or so personal to the point of… well… missing the point entirely.  Let’s consider some things to keep in mind while developing company communications that can both catch your audience’s attention AND convey a professional message.

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

-Vince Lombardi

Years ago I worked for a small investor and public relations firm.  It was the most unique and demanding work experience I’ve ever had.  One of the rules in our firm was that the CEO of the company must be copied on every email (yes, every single email) that left the confines of our office walls.  In addition, our CEO demanded absolute perfection – in spelling, grammar, and (most importantly) how we said what we needed to say.  The first time I was summoned to her office to explain (defend) why I wrote a particular email, I quickly came to the realization that she actually did find time to read every message.

You can certainly imagine that this rule made us think long and hard about everything we wrote and usually made us sweat a little before we clicked the “Send” button.  If we had to communicate something particularly sensitive to a client, it was much easier for us to pick up the phone and make a call than to stand up to our CEO’s scrutiny over how we wrote our message.  In the moment, it was very intimidating.  Looking back – it was brilliant!

What did this teach us?  Quite a few things:

  • Quality – The quality of our written communications had to be at its very best, all the time, without exception.  This included our grammar and spelling, use of language, and consistency with formatting and messaging.
  • Necessity – This method kept us from reacting too quickly as situations arose.  We had to really think it through before we sent off an email, and we stayed very clear and to the point when we did.  Unnecessary messages were not sent.  Ever.
  • Permanence – We were reminded that anything we put in writing could always be used against us, or at least could always be referenced again in the future.  Therefore, we had to stand behind what we wrote – 100%.  Written communication that travels across the Internet is permanent.

In later years, I was able to apply these same principles to verbal communications as well, specifically when giving presentations to a live audience.  The bottom line: content for print and verbal distribution really can be entertaining and interesting while still maintaining a high degree of quality and excellence.

Specific Keys for Written Communications

  • Keep the quality high.  Attention to detail in writing is extremely important.  First impressions come across in writing just as much as they do in person.
  • Have a trusted colleague look over your work.  Make good use of track changes, comments, and other collaboration features in your software.  Sometimes a hard copy with a red pen and a highlighter is the best method!
  • Don’t be afraid to use punctuation to your advantage when trying to add a personal touch.  There’s nothing wrong with adding in (a few) unique punctuation marks that compliment your personal communication style… you’ve already seen quite a few in this blog post.
  • There are many ways to break up a whole page full of text to make it more interesting to read, such as quote boxes, bulleted lists, and unique page formatting.  Use them!

Specific Keys for Verbal Presentations

  • Be clear.  Clear messaging coupled with clear diction will help your audience follow along attentively and stay engaged.  Audience engagement, such as a show of hands or a response to a question, can be extremely valuable.
  • Open up with an attention-getter – a story, an incident, or something else that your audience can relate to.  At times, even a joke may be appropriate.  (Consider your audience carefully when deciding how to open.)
  • Remember, in most cases, it’s not about “you” or “your story” as much as it is about the company you represent – so you must find a way to tell the company’s story in a personal way without making it about you.
  • Many times a verbal presentation is supported by a slide show presentation.  There are various opinions on how simple or complex slides should be, but something to always remember is that you don’t want your audience so distracted by your slides that they tune out what you’re saying.  Slides are there to enhance your message.  When in doubt, keep it simple!

Clear, quality communications are a representation of your company and your people.  Taking care to think through what you write or say is a valuable tool in putting your best foot forward and representing your company well.  Perfection in this category is certainly impossible to attain, but excellence is something we can all strive for.  Adding a personal touch helps your audience connect with your business, so keep that balance in mind – professional communications with a personal touch is always a win for your company!

Test Your Value Proposition in 3 Simple Steps

A surefire approach to increasing sales!

Prospective customers all want the answer to the same exact question; what do you do and how do you do it better than your competitors?  Every sales representative or distribution channel for your business needs to clearly articulate the value proposition to each target market.

Marketers spend hours, days and weeks in workshops and meetings to carefully develop the perfect elevator pitch.  Then, the company prepares messaging, presentations, campaigns and more to test their theories.  This process is not only time consuming but typically yields at best “hit or miss” results.

Isn’t there a simpler, surefire way to get it right?  Yes, with these 3 simple steps:

1. Create a competitive matrix for each target market.

  • Company profiles, i.e. revenue, locations, # employees, # customers, target markets, sales distribution channels, partner strategies, service and support.
  • Company offerings, i.e. key features, functionality, ease of use, ease of deployment, delivery mechanism, security, pricing.

2. Develop a customer satisfaction survey with open-end and closed questions.

OPEN:  What problem do you solve for them?  How do they use your offering?  Why did they select you versus your competitors?   What do they like about your offering, what don’t they like?  What improvements would they like to see?   What do they like or not like about your company, support, and service?

CLOSED: Can you stack rank certain features/ functionality of the offering?  Do you see certain features or functionality as unique?  Can you rank your overall customer experience?  Can you grade specific service or support calls?

3. Interview your existing customer base

Your best source of feedback, validation or refinement of your competitive advantage/value proposition is right at your feet: your existing customers.  They have already been through the sales process with your company and your competitors, and they selected you!  They are typically friendly, knowledgeable and willing to share the information you need most.  Ask for just 15 minutes and mention that you will be using the feedback to make improvements for them.  Evaluate your results carefully, because existing customers will teach you exactly how to market and sell to new customers, and we all seek the best approach to acquire new customers.

The good news here is that the existing customer base is the lowest cost and most effective way for marketing leaders to corroborate or better articulate competitive differentiators and value propositions.  In fact, listening to existing customers, prospects and targets, keeping your ear to the ground continuously, is the very best way to achieve your goals.

So, what if you don’t have an existing customer base?  Obviously there is the focus group approach, on-line or in person.  Choose a group that is currently using a competitor and ask why.  Ask them the same feature/functionality questions, pricing questions that you would ask an existing customer.  The more narrow and focused your approach, the better the results.

Good luck and good selling!

Industry Association Success: 5 Steps to a Winning Value Proposition

This week’s Persuasive Marketing Blog Post features marketing veteran, Susan Lowe, who has a rich background in helping start-ups and big-league companies, like Microsoft, HP, Toshiba, Juniper Networks and Logitech, establish and maintain effective industry alliances and associations.  In this article, Susan shares great tips that will help alliances develop a meaningful value proposition — which is a key foundation for marketing success.

There are few things more critical to the success of an association (profit or non-profit) than a well-defined value proposition.  Before any messaging or marketing communications plans are created, the value proposition must be developed and tested.  While there is much written about the importance of value propositions, defining one is not always an easy exercise — and for that reason this step in the strategic marketing processes is typically poorly executed or worse skipped completely. Don’t shy away from the task.  Your ability to articulate a clear and resonating value proposition will ultimately define your level of success (or failure).

The importance of a well-defined industry association value proposition

Whether the association is in the planning stages, growth phase or is an on going organization, it is important to define the value proposition for both the retention and recruitment of members.  Remember that the cost of membership is not only annual dues it also includes commitment of company resources (may be business, engineering or marketing), investment of time and potentially the company’s brand image.  For such investment, the value proposition must convey to a potential member that by joining they are ensured greater success and will be a part of something material then if they had not joined at all.

5 Steps to defining your association’s value proposition

A good value proposition can be articulated in a sentence or two, no more than ten words.  Most important, it should be specific, clear and concise. 

  1. Form a Committee.  The committee should include key board members, advisory council members, and functional VPs.  Don’t make it too large, 5-8 is a good number.  Have someone from marketing participate on the committee which should help with writing the value proposition.
  2. Schedule Committee Meetings.   These meetings should focus only on defining the Value Proposition.  Don’t try to cover other business at the same meeting.  Limit distractions.Plan that the entire process will most likely take several meetings and set aside 3 hours for the first meeting.  After the first meeting, you will have a good idea of the time needed for subsequent meetings.
  3. Prepare in Advance.  Before the first meeting, have committee members do some up front work and prepare responses to the following questions.  It will help make your meeting more productive and make better use of the time.
    • What is your association good at doing?  What is your specialty?
    • Clearly define the target membership and their needs and wants.  You may have different targets that should align with different membership levels.  Each target should be defined and may have unique value propositions.
    • What need is the organization filling in the industry?  What problem is it trying to solve?
    • Are there other organizations that are in the same space?  Who are the competitors and what are they good at?  What sets your association apart from them and what is distinctive about what you offer members and the industry?
    • If you have a Value Proposition, does it still hold true?  And is there a perceived value at each membership level?
    • Will a member or potential member company be at a disadvantage if they do not join your association?  Will they be able to influence more and succeed quicker if a member?
  4. Test.  This is a key step. On-line questionnaires, surveys and interviews and are good ways to see if the value proposition resonates with your members.
  5. Communicate.  Once the Value Proposition is defined and tested, marketing can create launch plans, develop messages, key benefits statements, communications and member retention and recruitment programs.

Seven Digital Truths for Content Marketers

For this week’s blog post, long time colleague, friend and content marketing expert, Rachel Medanic, is back again to help our readers overcome the challenges of delivering on a robust and engaging content marketing plan for 2013.  Rachel has been a marketing pro for over 15 years and is currently is a Client Services Manager for PublishThis.

So you’ve started down the path of content marketing and tackled some of the low hanging fruit but are now experiencing an idea shortfall. Where do you turn to re-ignite your efforts? First, get perspective. Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs and Brightcove recently teamed up to produce some data driven insights now published in the 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America report. You are not alone:  volume, variety and quality of content are key areas where B2B marketers struggle. 64% say they can’t produce enough content, 52% struggle to create engaging content and 45% say maintaining variety is also a key challenge.

In October, I shared how marketers in every industry (B2C and B2B both) are being affected by the sharp rise in content marketing as a practice. Companies are becoming publishers to more effectively engage audiences. Here are some insights and observations to get you back on the idea generating track.

#1 Individuals are the content consumption baseline. Jeff Dachis, recently wrote for Ad Age, “You don’t build brands at people, you build brands with them.” People are savvy enough now to be offended by push marketing. Growing up in the 70s, the brands I recall that were pushed at me included things like print ads for vodka and Joe Camel cigarettes. Brands were most certainly being built at me, not for me. B2B marketers should focus on the similarities they share with B2C marketers because ultimately, relationships are built with individual people. And those people have the same content expectations that B2C target audiences do. Business audiences may rank content that informs higher, but “edutainment” (educational/informational/entertaining content) is definitely a way in.

#2 Whenever an online conversation is started, marketers—especially in small or mid-size companies—are now often responsible for responding. Marketing used to be built on the premise of content interrupting the target customer. But your target customer now has the power to interrupt your business with their voice. Should marketing really be responsible for answering? The job role lines have blurred over time, but what is clear is that whoever answers should engage the customer wherever they are (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, or some other online community). Provide a public, professional response in a reasonable time.

#3 Make your content an opportunity for customers and business partners to co-create something great. This summer, I participated in a flash mob with a local dance studio where I take classes. The event created something fun we could all engage around, escalated our brand loyalty to the business and built our sense of community. Leading up to the day of the mob, all the instructors integrated learning the choreography into their classes so that on mob day we became part of a surprise experience at one of the city’s biggest farmer’s markets. How can you create the digital equivalent of a “flash mob” for your business? Who can you get involved? Make sure everyone has skin in the game—figuratively speaking.

#4 Content should be free. SAP’s Michael Brenner articulates an important reminder for marketers, “Content is currency — something we trade for our audience’s attention. That currency becomes more valuable every time it’s shared by someone other than ourselves. If your business is providing content such as online education, find a way to offer some of it for free to entice the buyer—and make it shareable. Curb your pay walls and over-eager newsletter sign up splash screens. Trying to force a relationship can turn your audience away forever. If your audience feels your content is valuable, they will share it. They may even pay for it if they can’t get it anywhere else.

#5 Your content may be helping your audience make sense of their world. Big brands are turning to publishing and the technology for every company to become a publisher is definitely available. So why not watch what publishers themselves are doing? The New York Times (among many others) are using social sign-on to foster new dimensions of engagement on their web site. I can see the articles my Facebook friends have recently read and from this I learn more about my particular friend’s (name obscured in this visual) enthusiasm for this publisher (plus I’m also encouraged to go read what he or she read—one article closer to the 10 free articles per month pay wall). Facebook social sign-on has led the way in B2C. For B2B, Linkedin can be a great way to gather community around your content. If you don’t have your own online community, Linkedin Groups can be an excellent channel. Brainrider.com has a nice article on how to use Linkedin for your brand.

#6 Your content can be delightful! The famous DollarShaveClub.com example came to me through one of my favorite bloggers Rohit Bhargava. Have a laugh once, but then go back through and see how you’d re-script and adapt it to the essence of your own industry. What business pain points (no pun intended) can you “set the record straight” on? I’ll use  the hypothetical of a management consulting services as a challenging example. Is there a tongue-in-cheek video about some hypothetical C-suite leader who desperately needs your services? You can be creative and gentle. Your industry might be mired in stodigy content. If you’re willing to take the risk, the rewards for a fresh perspective can be great.


#7 Measure everything you possibly can. The number of shares, Likes, and Tweets, in addition to dwell time, return visits and clicks through to additional pages on your web site are good indicators of content engagement. Onlinebehavior.com has a video and writeup to get you thinking creatively about aspects of content marketing that you can actually measure.

#8 Beware the unintended! Usually I’m very receptive to companies creating content around adjacent customer interests. That’s exactly what 76 did. In my case, it had mixed results. I may not have been the target demographic. While fueling up recently at one of their gas stations, a sign advertising the latest in a series of mobile apps called “The Quiet Game” was above the pump. The game was positioned as ideal for my children to use in the car—because I have ears. “We’re on the driver’s side” read the tagline. All at once it struck me as weird, devious, and yet well-crafted content marketing.

The persona 76 constructed about my “driving life’s” adjacent problems (beyond needing gas), assumed I had a smart phone, kids and a need for silence—respite from mobile games in the car. So they created a silent app to replace what they assumed my kids were already using. What they got wrong is this:  my kid isn’t glued to a mobile device while in the car. For parents of whatever age children 76 is targeting, I still can’t decide if 76 is inadvertently insulting its target customer’s parenting skills by implying that their kids are glued to noisy games while in the car. I personally can’t overcome my hesitation to download an app from a gasoline company.

There are many more resources out there about how to do content marketing well. Here are some particularly good resources:

May great content be with you!

Sell Your Prospects by PowerPoint Slide 7: How to Create a Truly Powerful Sales Presentation

In this blog post, Susan Knorr, AgileValue Principal with over 20 years of experience in executive sales and marketing management, discusses PowerPoint sales presentation best practices and how to create a sales pitch that makes the most of that coveted one hour introductory meeting with prospective customers.

If your company relies on direct sales, indirect sales, conferences, events or webinars, chances are that PowerPoint presentations are still one of your go-to sales tools.  And yet for many prospects and customers, the very thought of sitting through another PowerPoint makes them cringe.  It’s even been dubbed “death by PowerPoint”.  The typical reasons come to mind; it’s too long; it’s boring; it’s not relevant.  Essentially, you didn’t even discuss how you can solve their problem until 45 minutes into the “sales pitch”.

More importantly, time is your only asset during a customer interaction.  Most customers will not provide more than one hour for an initial meeting.  And that hour had better not be completely consumed by the presentation and vendor doing all the talking.  If you don’t leave up to 30 minutes for the customer to talk, describe their needs, and provide feedback, it’s highly likely you will lose the deal.

The sales presentation best practices below provide a specific time structure and framework for an introductory PowerPoint presentation that will be truly compelling to your prospects.

First, the specific time structure.  The time it takes to deliver the pitch without any Q/A cannot exceed 30 minutes.  This leaves 15 minutes at the beginning for introductions and basic discovery of the customer’s perceived problem.  And this leaves another 15 minutes that can be used after the presentation for Q/A, feedback, and next steps.

Second, the slide deck must be short. This one is just 10 slides.  The goal is to get your prospects nodding and agreeing that you can solve their problem, better than your competitors, by slide 7.  If you do this in just 20 minutes, you have all that time to get to know your customer, their problem(s), the organization, and exactly how the decision will be made.  Now that beats listening to yourself talk, or more importantly, losing your customer’s attention and interest.

  1. Cover:  Typically this includes your name, your company name, your prospect company name, the date.  Use this time to NOT read the slide.  Instead, give your prospect a preview into the competitive advantage of your offering and its value proposition in their specific industry.   In other words, tell them “what you are going to tell them”.  Get their interest and attention.
  2. Company Facts:  This summarizes when founded, HQ location and offices, # employees, funding, # customers.  If yours is a small company, prospects will certainly want to know the stage of the company, size and viability.  If yours is a major corporation, prospects will want to know about how successful you have been in their specific industry.
  3. Market Overview:  Show the key markets your company serves.  Focus on your prospect’s industry.  Review the specific problem(s) you solve in their market and the benefits attained.
  4. Customer logos:  Display your marquee customers and partners for each key market. Talk about how specific customers, preferably in your prospect’s industry, have used and benefited from the offering.  Provide insight into the reasons your company was selected instead of your competitors without naming them.
  5. Offering: In one slide it’s important to list key features and functionality.  Review these, but focus on the ones that differentiate your offering and support your unique value proposition.
  6. How it works:  This slide should give insight into how your company’s offering is deployed, delivered, and used.
  7. Value proposition:  Your prospect has the basic facts now.  Map your offering, delivery and usage to the unique value proposition. Remember, while your value proposition can remain the same, its usage and benefits can vary.  For example, in geo-location services, the unique value proposition is that your offering can determine, with more accuracy than your competitors, the “likelihood” that a web visitor is at the same location as their device IP address.  This could be used for targeted marketing, on-line security, fraud prevention, or content distribution.  The benefits differ, but the unique value proposition remains the same.
  8. What the offering looks like:  This could be screen shots or pictures, but it should focus on visualization, prior to a demo.  It’s like buying a car.  I must visualize myself in the car first. Then I will want a test drive.
  9. Service, Support, Professional Services:  Be sure to let your prospect know exactly how they will be supported should they sign on the dotted line.
  10. Questions?

So let me encourage you to give this a try.  Instill confidence in your prospects so they will prefer to do business with you and your company.  Be specific and knowledgeable about their industry and their unique problems. Keep the thread of your value proposition, competitive advantage, and its proven benefits throughout the PowerPoint presentation, and it will be powerful!

Good luck and good selling!