Content marketing starts with a customer-first approach


In my opinion, marketing all starts with good content and being smarter about your approach on what you do with it. Here is a link to my post at, an agency that solves problems for local businesses.

Three content marketing basics every business can do right now

Use what you’ve learned about customer habits and behaviors to guide your social media updates, offline networking, website strategy and search engine optimization (SEO) approach. Minor changes such as solving a problem for people will lead to more and happier customers. Find ways to smartly connect with customers based on what you learn.

Top three takeaways for B2B social media

The Explore Minneapolis conference was a B2B social media confab.

I along with several colleagues from Fusionfarm, an advertising and marketing agency in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recently took a trek up north to Explore Minneapolis, a B2B social media confab.

Since I’m relatively new to the social media for business game, at least from a professional standpoint, I want to share some of my top takeaways.

It all starts with content marketing

Leave it to the owner of a fiberglass pool company to sum up content strategy and content marketing into as few words as possible.

“They ask. You answer,” says Marcus Sheridan, who also is the author of the free eBook Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy.

His basic philosophy on content marketing boils down to this: Take every question you ever get from a potential client and turn it into a blog post or article on your site. It’s OK to talk about your problems and always address pricing. Don’t let a visitor leave your website without the critical information they need, Sheridan said.

The reasoning is simple. Clients are no longer making the decision about spending money with your business when you meet them in the conference room. They’ve decided long before that based on the information they’ve discovered.

Sheridan has it broken down for his pool business. If a potential customer visits at least 30 pages on his website, he has an 82 percent chance of converting that person into a sale.

How many businesses know that number for themselves?

Audit and adapt often

“Always be optimizing and auditing,” says Jolina Pettice.

“Always be optimizing” was the quote from Jolina Pettice, the director of client accounts for TopRank Online Marketing.

Social media is 24/7, and so are your potential customers.Today’s marketers are not like the Don Drapers of the world where everything was about the creative. Today, marketing is about technology, social media, writing, websites, mobile sites, etc., and figuring out the best way to monitor and optimize those for leads.

Setting goals is a given in any campaign, whether its your own or for a client. Analyzing and adapting to what you learn can set you apart. It’s called follow-through.

Pettice, in her talk in Minneapolis, emphasized the importance of the campaign audit. Tweaks to code, calls to action and keyword terms based on what’s working. Changing content techniques based on referrals to targeted pages. Discovering what is most shared across social channels.

“A marketers job is never done,” she said.

Measure ROI consistently and know how to communicate it

A study cited at the Explore Minneapolis event says that 73 percent of executives think marketers don’t understand business objectives.

“If you want to explain your job and get more in your budget to do it, then speak ROI in executive language,” said Nichole Kelly, who I am paraphrasing. Kelly is the President of SME Digital.

To take that further, Kelly emphasized the need to know your audience and how to effectively communicate ROI to it. Executives, for example, care about sales volume, revenue and cost. Others have a different view. Cater the message since the landscape of understand social media is so varied.

We know social media is a tool for businesses to grow. Tailor the RIO message so its best heard accurately.

Links & Resources

On digital product management

Product management for the web as explained brilliantly by Kristofer Layton:

“For the web, product management bridges the gap between leadership and customers on one side, and the user experience, content strategy, design, and development team on the other. Product managers develop and maintain close relationships with customers and colleagues that help them identify and plan for new product or product enhancement opportunities. Product managers express these opportunities as user stories and present them to the UX, writing, design, and development members of the team, who then identify and produce solutions to address the user stories.”

On reaching critical mass

Great quote from Dalton Caldwell.

Social networking tech press reminds me of The Three Stooges. Pretty much every day we get to read about Moe, Larry, & Curly poking and slapping each other with growth & engagement metrics. It’s entertaining, but the entire discourse is centered on who among them can build the most profitable-seeming vanity metrics from the perspective of Wall Street and advertisers.

Critical mass vs network effects

Media companies would benefit from more product development

This morning, I read Alan Mutter’s post on “A digital publishing model that works” and what stood out above all is the need for more solid product development at media companies.

Mutter thoughtfully analyzes the revenue and audience development success of LinkedIn via a digital publishing strategy compared with newspaper job classified verticals.

“While newspapers stuck with the classic model of putting job ads in front of thousands of people in hopes of matching employers with job seekers, LinkedIn leverages the full power of digital publishing to identify ideal candidates for employers – even when they’re not looking for jobs,” Mutter writes.

It’s no secret that the media industry has a tradition of slow and often closed-off reactions to market changes around once monopolized revenue streams. I happen to work in a market with a strong jobs vertical, which is atypical of many media organizations. It won’t be long before market winds create enough inertia to move audience and revenue elsewhere, I fear. Marketplace, autos and real-estate dollars were lost in the past decade by shifting from mass market penetration to innovative, audience driven solutions with targeted advertising and content models. Media companies were slow or didn’t react at all. And the obituary revenue model shift is likely happening now or coming soon, along with others.

So, what can be done? Well, I argue media companies need to invest in product development, and ideally people with a background in ecommerce and digital publishing.

There are many reasons why I feel this way. Here are three:

To balance audience-driven solutions with customer-driven solutions – It’s a balancing act that media companies have a hard tradition to overcome. In the past, advertisers drove many product decisions. Now, if the product or service is not solving a problem for the audience or creating remarkable experiences the revenue and the users won’t be there. This means actually talking and listening to users and customers before a product is put in the market.

To analyze and react to the vast amount of available data – Product developers love to react to data. Data helps create meaningful solutions. Takes the jobs vertical, for example. If there are 50 job listings for nurses in your market and those are being viewed 40 times more than any other posting a product developer can create targeted revenue solutions for customers that meet audience demands in a matter of hours, and that is just one example. I bet most media organizations aren’t looking and reacting to that type of data daily, weekly or monthly. The problem is our competitors are.

To experiment – Product managers are doers. A great quality in this makers society. Often media companies hire outside consultants with the allure of doing innovative things. Consultants are smart, and I have some as good friends. But in my experience consultants get paid by the hour, which makes them ideal talkers. They give good advice and sound direction but too many of them won’t get into the dirty details. Product developers do.

As I mentioned, those are just three arguments on why media should invest more fully in product development. Do you have examples of successful product development at a media company? Please share.

Note – I am a product manager for an agency within a media company, so I may appear quite bias. In fairness, I have worked for media companies my entire career as a reporter and online editor in a newsroom, and now as a product manager on the product, sales and marketing side working with internal and external clients.



A lesson in lean startup mentality from government

If the Lean Startup methodology can be, in its own form, put to use for domestic public policy than it can work for any industry, company or product. And you don’t have to spend half a million dollars.

The paper below – Test, Learn, Adapt – comes from a branch of the UK government who’s goal is to make government work better. It is a remarkable blueprint easily adaptable for any organization. A few highlights:

The reason – Create Value

“It is especially important in times of shrinking public sector budgets to be confident that public money is spent on policies shown to deliver value for money.”

The process – Listen

“The practical expression of this thinking includes the drive for greater devolution of policy-making, and the harnessing of markets to deliver goods and services. Encouraging variation needs to be matched by mechanisms that identify and nurture successful innovations. This includes sharpening transparency and feedback loops in consumer markets and public services, noting that these lead to the selective expansion of better provision and often the growth of smaller, independent provision.”

The loop – Measure faster

“Continual improvement, in this sense, is the final, but arguably most important, aspect of the ʻtest, learn, adaptʼ methodology as it assumes that we never know as much as we could do about any given area of policy.”

Test Learn Adapt

Break’s over

If you are an executive at a newspaper or media company I hope this scared the bejesus out of you, and you woke up this morning profoundly thinking about what’s next.

If you missed the post – A call for leadership: Newspaper execs deserve the blame for not changing the culture – by Jonathan Groves and Carrie Brown-Smith go read it.

I’m not interested in blame or arguing over this or that from the past. I don’t think the authors are either. More than anything, can we agree that these two paragraphs are reality?

“In our research of news organizations, in study after study, we have repeatedly found this to be the case. One daily newspaper of less than 50,000 circulation we studied struggled with the change to a web-first organization because, though its leaders acknowledged the importance of the new medium, they did not reinforce that desire through their reward and accountability systems. Print revenue and circulation remained the benchmarks of success, not digital revenue or pageviews. As a result, newsroom staffers struggled to develop the kind of online content needed to expand the web audience.

“Another paper we studied, a metropolitan daily with a circulation of over 100,000, faced similar challenges, as staffers still celebrated getting on 1A and daily rituals like news meetings continued to be print-focused — despite lots of talk about ‘digital first.’” – Groves and Brown-Smith

If that is the reality, and I know in general it is, how do we change it? What actions do we take today. I believe changing actions and routines will change mindsets.

The authors offer these steps:

– Find the change agents with the relationship-building skills to push others to develop new routines
– Put the structure in place to allow employees to experiment and fail in the digital ecosystem
– Give specific information on prioritizing workloads around digital efforts
– Develop concrete reward systems

Here are a few of my own:

– Base every decision on operating a digital media businesses first
– Define your digital workflow and then organize your staff to meet its objectives
– Measure and listen to everything so you can rapidly adapt to changes in the media market and audience consumption
– Engage with everyone willing to talk or already talking about your product and/or service

Media company profitability in 2013

Much of the conversation in media companies still hangs on how the organization defines what it means to be digital first. Often, it seems, the conversation keeps going, but no meaningful action occurs at any level despite agreeing that transformation must happen.

As the first quarter winds down and organizations have already adapted for sustainability in 2012, the focus at all levels of the business must now turn to profitability and survivability in 2013 based on the known economic uncertainties.

Rather than debate the meaning of digital first and why we’re still asking that question today, what will organizations – especially media – do in the next nine months so more doors aren’t closed come 2013?

Here is my two-step approach:

The business becomes the ecosystem

Collaboration, experimentation and driving shared value will spur revenue  growth. I use Dion Hinchcliffe to further my point when he says, “the value is in sustaining dynamic relationships and not fixed transactions.

I think most understand the fixed way of running the business of a newspaper, TV station, a startup or whatever doesn’t apply any longer and certainly won’t in the near future. The company must be smartly connected to customers, users, partners and its employees via digital ecosystems to create networked impact.

“Being able to elicit the network (Internet, community, shared data, whatever) to maximum effect to fuel and grow your ecosystem is thus the core competency of the digital era,” Hinchcliffe says.

Shift resources to meet the new digital strategy

Defining a digital strategy seems to be a daunting task. General guidance around the business objectives of an organization with a keen sense of audience metrics may be enough.

Using Hinchcliffe again to spur conversation, he offers a 34-point list of elements to organize the digital strategy around. It includes some of the initiatives already underway including e-commerce, mobile operations, video and content management.

Ultimately, it will be up to each individual organization to determine the viability of each of those elements. But, if nothing else, start with some and shift resources now to build a more sustainable digital businesses before the window of opportunity closes.

What I’ve been reading

It’s been awhile so I’m going slow getting back into sharing some thoughts about what I’m up to. Here’s a quick post on what I’ve been reading recently.I recommend them all.

The Swerve – Ever wonder how the modern world came to know On The Nature of Things by Lucretius? This book, by Stephen Greenblatt, details the fascinating story in a narrative I couldn’t put down.

The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan – The story that brought down a general. The detailed account of the inner workings and politics or a U.S. Army general fighting the war in Afghanistan.

Enemies: A History of the FBI – The detail provided by recently declassified papers in this account of the FBI is somewhat frightening and encouraging all in one. If you read it, I think you’ll understand that.

Polemics – A hard read for me but eye-opening. A french philosopher reveals in great detail his thoughts on modern politics. I don’t always agree with his take but it has spurred me to think differently. For example: “We have the riots we deserve. A state in which what is called public order is only a coupling of the protection of private wealth and dogs unleashed on children of working people and people of foreign origin is purely and simply despicable.”

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy