If you’re a lucky marketer, when you ring in the New Year on Monday night, it will also mark the start of a new budget year for you. If this describes your situation, you’ve most likely spent the last month in planning sessions – figuring out how to get the most for your marketing dollars. If you’ve got your plan fully-baked, I’m going to hope that some of the tips I provide below are already on your roadmap for 2013. If not, I hope I can persuade you to consider some new options. If you’re a procrastinator and you haven’t started to think about budget allotment for 2013, I’ve done some of the work for you below. If it were my budget, this is where I’d spend it in 2013.
Content is the lifeblood of any marketing program these days, particular across the earned, owned and paid media you use to reach your target audiences. Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock the past year, you’ve probably heard more than a couple mentions of “content marketing.” It’s not just another marketing buzz term, it’s the real deal. I strongly suggest you tune into the information shared by HubSpot, one of the leading organizations in terms of content marketing advice (and practice). The key objective for content marketing is to provide high-value information to your most important audiences. Your goal should be to serve as the go-to source of information in your industry. By positioning your organization as the thought leader for your audiences, you’ll always be top of mind with them. When they are ready to make a purchasing decision, you’ll be among those organizations they consider.
So where should you spend the money on content? Here are a couple of areas to consider:
- Build an In-House Team – this is my preferred option, despite running a practice that provides outsourced content marketing solutions for clients. If you can hire a former journalist to spearhead your brand journalism program within your organization, pull the trigger on this in 2013. Having a dedicated, in-house content specialist is one of the best investments you can make as a marketer. This person should be capable of cranking out a couple of blog posts each day (or week), as well as being able to produce e-books, white papers, cases studies, press releases, newsletter articles and all other forms of marketing content you come up with. Run your internal content department like a newsroom. See my inbound marketing and lead automation points below for more on why this is so important.
- Outsource Your Content Development – if taking on a full-time employee isn’t in the cards at this time, earmark a good chunk of your budget to outsourced content marketing. Find a capable agency or freelance operation that knows your industry – possibly somebody that’s worked with you or a competitor in the past – and give them a set list of weekly or monthly content deliverables to produce for you. Conduct a monthly editorial planning meeting, line up your resource(s) with knowledge experts (sources for the content) and provide them with research tools to make the work easier (and enable them to produce higher-quality people will want to read). If you come up with new content ideas during the month, get your content resource on the phone and adjust your production priorities accordingly. Consider having multiple writers available at your agency, so you can produce as much content as needed to fuel your audiences’ information appetites.
Blog, Blog, Blog.
Blogging is the most effective content marketing tactic in my humble opinion. Your blog is the epicenter for your content marketing operations. It serves as the destination where audiences can find the latest content from your organization (and through RSS and email subscription options, they can receive it without having to come to your site all the time to see if anything new has been posted. Most blogging software these days is built with SEO in mind, helping you to achieve higher search engine rankings for your pages faster than you could with your primary website. Many new blogging themes are built with the lastest design principles in mind as well, including themes built to address your responsive design needs (that is, your blog looks great across any web browser, mobile device or tablet your audiences use to access your information.
Share all your information via your blog, even if the information lives elsewhere on your site. Consider repackaging your best blog posts from the week or month (depending on your post volume) as an email newsletter for further extend the reach of your content. The same goes for sharing your blog posts across your social channels. Adjust your post descriptions and calls-to-action for each channel to drive stronger referral activity and encourage more readers to head to your blog on a regular basis.
If you don’t have a strong blogging effort, or your results have been lackluster to date, consider investing some of your budget on a new, great-looking blog – built on a platform like WordPress or Tumblr that can support your SEO and social needs as well. What’s the best way to build a new blog? Look at the best blog you know – one that’s the most relevant to your business – and start with that as inspiration. For example, take a look at Mashable’s new blog launched last month. It’s one of the best examples of responsive design and content organized based on popularity (predictive analytics drive post placement across the blog).
Does your organization leverage inbound marketing today? If not, you’ll want to invest some of your marketing budget in building out your inbound marketing program. If you follow the two steps above, you’ll be well on your way to having the content you need to fuel your inbound marketing program. Unlike traditional outbound (a.k.a. “interruption”) marketing tactics, inbound marketing tactics are designed to PULL people to your website and blog, often through effective use of search engine optimization and social media marketing tactics. Inbound marketing software (see HubSpot for this one) is an excellent place to get started. The software comes with a powerful set of analytics and measurement tools that will enable you to analyze, test and report on all aspects of your online marketing programs. The more you use the software, the better you will get at refining your strategies to drive more and more traffic to your site – building the top end of your funnel far beyond your current levels. Of course, inbound marketing software addresses all aspects of your funnel, but you need to have a very top-heavy funnel to start.
Most high-end inbound marketing software solutions include features and functionality for both inbound marketing (driving traffic to your site) and lead marketing automation (scoring, grading and routing of leads that come in). Marketing automation software like that from Pardot (recently acquired by ExactTarget) helps you to manage the quality of your leads coming in. For every activity a visitor performs on your site (e.g. page visits, content downloads, repeat visits, site searches or form completions), their score is adjusted based on the rules you’ve put in place. Once a visitor reaches a certain score, the lead is then routed to a salesperson for follow up. For leads that haven’t yet reached the right score (aren’t ready for sales to follow-up yet), the system has a sophisticated set of automation tools that do the nurturing work for you – until the lead is ready to follow up on. For example, if a visitor doesn’t return to your site in a week, send them a white paper about marketing planning for 2013. If they read the white paper, adjust their score and route the lead to a salesperson.
Investing in a good marketing automation system this year will enable your sales team to focus on selling to the prospects most-likely to buy, versus traditional sales approaches that are less focused and less fruitful. Organizations that leverage inbound marketing and marketing automation software rarely waste money on marketing – they know exactly how much return on their marketing investment they are generating, often in real-time. Check out Pardot (or HubSpot) today to learn more.
Social media has gone visual. From Pinterest and Instragram, to our old friends like Flickr, images drive deeper engagement for your content than text alone (says the guy that only includes on image with his blog posts). Figure out what visuals can best communicate your story. Maybe you need more images of your products, customers or events on your website? How can you leverage Instagram to share images with your fans? Do you have product inventory that would be well-represented on Pinterest? Brands with good visuals are driving far more traffic to their sites than those with plain text. Consider hiring a photographer to take pictures you can use with your content. Get a good graphic designer on your team that can develop custom images and infographics to accompany your content. Unfortunately, your audience doesn’t always have time to read your content. If they have to chose between a great-looking white paper or a dry-looking one, they’ll go for the former. Make your stuff look great and you’ll see your conversion improve.
As an extension of the point above, your audiences are consuming video content in every category today, but marketers are still using far less video to tell their brand stories than they’d likely admit. If you can work video content into your marketing mix this year, you’ll quickly discover what smart marketers already know – video works. You don’t have to spend a lot to get a lot with video these days. A simple high-definition camera can be used to record interviews with your best experts (you know, the ones that would do best on camera). On the other hand, if you do have the budget, consider hiring video experts to create some compelling content for you. Maybe it’s a tour of your facility or a new product video that does the selling for your sales team. If done right, video can have a long shelf-life and can help you to quickly get your message into the marketplace – with greater passalong than text alone.
Want to see a brand that’s doing video right? Just take a look at RedBull’s site – you’ll see how powerful video can be as a marketing tool. Now granted, we don’t have the type of content that Red Bull does – but that doesn’t mean you can find your own angles for telling your brand stories through video in an interesting way. For another example, check out the videos on Epipheo’s site. Epipheo helps organizations tell complex stories with fun, entertaining videos. Consider investing some of your marketing dollars in an Epipheo video this year. I’ve used them before and the ROI is practically guaranteed.
How’s your website looking? Your website is the first place anybody is going to go to check you out. It’s your chance to make a first impression with new audiences. Would you go to a networking breakfast of Fortune 500 executives in shorts and a t-shirt? Some of you might, but most of us would wear our best business attire. The same goes for your website. It should look great, present information in a meaningful way for users, and help to guide them down a deliberate path to action.
Consider using your marketing budget in 2013 for a website overhaul. When you sit down to plan your site with your team, think mobile first and foremost. More people than ever are browsing the web via mobile devices and tablets. Make sure your site looks great across all devices (read a thing or two about “responsive design” on the Web – it’s important). If you’re already killing it on the web, start thinking about where you want to go next. Read up on “reactive design” and some of the trends in the marketplace today around adjusting the content you display on the site based on user data. If it’s their first visit, you show them the generic home page. If they’ve been there six times and read all about a particular product, maybe the page they see is a list of testimonial quotes or a video interview with your most valuable customer. If they click through to your site from a news article, talk about that article and how it relates to the visitor’s interests. It’s all about content and context these days. The more relevant and interesting you can make your site for visitors, the more likely you are to convert those visitors into prospects and customers.
Maybe you don’t have the resources to become a content master. That’s okay, there’s plenty of great content out there. Consider being an excellent content aggregator. Make sure you get permission to post abstracts of content you find, source any material that you share, or invite those authors to write guest posts on your blog as a means to increasing the volume and relevancy of content on your site. This is part of the approach American Express uses with its OpenForum site. AmEx went out and found the best voices on all things small business, and has them write regular columns on the site.
OpenForum has become one of the most popular sites on the web for information to help small businesses do their thing. I’m surprised by how many articles I find across social channels that lead me back to OpenForum – it’s also one of the most cited examples of content marketing best practices out there. If you’re not familiar with OpenForum, check it out. Then consider how you can spend your marketing dollars to create your own OpenForum in your particular industry or niche.
Social Media Management Software
If you’re still posting your status updates to Twitter from Twitter, or Facebook from Facebook, it’s time to look into some social media management software. Not only will software like HootSuite, Radian 6 or SproutSocial help you to manage your posts across your social media accounts, but it will help you coordinate your team efforts responding to audience replies and requests. These social platforms will also help you to better listen, monitor and track what’s being said about you, your competitors and your industry in real-time – and help you identify new people to follow and build relationships with. This suggestion feels like common-sense advice to me, but I know there are still a lot of organizations out there not taking advantage of these products. If you care about social media as part of your marketing program, you need to invest in a platform to manage, monitor, track and report on your efforts. It’s money well spent (and you’ll learn a lot through the experience).
SEO Still Matters
People still search the web for everything they’re looking for. It’s important that you come up in those searches, but the search game has changed a lot in the past year. If you follow the previous advice in this post, your SEO will almost manage itself (almost). That is, content quality and relevancy, combined with social engagement and sharing, is more important than inbound links and keyword density. I’d argue those factors are becoming less important by the day. It’s still important to understand the words your audiences are using to search for your organization and the products and services it sells. It’s important to understand the issues in your industry, and how those issues translate into search. You also need to understand how people search your site, search social networks for the same things, and search via mobile devices (sometimes using their voice instead of a keyboard). All of these user trends should feed into your SEO strategy today.
If you don’t have somebody on your team managing your SEO at least 30% of their time, this is an area I would encourage you to fund in 2013. You need somebody on your team (either internally or through your agency partners) who can advise you on optimizing your content to be found across myriad of channels. You need somebody that can dive deep into your analytics and find new opportunities to guide your content strategy or to adjust minor details like page titles and where a post links to on your site. SEO is stil important - in many ways, more than ever.
Analytics, Testing and Measurement
You need a data nerd on your team. If this isn’t obvious from my points above, everything is tied to metrics these days. It’s all measurable – more now than ever. If you’re not looking at all the data through the right lens, you’re going to miss out on huge opportunities all the time. You don’t realize what you’re missing until you start to measure it. A good analytics person on your team can aggregate all the analytics across all the platforms you’re using, and turn it into actionable business data you can use. You can use this data to home in on new customer segments, develop new content to address needs and interests shared by your audiences, to test new campaigns in real-time (e.g. A/B testing or multivariate testing).
I’d also argue that most organizations only use the tip of the iceberg of most of the software platforms they invest in. A good nerd on your team can get you more value from those investments, and help you create a powerful marketing machine to drive improved results month-after-month.
Again, if it were my budget, I would have such a nerd on your team. As a final point on this one, don’t overlook the importance of being able to link all your systems together. If you can find somebody that’s an expert in Google Analytics and Google AdWords management, but also happens to be a Salesforce.com Admin, consider adding that person to your team. They’ll be able to transform your organization from management-by-guessing to management-by-data – any top-performing company in the market today has at least one such nerd on their marketing team.
There are a lot of places you can spend that new marketing budget in 2013. With all the options out there for predictable marketing – that is, marketing that can be measured, tested and consistently adjusted to deliver persistent, predictive and substantial results, why would you spend it anywhere else?
Did I miss an important area where you’re spending your marketing budget in 2013? Disagree with one of my suggestions above? Please share your expertise and ideas in the comments below. I want to hear from you.
(Image Credit: “Money” by Phillip Taylor PT / Flickr)