Content Marketing – The Ultimate Cheat Sheet

You and I live in an era when creating and distributing content have become democratized. The axiom “Build it and they will come” has been changed to “Provide compelling content and they will come“. If you are creating or marketing a white paper, Ebook or any other type of content, you probably have already heard all the buzz about Content Marketing and are wondering

  • What is Content Marketing?
  • Why should I care about Content Marketing?
  • Where do I get started?
  • How do I apply “Content Marketing” concepts in creating and marketing White Papers or Ebooks?

What is Content Marketing?

Wikipedia page for Content Marketing says “Marketers may use content marketing as a means of achieving a variety of business goals, such as thought leadership, lead generation, increasing direct sales, improving retention and more.”

Content marketing’s agenda is to educate and inform customers and prospects. Content Marketing’s slogan is – “Don’t pitch. Don’t sell. Don’t interrupt. Educate, inform and provide value to customers and prospects. Your business will grow.

Content marketing must focus on what is valuable to the customer and must solve their informational needs.

Why should you care about content marketing?

Buying decisions for customers in today’s digital era don’t follow the traditional “customer journey purchase funnel”. Your prospects seek information from multiple sources before making a purchase decision. That is why businesses and individuals are increasingly using valuable content as a great marketing tool. Given this paradigm shift, it is in your best interest to selflessly provide customers useful information to influence buying decisions.

Where do you start?

In order to learn what are the ideas behind Content Marketing and how to leverage these ideas for creating and marketing your content, I highly recommend getting started with these following set of blogs written by thought leaders who are championing Content Marketing.

White Paper Blogs

A white paper addresses customer’s problems and how to solve them. White papers may be used to: educate customers and prospects, generate sales leads, establish thought leadership, make a business case and help customers and prospects in making intelligent buying decisions. White paper should always focus on the reader’s needs rather than the product or service. Many research studies have shown that white papers are very powerful marketing tools.

There are three excellent blogs that have great advice and tips on how to write and market white papers which in turn will lead to business growth.

Michael Stelzner’s Writing White Papers

Jonathan Kantor’s White Paper Pundit

Philip Dunn’s Quality Writer

Jim Lodico’s White Paper Solution

CopyWriting Blogs

In today’s Content world, Copywriting skills are essential to help you succeed both as a writer and marketer because you need to convey your ideas clearly in order to influence your readers.

There are two great blogs that speak about all things related to copywriting including blogs, landing pages, ebooks, emails etc. There are many valuable lessons from both these blogs about persuasive writing.

Brian Clark’s Copyblogger offers tips on how to write content for marketing success.

Robert Bly’s CopyWriting has advise on copywriting and direct marketing.

Content Marketing Blogs

I have collected a list of content marketing blogs below. Each of these blogs teaches you how to create compelling content of different flavors(B2B marketing, viral marketing, community building, social media) to drive business growth.

Joe Pulizzi’s Junta42 is a go to place for all things related to content marketing.

Newt Barrett’s ContentMarketingToday share ideas on how to connect with your customers.

David Meerman Scott’s WebinkNow discusses viral marketing strategies using blogs & ebooks.

Ardath Albee’s MarketingInteractions gives advice on customer-focused eMarketing Strategies for B2Bs.

Patsi Krakoff’s WritingontheWeb offers ideas on how to write content on your business blogs that not only provides great information but also builds relationships, and converts readers to clients.

Mark Nagurski’s ReallyPractial focuses on marketing ideas that lead directly to increased sales by bringing together sound marketing practice, business development strategies and sales techniques.

Chris Brogans’ Blog shares ideas on leveraging social media and building community.

Bob Gilbreath talks about how to add value to customers at MarketingwithMeaning.

You can stay tuned about content marketing news at Alltop’s Content Marketing portal and at Junta42’s Top 42 Content Marketing blogs.

Great Blogs Posts on Content Marketing

I have also collected a great list of blog posts that are experts’ insights into Content Marketing.

Internet has democratized publishing like never before. Joe Pulizzi talks about this and how content is more valued now than ever before in his blog post Everyone is a Publisher…and Why this Really Matters .

What do the three little pigs have to do with Content marketing? Mark Nagurski uses this great analogy to show how marketing a business through traditional marketing methods isn’t going to work any more in his post on What the Three Little Pigs Can Teach You About Content Marketing.

Sonia Simone’s blog post on The Matrix Guide to Content Marketing is not just applicable to bloggers. You can use her advise even if you are writing a white paper or ebook.

  1. Tell stories that show how you’ve helped your readers with what matters most to them.
  2. Deep dives to explore benefits that are especially relevant to your content community.
  3. Create case studies for each type of customer you serve, and show specifically how your product or service benefits those customers.

Understanding the new breed of buyers and using an effective content marketing strategy is key in this new content era. Read Newt Barrett’s post on The Secret to Online Marketing in the 21st Century : It’s the Content, Stupid!

Chris Brogan points out why it is important to embrace content marketing and lays out the steps in his post How Content Marketing Will Shake the Tree.

Joe Pulizzi shares 10 key points on the changing face of marketing in his post Seth Godin: “Content Marketing is the Only Marketing Left” and 10 New Marketing Lessons.

How do you get started on content marketing? Tips for Getting Your Content Marketing Initiative Started post has great advice on setting up content marketing initiative right from establishing a budget to planning ahead for ongoing content development.

Joe Pulizzi gathers Content Marketing thoughts from Newt Barrett, Chris Brogan and Paul Gillin in his post Striking Content Marketing Gold – Direct from the Content Experts

How do you apply “Content Marketing” concepts?

10 Key Content Marketing lessons to apply to creating and marketing white paper and Ebooks.

  1. Plan in advance so your white paper or Ebook fits well into your intergrated content marketing strategy.
  2. Find 3 strategic goals you want to meet with your white paper or Ebook.
  3. Find out who is your target audience before you start.
  4. Think about how you can influence your readers. e.g., case studies, ROI calculations, research, surveys.
  5. Understand the informational needs of your prospects and customers and create what matters most to them.
  6. Connect with you prospects and customers. Listen. Hold two-way conversations.
  7. Use social media to leverage for your investment in producing white papers or Ebooks.
  8. Have an ongoing update plan for your white paper or Ebook. Delivering consistently is important to building a relationship with your customer.
  9. Use analytics to evaluate how readers engage with your white paper or Ebook.
  10. Use metrics to measure what is the ROI(Return on Investment) for your white paper or Ebook. Use these metrics to fine-tune your content strategy.

Over to you…

No list is by any means exhaustive. Feel free to add to the lists above.

What are your favorite content marketing blogs and blog posts?

What content marketing concepts are you using in your business?

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Social Media Reality Check

A recent study conducted by the CNW group and Leger Marketing brings some much needed statistics on the social media table. Is social media as influential as some tend to believe? You can check out the social media study right here. Here are some interesting numbers for you:

  • 49% use social media at least once a day
  • 31% of consumers agree that social media is more credible than advertising
  • 61% are researching products prior to purchase
  • 25% of users feel better about an organization that practices social media

Social Media Reality Check

The study has been called Reality Check for a reason – it shows that social media does have an influence, but also that people are not willing to put all of their trust in that medium (contrary to what the internet buzz surrounding social media seems to be advertising). Does that mean you should not be investing time with social media tools? Of course not. Brand awareness and monitoring, public discussions and a shift of power towards consumers are all benefits that comes from social networking, and we believe these elements will be integrated into most marketing campaigns in a few years’ time. That being said, it would not be wise to put all your marketing efforts into social media. Instead, the use of these mediums should be a part of your global marketing strategy. This way you’ll get to really harness its power.

Social Media and the White Paper Community

So what does these numbers mean to the white paper community? Should you be investing time and effort into Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, your blog and such things? We believe so. Social media is now being used for internet marketing purposes, but its roots lies in communities, discussions and the connexion of individuals around points of interest. The marketing qualities of this medium represent just another layer around its core. By growing meaningful relationships with other copywriters, vendors and decision makers first, you’ll be laying down the groundwork on which to build your internet marketing strategies. It’s all about relationships!

Have you had success with social media to grow leads and get your white papers seen? Decision makers, have you ever discovered white papers through social media tools?

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2 Great Books for Whitepaper Writers and Marketers

Numerous research studies have shown time and again that white papers are very powerful marketing tools to show thought leadership and generate leads while also providing critical information to both technical and business decision makers. White papers are meant as a “soft sell”. They typically discuss solutions for the problems facing a customer rather than just doing a “hard sell” for a product or service. White papers also offer insight and serves as how-to guides for a particular target audience.

Common white paper types include solution overviews, technology briefings, buyer’s guides, planning and implementation guides, application guides, ROI guides, case studies, business implication discussions, strategy discussions, industry trend overviews, issues analyses etc

  • How do you get started on writing and marketing a white paper?
  • What are the various components of a white paper?
  • How do you ensure the white papers land in the hand of the right decision makers?

There are two great books that deal exclusively about white papers and provide answers to these questions:

The White Paper Marketing Handbook” by copywriting master Robert Bly, freelance copywriter and author of numerous articles and books on direct marketing.

Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” by white paper guru Michael Stelzner, editor of the WhitePaperSource newsletter, a publication dedicated to helping writers and marketing professionals master the art of white papers.

Michael Stelzner & Robert Bly have both written numerous white papers for many of the world’s most recognized companies. They have been in the trenches and every chapter in both the book is filled with practical tips based on their own experiences writing white papers and marketing them.

Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged

“There are really only two ways to write white papers: (1) by focusing on your self-interests or (2) by concentrating on the interests of your readers. The self-interest or “chest-beating” approach focuses exclusively on a product, service or solution by expounding on its benefits, features and implications. While effective in some circumstances, this approach is best left for something other than a white paper, such as a data sheet or product brief.”
– Michael Stelzner

In “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged”, Michael Stelzner reveals his insights and tips about creating compelling whitepapers.Michael Stelzner highlights that whitepapers are used for three main reasons: to show thought leadership, for lead generation and to close sales. He has terrific advice on every step to writing a white paper – from start to finish; picking the right topic, identifying readers, deciding on clear objectives, developing an outline, doing research, writing and marketing a white paper. He also shares valuable and practical tips on getting started with the first page, choosing a compelling title, writing the core, formatting the whitepaper and marketing the white paper to get it in the hands of the right decision maker.

Take a look at the book excerpt and its table of contents here.

The White Paper Marketing Handbook

“The best white papers have two things. The first is that they are conversational, natural language-driven. It’s really two people talking to each other in an informal tone. The second is to not focus on why your readers should use a certain product, but how it can benefit them. I like to give tips that the readers can use even if they don’t use my product. The main thing is they should be able to get value out of reading your white paper even if they don’t ultimately buy your product. Too often, people think writing white papers means ‘sell this product’.”
– Robert Bly

In “The White Paper Marketing Handbook”, Robert Bly, discusses about how to create effective white papers and to build successful marketing campaigns to create interest, generate leads, build relationships, and ultimately drive sales. He shares a ten-step process of creating and increasing demand with effective use of white papers. The case studies in his book bring to light many practical applications of white papers in real-world situations.

5 key take aways from Michael Stelzner’s book

  • Give value to your reader: The whitepaper’s underlying strength rests on this premise: If you give readers something of value, they will give you their loyalty, and ultimately their business.
  • Identify your reader: Asking many questions to clearly define the ideal reader will not only help you bring clarity to your white paper project, it will also enhance your credibility.
  • Adopt problem-solution approach: By leading with some challenges faced by your readers and suggesting how to solve their problems, you can develop a compelling white paper that engages readers.
  • Include a “call to action”: Provide an actionable step that guides readers once they reach the end of your whitepaper. This will help keep prospects engaged with your solution.
  • Interview experts: To obtain “content-rich” whitepapers interview experts to speed up the research process and get access to information that you will never find on your own.

5 key take aways from Robert Bly’s book

  • Focus on reader: White paper should focus on the reader’s issue or problem and offer information that will lead him or her towards a solution. A white paper should not be a sales brochure or company data sheet.
  • 3 U’s formula: “3 U’s” formula for crafting titles is also applicable for creating for a white paper as well. Be ultra-specific, unique and useful to your ideal readers.
  • Integrated Marketing: A white paper should effectively fit into successful Integrated Marketing Communications efforts. It should have consistency with the messaging in other marketing collaterals.
  • Edu-marketing strategy: Educate and inform potential customers. This will in turn lead to business success.
  • Don’t sell: White paper should be a “soft sell” and is intended to make a favorable impression with the reader about the product or service.

Given all the buzz about content marketing, I highly recommend reading “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” & “The White Paper Marketing Handbook“. These books are not just for whitepaper writers and marketers. The lessons learnt from both these books can be applied to writing and marketing any other form of content as well.

Buy both the books, read them and keep them handy for reference.

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How to Convey Technical Information to the Non-Initiated?

From the vast amount of white papers available on the net, one will be faced with a great deal of technology-driven documents. Some creative, some brilliant, others opaque and sometimes impenetrable for the non-initiated. A white paper conveys information and educates peers while aiming for great lead generation. But what happens when your target audience can’t make sense of your documents? Do you write your white papers with your target audience in mind?

Being able to convey technical information in meaningful ways is key in gaining visibility and traction. Decision makers most often have a background in business, not engineering, so it is important for lead-generation purposes that they understand how brilliant your ideas are. We have gathered for you tips and techniques to improve the understandability of your documents and help you gain traction.

Building an Influencer Map to Grasp your Target Audience

Before you start writing your paper, it is important to know who your target audience might be and the channels you can use to publicize your documents. Start by researching existing white papers in your field. Where are they hosted? Which ones seem to be getting more exposure? Do they make use of specific layouts? How do they convey the technological jargon?

An influencer map is basically a list of people, companies and sites within your field that have an influence, either as thinkers, decision makers, writers, peers or through their publicity channels (think of blogs like TechCrunch for instance). Map out these blogs, sites, forums and social networks. You can use tools such asGoogle Blog Search, Technorati, LinkedIn and Twitter to start with. Pinpoint influencers within these channels and try finding out what their backgrounds are. A lot of these influencers have profiles on LinkedIn, which makes it easier to look them up and see where they are coming from. Once you have gathered a substantial influencer map, you’ll have a better idea of what your target audience might be like.

Write a Plan. Then Simplify.

In Reality Check, Guy Kawasaki talks about the 10/20/30 rule of pitching: 10 slides in 20 minutes using a 30-points font. According to this venture-capital expert, if you can’t have your concept understood within these constraints, you’ll lose their attention and focus. A white paper is no different – talk for too long in complex terms and you risk losing your readers’ focus.

To remain on target, start by writing a plan. Lay down your ideas, your stats and solutions, then simplify them. The essence of your concept should fit in the 10/20/30 rule since this is what you are pitching. Make it explicit. Your readers should be able to understand rapidly why your idea is so good and exciting!

Explain with Visuals.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Graphs are a great way to convert complex information into meaningful data, that is if the graph is expertly constructed. Edward Tufte is a well-known professor and interaction designer expert. In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, you’ll find valuable information on how to construct meaning through the use of data. Alternately, you could ask a usability-expert to produce graphs for your white paper. Do not underestimate the conveying power of visual representation – Learn how to make use of it in your documents.

Start Writing. Then Edit.

Now that you have a plan, a target audience and meaningful representation of data, it is time to start writing your white paper. Avoid using technical jargon when possible, keep your focus tight and to the point. Make sure the essence of your concept can be understood early on in the document.

Once you’re done, have a well-deserved break and clear-up your thoughts before going over your paper again. It is hard to distance yourself from your work once you are immersed in it, but this distance is essential to objectively edit your writing. A first draft is never perfect. Bear in mind there is always place for improvement.

Ask people in your target audience to read your draft. Question them, see if they’ve understood your core concept. Address their criticisms and adjust your document accordingly. By now, you should have a fairly strong white paper in your hands. Congratulations!

Proofread Your White Paper.

Typos and errors won’t make you sound smart. They are distracting to say the least and scream unprofessionalism. If you can afford to have an expert proofread your paper then go for it. If you can’t, ask people in your network to scan your paper for typos and other semantic errors. Don’t let those spelling mistakes overcome your brilliant ideas!

Work On your Layout.

Just as graphics can simplify the understanding of complex data, a good layout can enable a meaningful flow of information to your readers. Alternately, a cluttered, dense layout makes readability more challenging. Look for instance at the manifestos on Change This. Their layouts make use of negative space (“blank” elements on a page), which de-clutter the page in order to focus attention. The use of descriptive header give cues to readers as to what they are about to read. It also breaks up information into manageable chunks of data.

Notice how the use of fonts also helps to convey a good flow of information. Serif fonts are easier to read on paper and as headers. Sans-serif fonts are great for on-screen reading. Is your target audience more likely to print your white papers or to read them on-screen? Also, use a font point that is big enough to be read easily.

Print layouts and on-screen layouts are fundamentally different. For instance, it is easier to read a printed document in “portrait” mode. “Landscape” layouts are best suited for screen viewing since they can make full use of the display. While these layouts decision won’t turn a bad concept into a great one, they can certainly improve the understanding and readability of your ideas. If you don’t have any layout skills, consider hiring a professional to construct it for you. Otherwise, check out these resources to understand the basis of layout design:

If you would like to add to these tips and techniques, we encourage you to do so in the comments. Do you agree/disagree with this post? We would also like to know!

 

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How Do Technical Decision Makers Utilize White Papers?

White papers are one of the primary educational tools for technology decision makers throughout the buying process. Technology marketers have a unique way to provide crucial information and directly influence purchase outcomes by providing informative white papers to technology decision makers.

Busy professional IT(Information Technology) buyers are under constant pressure to learn about new technologies, solutions, and to implement and integrate products and services in the most effective way possible. White papers play a critical role in filling this educational need.

Information Week Business Technology Network’s latest study shows the important role white papers play in purchase decisions.

The study is titled ‘How to Maximize the Use of White Papers In Your B2B Marketing and Sales Process’. There is a wealth of information in the study. I have summarized some of the most interesting findings below.

What are white papers used for?

According to the study, IT buyers use white paper to:

  • Investigate tech solutions – problem solving
  • Learn about specific vendor & solutions – create and/or build awareness
  • Evaluate and identify benefits/limitations of proposed technology or platform – will it work for us?
  • Research potential vendors – create vendor short list
  • 76.3% use white papers for general education on specific technology topic or issue
  • 73.8% use white papers to investigate possible technology solutions for the business/technology need
  • 68.0% use white papers to learn about a specific vendor and their solution technology
  • Case studies and tech category overviews represented 35% of the white papers read

What is the right length of a white paper?

86% say to keep white papers under 10 pages with, 50% wanting even shorter ones at under 5 pages.

What are components of a great white paper?

Top components of a great white paper (in rank order) are as follows:

  • Tight abstract
  • Minimal marketing
  • Technology use case studies
  • Product information and specifications
  • Technical Diagrams
  • Downloadable PDF versus digital format

Where are white papers searched for?

Source for finding valuable white papers are as follows:

  • 51% visit vendor websites to find white papers
  • 43% find them at IT Professional Organizations
  • 33% said they find white papers on B2B media brand sites and libraries

Marketing to-do’s based on the study

  • Hit each stage of the buying process with a relevant white paper
  • Educate don’t sell and bring in a 3rd party to validate this effort
  • Distribute through a variety of sources to maximize your investment
  • Content value will drive performance of lead generation campaigns

5 key take aways for writing and marketing whitepapers from this study

  1. Make it easily accessible. Your own website is a gold mine to educate your customer and attract prospects. Ensure that your whitepaper and other marketing collateral are easily findable on your webpage and other related sites.
  2. Spread the message. Syndication is one of the best ways to get increased viewership of your content (whitepapers or marketing documents) and grow your business.
  3. Educate and inform. Don’t tout your product or solution and its benefits. Look at your customer’s problem and present the solution from their perspective.
  4. Show instead of tell. Get a 3rd party to validate or recommend your product or service. Who better to sell your story than a happy customer? Use customer success stories to show case your product or service benefits.
  5. Quality not quantity. Write a shorter white paper packed with useful information for your customer rather than a lengthy one which will lose their attention.

You can read white paper guru Michael Stelzner’s summary of the study at New Research Reveals Marketing Role of White Papers.

Over to you:

What sort of white papers have you had most traction with? Product or Solution Overviews, case studies, third party analyst reports?

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