7 great ways to research your ideal buyer

Buyer Persona Speech Bubble People Customers Profile ClientsHow much do you know about your ideal buyer or client? In my last post, I covered 14 things you must know about your buyers in order to effectively focus your marketing. Now the question is where you can find that information.

In developing a buyer persona or client profile, you want it to be based on real data and research, not just what you think is true about your market. To that end, here are 7 ways to gather that information:

1. Existing data from clients/prospects. One of the first steps you should take is to look at what clients and prospects have already told you about themselves. When new clients and prospects come in, you should try to gather as much information as you can, such as their individual and company information, demographics, needs, how they got to you, etc. Go through your own database (or create one if you don’t already have one) and analyze and segment your contacts. You may be surprised by how much you can learn about what types of clients are attracted to you, at what times and under what circumstances. The data can reveal niches, trends, patterns and other useful statistics allowing you to better target your ideal audience.

2. Appending data. Often you can’t collect as much information as you would like directly from contacts. People hate to fill out forms and it can be difficult to get answers without annoying clients and prospects. In some cases, you can fill in the gaps by appending your data through third parties. There are services offering to fill in gaps in your data with financial and industry information, contact names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. There are also data mining and aggregation services which gather information from public sources and the internet.

3. Analytics. Your email, web and social media analytics provide a great deal of useful information to help you to create and hone your buyer personas. Understanding how, when and where people find you online and engage with you can reveal a wealth of information about them. For example, the key words they are searching online can tell you about their concerns or reveal trends. The third party sites sending traffic to you tell you about what information sources they may be using. When you produce content, analyze which types and outlets result in more site visitors, registrations, email click-throughs, and social media sharing to determine what resonates with your audience.

4. Surveys, interviews, focus groups. It’s crucial for your buyer persona to incorporate feedback from actual people. Affirmatively reach out to your clients and prospects. Find out how they found you, what their chief concerns and motivations were, how they went through the buying process, and what they like about your services.

5. Competitive intelligence. Yes you need to focus your research on your buyer, but you should also look at what your competitors are doing. In what ways are they targeting this buyer? How are they positioning themselves? You should look at their website, marketing materials, clients, and social media and web traffic. How are buyers connecting and engaging with them? From where are they getting their traffic? What distribution outlets are they using? The idea is to consider what are they doing differently from you and what lessons can you learn about your buyer.

6. Industry sources. It’s crucial to understand the industry in which your prospects operate. What is happening in their industry? Who are the relevant players? What are the key concerns? Research and subscribe to publications, blogs and other information resources relevant to your audience’s industry. Think about how these developments impact your clients and prospects both positively and negatively.

7. Social listening or social media monitoring. By actively monitoring social media channels, you can gain valuable information about your target audience. You can use social media to learn about industry developments and concerns, find influencers and communities, check out competitors, research leads, explore content ideas, and pose questions to your prospects. Join relevant LinkedIn groups, use Twitter to search for appropriate hashtags, follow companies and competitors, and set up alerts to stay current on your market.

You can do all of the above on your own, but there are also tools and service providers to help you with each of them. There are plenty of recommendations online for everything from CRM systems and marketing automation software to web analytic and social listening tools. For some suggested tools, see Social Media Today, Blogging Wizard and Curata.

Some of these may go beyond your needs and that’s fine. As I said in my last post, the important point is to not gloss over creating these profiles. The more you know about your buyer’s needs, the better you can tailor the substance of your message as well as how you promote it to them.

14 things you must know to target your ideal buyer

Target your buyer personaWhat do you know about the people and companies you are targeting for business? You may think you know enough since you have a fair amount of business already. However, if you want to bring in more new clients and build stronger relationships with the ones you have, you may want to look at how you can understand them better. The best way to do that is to create a buyer persona – that is, a profile of your ideal buyer or client. Your goal is to develop a detailed profile so you can identify what content your audience will find helpful and deliver it to them when and where they need it. In that way, you can showcase your expertise and build the trust and connections that will grow your business.

If you are looking to attract business clients, the first step is to think carefully about who you are targeting within a company. You should build a buyer persona around a specific person (or persons) within the organization. Then gather information on the following:

1. Company size and revenue. Potential for growth in the business, number of employees, and other factors may also be relevant.

2. Industry. You should understand your prospect’s industry as well as what is happening in that industry – news, developments, economic issues, key players, etc.

3. Competitive position. Who are your prospect’s main competitors and how do they compare?

4. Location. Where are your prospects and their customers?

5. Job title, responsibilities, and key demographics. Remember there may be differences among companies in how they title a position and the scope of the responsibilities so focus on the key attributes that define your buyer. The same is true with respect to demographic information. Consider the ones that are most important.

6. Role in the decision-making process. Within a company, are you targeting an influencer, the actual decision-maker or the person researching and gathering information? The point is that if there are multiple people involved, you want to make sure your content is appropriate to each one.

7. Buyer’s journey. How are buying decisions made? What are the steps and who controls and influences each one? What factors are most/least important at each stage? How are potential vendors identified and researched?

8. Behavior patterns/motivations/objections. What causes your prospects to seek outside resources? What are the arguments or objections you anticipate hearing during the decision-making process? What do they value and trust? What are their communication preferences?

9. Budget and priorities. How much money do they have to spend and what are their competing concerns?

10. Interests, concerns, goals and pain points. What do your prospects care about? What are they looking to achieve and what are their problems and stressors?

11. Information sources. Where do your prospects turn to for information about their industry or to solve their problems? How often and in what format do they prefer to receive information (email, print, webinars, live events, etc.)?

12. Other service providers. Are your prospects using several service providers in your area to handle their needs? If yes, who are they and how and why is the work being distributed among the firms?

13. Up-selling/cross-selling. Could they have need of other services you could provide?

14. Level of knowledge about your services. Are you dealing with experienced buyers? Have you worked with them before?

In creating your buyer persona, you can turn to free basic templates offered by HubSpot and Buyer Persona Institute to help get you started or work with an experienced marketer. However, the important thing to remember is to not gloss over creating these profiles. Know your buyers so you can tailor the substance of your message as well as how you promote it to them.

Now that you know what you need to know about your buyer, how do you find this information? That’s the subject of my next post.

Is there a place for “canned” content in your firm’s marketing?

empty tin canAre you using canned content? On one level, I’m surprised how often I see professional services firms relying heavily on content from third party providers for their content marketing. I understand why firms choose to use this content. They appreciate the value of providing regular information to their clients and prospects, but they don’t feel they can do that work themselves. As a content marketer, I try to convince them they can and should produce their own original content. However, is canned content all bad?

The first issue is defining canned content. The term itself has a negative connotation, but encompasses a wide-range of information from different quality sources. This is content created by various publishing, website and marketing companies to be licensed for firms to use on their websites and in newsletters. These companies often focus on providing content to specialized and regulated professions. The material is not custom content developed for a particular client and it is not licensed content republished from premium publications (think NY Times, Reuters, etc.).

What are the pros and cons of using this content?

Pros:

1. Regularly delivered, solid information. It’s important to stay top of mind with clients and prospects and constantly sending them promotional material will just annoy them. These services allow you to provide some useful information on a regular basis. Assuming your source is top-notch, the content should be well-written and accurate.

2. Specialized content may be available. As mentioned above, you can often find providers who specialize in content for your profession or subject area, such as accounting, finance, tax or employment law. In the case of some regulated industries, like the financial industry, the material may even meet strict compliance requirements and be pre-approved for use.

3. Less investment. It takes less time, money and staff to license third party content, than to create it yourself. However, pricing does vary greatly.

4. Copyright is not a concern. If you want to republish all or substantial portions of third party content, then licensing is the ways to go. You don’t have to worry about fair use, getting permissions or other rights issues. The information can also reside on your own website so you’re not linking off to other sites and sending readers elsewhere.

5. Other benefits. Some of these services provide everything from design templates, to email platforms and tracking.

Cons:

1. Generic content. By its nature, canned content is meant to appeal to a wide-range of people. Therefore it tends to be very generalized, providing information that is more of an overview for a broad audience. It’s less likely to be targeted or relevant to your audience’s needs and wants. So it will be less interesting and thus, probably not very effective as a tool to attract and retain business.

2. Impersonal. Since the material is written by someone else, it won’t have your “voice.” It also won’t reflect your unique message and help build your personal brand. Most likely your audience will recognize your content as canned and wonder why you sent it. People are inundated with too much information as it is. Providing them with something they could get elsewhere and you didn’t put any personal effort into, won’t make them feel you really want to engage with them.

3. Not a differentiator. Since the content is generic and impersonal, it won’t differentiate you from your competitors. Some of those competitors may even have the identical content on their site. Worse, they may have great content and yours is canned. You will miss an opportunity to stand out and position yourself as a true expert, thought leader and trusted advisor.

4. No SEO benefit. This is duplicate content that appears on multiple sites so it won’t help you be found online by search engines. Google rewards sites with original content and penalizes low quality sites with duplicate content.

5. Limited rights. It’s likely you have restricted rights to edit or modify the content. This means you can’t repurpose and leverage the material in different ways to get more value out it.

Is there a role for canned content?

I believe firms that use such content realize there is value to content marketing, but need to fully appreciate how important it is to be different when there is already an overwhelming amount of information available to people.

If you want to use some canned content to help get your content marketing off the ground, then use it selectively and in combination with your own material. First, look closely at what your vendor is providing to you. Make sure the material has some value for your particular audience and then consider how you can make it more useful. Is it basic introductory content? Then organize and label it that way so those who are interested can easily find it. Then look at ways to enhance it. Write up your own commentary and takeaways. Provide related checklists, tips and case studies. Use the canned content as inspiration for writing your own pieces that take the subject matter to a new level. Think about how it applies to your specific audience and your own expertise.

The point is you can start small. You can bring in original, personal and targeted content a little at a time while you phase out the use of canned content. In the end, you’ll do a much better job of differentiating yourself and building stronger relationships with your audience. And that will drive your business success.

3 reasons why you didn’t achieve your marketing goals in 2014

marketing missing targetAs 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at what you wanted to accomplish this year with your marketing and how well you succeeded. Disappointed in the results? Well, here are 3 common reasons why.

1. How well did you target your audience?

Most businesses have multiple potential audiences for their marketing. The problem is understanding and prioritizing the markets you want to go after and making sure your marketing is tailored for and promoted to that group.

How well did you select your target audience? Did you analyze what market segments were the strongest candidates for your business? Which ones seemed likely to grow or contract? Where you had the strongest relationships and expertise?

Maybe you knew clearly who you wanted to pursue, but how much did you know about them? It’s important to research and gather information about your audience’s needs, interests, challenges, etc. Explore the best ways to reach them. Be as specific as possible. For example, if typically you have to go through several gatekeepers before being hired by a company, identify the decision makers within these companies at each stage in the process. Then understand the pain points they are experiencing. How can you help them with their problems and build trust?

The better you understand your market, the better you can adapt your marketing materials and distribution so you can deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time.

2. Did you set specific goals?

Sure everyone’s ultimate goal is to grow their business, but how did you break that down? Were you specific about how much new business you wanted to bring in? How about client retention? What about profit margins and return on your marketing investment? Did you plan for which business areas had the most potential for growth? Which ones were stagnant or declining?

Along the way to growing your business, there are also other goals you might have set. Some examples include building brand awareness and trust, generating more or better quality leads, showcasing your thought leadership, educating clients and prospects, driving traffic to your website, engaging audiences through social media and many others.

Each of these goals has corresponding metrics to help measure your progress. Some of them are fairly straightforward, but others need to be well-thought out. Do you want to increase your website page views by 10% or do you want visitors to spend more time on your website and view more pages? How do you define whether you’re getting better quality leads from your marketing? Your metrics aren’t about whether you succeeded or failed. They are about helping you continually test, compare, revise and hone your tactics so you can improve results.

My point is that you should have had very particular (and prioritized) objectives in mind that you wanted your marketing to help you obtain. This helps you to understand where to focus your marketing efforts and create benchmarks to monitor how you’re doing. Without that, your marketing was probably less effective and directed than it could have been otherwise.

3. Did you have a strategic marketing plan?

In a strategic marketing plan you set out your goals and target audience as well as look at your business and financial situation. Then you identify and outline appropriate strategies and tactics. A marketing plan lets you think about your priorities and where and how you should focus your resources for the most impact.

Without a plan, you run the risk of spending time and money on an assortment of different tactics without a clearly defined purpose. Maybe some of those efforts will work. But what about the things that don’t work, or more likely, you’re not really sure what worked or what could have worked better. When you act without a marketing plan, you’re more likely to make ad hoc decisions. For example, let’s say you want to start a blog because everyone is doing it. If you start by thinking of your audience, goals and business situation, you can now more easily strategize what topics you want to cover, how you should promote and distribute it, and other ways to leverage the content. Or you may decide to go in another direction completely that fits your plan better. The plan helps you look at all the pieces in a logical way to maximize your investment.

What should you change in 2015?

Before you dive into the New Year, take some time to think about where to focus your efforts. Creating a marketing plan doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking especially if your business is small to mid-size. Start simple. Decide on a limited number of priorities with a well-defined market segment and develop your strategies around that. Determine a few tactics you want to test and establish metrics to gauge your results.

If you already have several marketing efforts in progress, think about how they fit together into an overall marketing plan. For example, let’s say you already have a monthly newsletter. What are your goals for it? Who is the audience? How does it fit into your overall strategic plan? What can you do to get better results? By thinking about it in this way you may see ways to tailor and exploit the newsletter in new ways.

Start 2015 right. Plan upfront for marketing success.

Good luck and Happy New Year!

Get inspired. Invest for success in content marketing.

Get inspired. Content marketing success stories.

With 86% of B2B marketers using content marketing, you would think making a business case for investing in it would be easy. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Content marketing is a long-term strategy and successful professional services firms realize that returns are measured in more than just dollars. What are some of the benefits these firms are realizing? Here are 5 success stories to inspire your own investment in content marketing.

1.  InsideOut – 388% more leads

The global provider of leadership, management and corporate training began focusing on content marketing last year. The company developed visually appealing “bite-sized” chunks of information, including slide decks, articles and videos. It put special emphasis on featuring material from the company’s thought leaders to give its content a unique perspective. Content was pushed out via email, social media, website and third party publications and press releases.

Results:

Email distribution of the content showed the most significant results. Compared to its sales-based emails, content-based emails had a 20% higher click-through rate, 87% lower opt-out rate and generated 388% more leads.

Takeaways:

  • Your content has to be compelling and unique to stand-out from the crush of information your readers receive.
  • Make the information clear and simple to digest. Focus on giving the reader the most critical points.
  • Even if you’re getting solid results with your current approach, content marketing can bring better results.

2.  Fisher & Phillips – 51K page views

The law firm was part of a 2 month pilot project with LinkedIn’s publishing platform. Before being selected for the pilot, the firm was already actively creating and pushing out content and had embraced online content as a core part of its marketing strategies. The firm promoted the posts via its social media channels and encouraged attorneys to do the same through their individual accounts.

Results:

During the pilot, its 25 posts generated 51K page views, 5.5K interactions (likes, shares, etc.) and 380 followers. LinkedIn pulse channels picked up nearly half the posts. It was well received by potential clients. Within the firm, more attorneys are now publishing and sharing content.

Takeaways:

  • Use LinkedIn as a platform for thought leadership and to build your network and credibility. It provides a great way to share knowledge and reach others who are interested in or need your expertise.
  • Be consistent to build readership. You’re more likely to be noticed if you’re regularly putting out informative content.
  • Introduce new hires to the publishing platform and encourage them to write and share content.

3.  Medix Dental – 37% open rates

The IT company, which provides technology solutions for dental offices, wanted to maintain a close relationship with clients as the company grew. It decided to commit to creating a monthly newsletter that would improve client retention and brand awareness. The goal was to make the newsletter friendly, personable and interesting and get clients reading it.  An important element of the newsletter was sharing relevant industry news and knowledge. Distribution was to clients and subscribers who signed up for it.

Results:

The company doubled its recipient list by promoting sign-ups via social media. The open rate for emails was 36.9%, which is 10% higher than the professional services industry average and got click-through rates of 10% compared to the industry average of 3.21%. Client feedback was also positive.

Takeaways:

  • Clients appreciate a more personable conversational tone. Don’t sound like you’re announcing or selling them something.
  • Focus on getting subscribers to read the content and on staying top of mind. You don’t want to get too focused on high click-through rates.
  • Offering your industry knowledge for free shows you’re knowledgeable and helpful and when clients need someone, they will think of you.

4.  Crowe Horwath – $250K in revenue

The public accounting and consulting firm won the 2013 Killer Content Marketing Lead Nurturing Award for its content program targeting C-suite leaders at financial institutions over $1 billion in assets. The company developed 48 pieces of content in four different topic areas, including executive briefs, case studies, infographics, checklists, Q&As, and a video. The focus was on helping marketers to identify key prospects and track and nurture them until they were ready to make a purchase.

Results:

The campaign engaged almost 800 contacts with a 70% open rate and 2 engagements worth $250,000 in revenue.

Takeaways:

  • Understand why your clients need your services, who makes the buying decisions and when, and what your competition is offering. You want to target the right audience with the right content at the right time.
  • Start by looking at all the data you already have on what people are interested in reading and when, where and how they read.
  • Use a variety of content formats. Different formats appeal to different readers.

5.  Heron Financial Group – 40% growth rate

Over the last few years, the RIA firm has been expanding its social media presence and making it an integral part of its marketing strategy. Social media drives traffic to its website and amplifies its content marketing efforts. Each piece of content is leveraged to reach a broader audience. For example, a 15 minute appearance on Bloomberg was shared via social media to thousands of followers resulting in 50 customer leads.

Results:

Heron has doubled its assets under management and has been growing in the 40% range since adding social media to its marketing strategy. Prior to its efforts, the firm’s growth was in single digits. The firm attributes its growth to multiple factors, but credits social media with being “a force multiplier” for a good marketing plan.

Takeaways:

  • Dedicate at least 30-60 minutes a week posting content on social media platforms and use the top 4 social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
  • Ask yourself if you would want to see your content on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. If not, don’t post it.
  • Social media makes a good marketing plan better, but it won’t fix a bad marketing plan.

Hopefully these case studies will inspire you to look at the short and long-term benefits of content marketing to support your own investment. For more examples of metrics to help measure the success of your own initiatives, see Understanding ROI. Want more case studies? Here’s a good compilation from B2B Marketing Experiences blog.

Want your content marketing to succeed? Think like a publisher.

media signpost imageThanks to social media and technology developments, professional services firms can publish their own content and attract and build their own audiences to grow their business. But to really be successful, they need to think of content the way publishers do. What does that mean?

Understand your target audience.

Publishers understand their readers. They develop profiles and gather information about who they are, what they read, how they read, their interests, concerns, etc. They also survey their audience periodically. The better you understand your own audience, the easier it is to attract and retain them.

Deliver relevant content for your audience.

Both content marketing and publishing are about providing useful and practical information targeted to a particular audience. Make sure your content is not about you. It’s about what will help readers and keep their attention.

Be reliable and consistent.

Publishers publish on a schedule. They also maintain certain standards for everything they produce. Readers develop expectations and if you want to be a trusted resource, then you need to consistently meet those expectations. Establish an editorial calendar to make sure responsibilities are assigned to specific individuals and publication deadlines are met. Create an editorial style guide to ensure there is a consistent writing style and voice.

Allocate sufficient resources.

Make sure you understand what is required to get the work done and set aside appropriate resources. You don’t want to start a content marketing campaign and find you have to abandon it because you don’t have the staff, money or other resources to continue. Even if you aren’t making money directly from your content the way a publisher might, you are looking to build your business and that means you need to make a real investment in content marketing.

Don’t skimp on editorial and design work.

You want to produce high-quality material. That means making sure your content is well-written and edited and is visually attractive. Bring in professionals to help if you don’t have internal resources.

Promote and leverage it.

Have a plan for how you will get your content in front of your audience. Publishers use multiple marketing channels including direct mail, email, web and social media to drive registrations, subscriptions and readership. They also repurpose content and look for opportunities to get more value out of it. When I worked in publishing, I would identify ways to use existing content to cross-promote, repackage or up-sell related content. Showing related content is valued by the reader and good for the publisher’s business. The same is true of your content. Linking to other relevant material keeps readers engaged and can encourage other actions – like getting them to give you their contact information. Remember to think about different formats for your content. Interesting content can be developed into a wide-range of formats including articles, blog posts, newsletters, whitepapers, webinars, video, live events and books. Different formats will appeal to different audiences.

Test and track results.

In both your marketing and your publishing, you want to know what is working. Publishers develop metrics to measure their marketing efforts against specific goals. They test constantly. On the content side, they also track what stories resonate better than others so they can deliver what the audience wants.

Develop your own distribution channels.

Publishers have a lot of control over how their content is distributed. Some license their content to third parties or use distribution partners, but they also make sure they have their own significant channels where they can build relationships directly with their readers. So make sure your content is always available on your site and that you drive traffic there. If you use content syndicators to increase your exposure, also invest in developing your own channels and compare results. What methods get you the most eyeballs on your content, the most visits to your website, or the higher quantity and quality of leads? Understand the pros and cons of each distribution channel in achieving your goals.

Have a strategy (really multiple strategies).

Creating, publishing and promoting content regularly is a significant effort and should be planned out. What kind of content should you produce? For what purpose? For what audience? How will it be promoted and distributed? What resources do you need? You’ll want an editorial strategy as well as a marketing strategy for each audience you want to target.

Thinking like a publisher in your content marketing will help you stay focused on delivering content that brings results.