Content Creation: How Hard Can It Be?

The recent release of State of Inbound 2015 hi-lights a number of key takeaways, such as:

“Marketers should create compelling content that reflects their company’s voice and brand while helping the consumers of this content turn into website visitors, leads and customers.”

A nice statement that speaks both on the importance of being true to your brand, and on the importance of helping your audience. All delivered through the wonder of creating online content.

If you’re an expert in your niche and loyal to your brand, you may think it should be easy. But, it’s harder than it sounds.

man putting on ladie's high heels

The reality is that many small to medium business enterprises find it difficult to consistently fuel a content pipeline.

In many cases internal experts are just too busy. Perhaps they know a lot but have difficulty in focusing in on specific ideas and topics. There’s a level of organization and planning required to consistently generate fresh stuff — blog posts, videos, white papers, or help guides. And it takes a lot of time. Every week.

Enter the freelancer or marketing agency.

Those that create valuable and compelling content don’t always have to be your own employees.

Freelancers or agencies specialize in working with companies to co-create content and take some of the burden off. They have processes and schedules built around both independent research and working with your experts to organize and publish relevant content.

You don’t’ have to do this alone.

In fact, many don’t. Turning again to the State of Inbound 2015 report, HubSpot found “leading marketer’s content comes from both in-house and out”. This is the sweet spot that can ensure your brand and voice is present but gives you time to look after other parts of your business.

Get the biggest bang for your buck.

It makes sense to use your expertise and best people in a way that delivers the biggest bang for your business.

A lot of content required is to help your online business to “get found” and to help people learn about your stuff (and decide if it is what they want or need). At this early stage people may not be ready to buy yet.

It makes sense to spend your expert time with those that are nearer to buying, after they have consumed some of your remarkable content. Have your out-source work on the “top-of-the-funnel” content while your best people are working on closing qualified leads.

Whatever the case, in-house or out, the experts agree content is the lifeblood of online marketing. Your audience must be impressed with you online and satisfied enough with what they have found in order to give you their business.

Notice I haven’t said that you don’t have to do anything. That would be too easy.

Planning for 2016: Inbound Trends & Patterns Worth Noticing

As 2015 rushes toward its close, it’s time to start planning for next year. Any business that hopes to succeed will include a marketing plan in their business strategy, but it’s not enough to just pay lip service to it. That marketing plan should be actionable, measurable, and focused on Inbound Marketing practices.

graph paper with rising bar graph and pie chart with 'plan' written on it
Photo credit: Violka08 / Thinkstock / 527478745

Not sure exactly what “Inbound Marketing” really means? HubSpot, the company who coined the term in 2006, refers to it as “the art and science of drawing visitors to your company on their own terms versus obtrusively pushing your messages onto them… [It] is the superset of quality content and other ‘magnetic’ tactics.” And their annual ‘State of Inbound’ Report is rather like the State of the Nation and the Farmer’s Almanac of marketing, combined. The 2015 report identifies trends and patterns worth noticing as you build your business plan for 2016, providing insights that are aimed at helping businesses improve top-line performance.

While I strongly encourage you to download and read the whole document, the State of Inbound 2015 Report has 54 information-packed pages, so allow me to give you a brief taste of a few key ingredients for your 2016 marketing success recipe:


“Getting found” is priority #1 (and #2 and #3) for high performers

When conducting its survey and analyzing the results, HubSpot focused on the segment of inbound marketers who generated positive ROI. They looked at these high performers to see if their priorities were different than those of low performers.

Pattern: They found that high performers focused on programs aimed at getting their content (and thus their company) found. Specifically, their top priorities, in order, were: Blogging, organic search, and content amplification. “Blogging appears to have the most substantial impact on performance.”

Inbound Marketing has become an important, cost-effective source of leads

Trend: In 2015, more than twice as many respondents cited inbound (45%) as their primary source of leads versus outbound (22%).

Trend: 84% of inbound marketers cite organic, “top of funnel” lead sources (social media, blogs, SEO, and email marketing) as rising in importance over the last six months. And the Sales team agrees that these four have become the most important, although they place a relatively higher importance on email marketing, whereas Marketing prioritizes blogs and social media.


Related patterns:

  • Organizations that source more leads through inbound tend to enjoy an ROI advantage.
  • Marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13x more likely to enjoy positive ROI
  • While cost per lead was difficult to quantify, it was found that leads sourced through inbound programs were consistently less expensive than outbound leads. This held true regardless of company size.


Inbound is on the rise

Trend: The number of marketers who state they are practicing inbound rose from 60% last year to 85% this year, while the percentage of marketers who concede they don’t run inbound was nearly halved to 13%.

Trend: Inbound is not limited to Marketing. Sales, services, and other departments are starting to use inbound practices. Fostering an inbound approach outside the marketing department has the potential to be a big competitive advantage.


Measurement is essential

Measurement is “the first step in developing a plan and the last step in determining results. This is why data is such a central component of the inbound machine.”

Trend: Alignment between leadership and marketers has increased. This is likely due to an increase in the use of measurement and metrics to collect unbiased, objective data that can be used to drive informed decisions and set appropriate priorities.

Pattern: Marketers that measure inbound Return on Investment (ROI) are 17 times more likely to see the same or higher ROI compared to the prior year. While this data may be skewed by the fact that high performing marketers are more likely to measure results, “there’s a strong correlation between simply measuring ROI and achieving it.”

Pattern: Proven ROI has a significant positive influence on the size of the marketing budget. In fact, “past success with inbound” had a greater impact on budget than any other single factor.


Putting it all together to create a solid plan for 2016

It seems clear from the results analyzed in HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2015 that Inbound is an essential part of the marketing strategy and overall business plan for any organization. It has been proven to generate leads, lower the average cost per lead, and increase ROI. So, how do you put it into practice?

  • Include inbound programs in your marketing plan and earmark resources for them.
  • Focus on Content Marketing as a key component of Inbound Marketing. Useful, compelling content is necessary to drive Inbound success. “Content is the lifeblood of Inbound.”
  • Establish key metrics, and measure as you go.
  • Identify the projects, activities that are providing the highest return.

And above all, stay nimble. “Inbound is about constantly reallocating your resources based on performance.”

Does your organization “do” Inbound? Have you noticed any other trends or patterns?

Who’s Your “Amy”?

three women with shopping bags
Photo credit: ThinkstockPhotos-454296797

Last week the Globe and Mail published an article by Marina Strauss on Sears Canada’s marketing focus (New Sears Canada president’s mission: Win over ‘Amy’) — spoiler alert, it’s all about Amy. Amy is “40 years old and has one child and another on the way. She’s time-starved and looking for reasonably priced fashions.” And she doesn’t exist as an actual person, she is a representative of the ideal customer that they believe will help Sears regain some of its lost market share in Canada. And, for the foreseeable future, most of their marketing decisions and service implementation will take Amy into account.

Defining your ideal client, even to the point of naming her or him, shouldn’t seem odd in this time of avatars and online profiles. In fact, determining your target market and understanding your customer is nothing new. However, the structure and detail applied in the current trend does seem to be adding an additional dimension to the practice. And, that’s a good thing. It is driven, in part, by the rise in content generation and inbound marketing tactics. It’s important to understand who you are writing content for and how best to attract their attention and online loyalty.

Sears realizes, of course, that they can’t ignore the existing customers who remain loyal shoppers. Have you met Linda? She’s an “over-50 customer with two grown children and an ingrained Sears shopping habit.” (Maybe Amy and Linda will go shopping together, and Amy can help Linda post her purchases on Instagram.)

Under the savvy stewardship of new President Carrie Kirkman Sears Canada is applying a disciplined marketing strategy. It sounds obvious, and you might assume that all companies employ this type of strategy, but most don’t. In fact, many SMEs don’t truly implement any structured marketing strategy. (Yes, they probably have some form of strategic plan, but they often don’t have a workable implementation plan, so it never becomes part of the day-to-day consideration.) And that’s the real strength of what Sears Canada is doing. This strategy is pervasive and lends itself to implementation at all levels — not easily, it will take real commitment. But making it more tangible (Would Amy use that product, notice that display, appreciate this service…) It’s easier to understand directives and more motivating to care about how they are fulfilled when you’re “doing it for Amy.”

In addition to facilitating implementation, here are some other advantages to a successful buyer persona directed marketing strategy:

Coherent Communication: For any organization, and especially large corporations, communication (both internal and external) can be rather confusing. Concentrating on buyer personas provides a simple and engaging storyline internally, and coordinates clear external messaging.

Resource Deployment: Having such a laser focus reduces waste as you more effectively direct spending and staff.

Staff Morale: Understanding who you are working for and why can be a rallying force for staff. If everyone understands their targeted demographic is, if everyone knows Amy, then the entire organization can understand what they are doing and why. Retail, and virtually every organization, is reliant on service; isn’t it easier to care of a friend?

Satisfied Clientele: Not trying to please everyone allows your organization to hone in on satisfying your targeted market — improving both ROI and customers’ experience.

Regardless of the type of organization, you will benefit from articulating your ideal client/customer/member/donor/patron, and focusing your strategy on that buyer persona. Any business is not necessarily good business, so determine who you should be catering to, and set out to rock their world.

Ladies Who Lead: Inspiring Stories of Successful Women in Marketing

[Part 3 in a 3-part series on women in marketing]

There’s a lot to love about the award-winning show Mad Men – especially if you’re in the marketing, communication or advertising industries yourself. However, if you’re a woman and a believer in equal rights, much of the show can be hard to swallow. This is what makes Peggy Olson, as a character, so fascinating.

Peggy comes a long, long way from her humble beginnings as Don Draper’s nervous young secretary in the first season – eventually climbing her way to the highest ranks at her New York advertising company as a head copywriter. The industry is dominated entirely by men of course as the show is set in the late 1960s before the second or third waves of feminism hit corporate America. Peggy faces incredible sexism and discrimination, making her journey to the top as a young woman especially compelling.

While the sexism never completely disappears, Peggy’s skin thickens as the series progresses. In the final episode ofMad Men, she’s a whole new woman it seems – negotiating huge client deals, spearheading million dollar campaigns, and fearlessly drinking and smoking among the ‘old boys club’ after hours.

Peggy may have been a fictional character, but her struggle resonates being that workplace sexism is an unfortunate reality for countless women in marketing since the industry’s inception. As we’ve explored in the previous two blogs in this series, discrimination is still prevalent for many women in our field and still has a stubborn tendency to hinder our success.

That being said, there are an increasing number of women stepping up, breaking this infamous ‘glass ceiling’ and carving new paths for the women that follow. As women in marketing, we can certainly take solace in the great strides we’ve made since the era Mad Men took place in.

Today, more and more women are making their mark on the industry, we should both celebrate and expect that. Here are a few Canadian examples of marketing leadership:

Image credit: ismagilov/iStock

Sharon MacLeod – @SharonMacLeod

Vice-President of Marketing at Unilever Canada

When it comes to Canadian corporate marketing, Sharon MacLeod is a woman who stands out for more reasons than one. She’s tough, and refuses to stand for inequality.

Growing up on a farm with three older brothers, Sharon MacLeod was expected to “do everything the boys did.” There were no boys’ tasks or girls’ tasks, just work that needed to be done. Having been raised with these values, it was eye-opening when she walked into her first meeting as a director at Unilever to discover she was the only woman in the room. She recalls this moment as a defining one which motivated her to become a champion for women’s advancement at Unilever and beyond. Ms. MacLeod has been credited by many with being an “engine for change,” vigorously supporting the growth and promoting the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace.

As a member of the Unilever Canada leadership team, Sharon MacLeod has been a big part of programs such as the Dove Self-Esteem project, Becel’s healthy heart initiative and Hellmann’s Real Food Movement, as well as the opening of the first-ever Pleasure pop-up store with Magnum ice cream. Her marketing work with Unilever has been recognized by consumers and industry peers alike. Among her many accolades are two Grand Prix awards at the Cannes Advertising Awards and Brand of the Decade for Dove by Strategy. MacLeod is a founder of the renowned women’s leadership program, Chocolate Villa. She is a global diversity champion at Unilever and a great supporter of the company’s sustainable living plan.


Marie-Josée Lamothe – @MJLamothe

Managing Director of Branding and Director for Quebec at Google Canada

Marie-Josée Lamothe has the kind of skills and talent that get noticed – which is probably why she’s working in marketing for the one of the leading digital companies in the world.

A 20-year veteran of the beauty and luxury marketing worlds, Marie-Josée Lamothe has experienced numerous successes on an international level. In spearheading many innovative and award-winning projects, she has helped L’Oréal Canada become the country’s top digital beauty marketer. Lamothe has recognized as Strategy Canada’s Marketer of the Year and, under her direction, L’Oréal Canada earned a spot on the list of Top Marketing Companies by Marketing.

Lamothe sits on various industry boards, and she is an advocate of education. In 2014, Lamothe moved to Google Canada where she now sells marketers on how Google can play a bigger role in their communication with customers.



Michele McKenzie

Interim CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia Corporation

Michele McKenzie’s award-winning career has taken her across the country and back. When it comes to women in marketing, she is certainly worth paying attention to.

With some 30 years of experience working in Canada’s tourism sector, Michele McKenzie has become an internationally recognized expert in hospitality, tourism and marketing. Since being appointed to her current role with the Canadian Tourism Commission in 2004, she has helped it evolve into a respected and competitive brand marketing organization.

Under her leadership, the CTC earned the Marketer of the Year title from Marketing in 2009 and contributed to Canada’s No. 1 position on FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index. The recipient of several awards for management excellence, McKenzie recently accepted the 2013 Leading Management Change Award from Canadian Government Executive. Before joining the CTC, McKenzie was Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. She holds a designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors and an honorary degree from Humber College in Toronto.

Since stepping down as CEO of the CTC, McKenzie has moved into a temporary role as interim CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia Corporation.


Do-It-Yourself Online: Yes or No?

They say that a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. In the case of building on the Internet, this is particularly true. What used to be infinitely complex to create is now made simple by a myriad of software platforms that allow almost anyone to build stuff online. For an online business, doing it all yourself can be dangerous.

Websites, e-commerce, and social media business pages are possible for any business, regardless of technical skill, to create, publish and update. Content management systems such as WordPress, e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, and social media for business platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are inexpensive and easy-to-use for any commercial enterprise. Even the elements of design are handled through the availability of numerous templates where you literally fill in the blanks.

The question is; just because you can do-it-yourself, should you actually do it?

Do it yourself hammer accident

Thinkstock / iStock  

The answer lies not in the technical execution, but in the effectiveness of your efforts. A website or online store that does a better job of turning people away rather than selling your products and services is perhaps worse than not having anything online at all.

Much of it boils down to the writing.

Writing for the web is both easy and hard. Let’s review both sides for some context:

The Easy

In some ways, writing for the web is easier than writing a lot of other business stuff, especially stuff for print. The difference is in the way people read online vs. the way people read offline.

Online reading is more like scanning. People are after something specifically when online, searching for information. Decisions need to be made as to whether the online reader is in the right place or not.

Because of this the writing should be simple and brief. Short sentences and paragraphs. Don’t make the reader work to figure things out. There is no shortage of alternative websites and online stores if your reader should they choose to leave you.

Most lay people overwrite when writing for the web. Maybe it’s not so easy.

The Hard

You would think the messages you are trying to convey online would be easy, but it’s not. It can be very difficult to get right.

The challenge is in writing for your readers and not yourself.

Your readers should be personified as “your ideal customer”. The more real you make this persona the more targeted and effective your writing will be. Describe them in detail; demographics, wants, and problems they are trying to solve.

Another difficulty is in leaning towards what you like to talk about (and write) instead of what your web visitor wants to read. Business people love to talk about their accomplishments and their perceptions of their businesses, like proud parents.

The writing perspective needs to be that of the reader and what’s in it for them. The reader is interested in themselves, their needs and problems. In reality, they are not interested in your company or the fancy features of your products.

Should you do-it-yourself?

This depends on how focused you are on your online message, your target audience and the behavior of online shoppers. You know your business, no doubt, but this does not guarantee success in building a website or an online store.

Anyone can get something up using WordPress or Shopify but there is much to consider in what you say and how you say it through these platforms. You needn’t be a journalist or a novelist to be effective — just convey the right message from the right perspective.

If effective online writing seems daunting, you likely need some help. Don’t risk being misunderstood. Prospective customers are too precious. Seek help from a specialist.