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How To Choose The Right Content Marketing Agency

By | Content Marketing | No Comments

Some of the more common questions we’re asked during the sales process are “how do I know that I’m choosing the right content marketing agency?” or “what makes a good content marketing agency?”. Because the idea of content marketing is so new to businesses large and small, I wanted to create a follow up post to one created by Shannon this summer called 7 Elements of Choosing a Content Marketing Agency.

This post should act as a guide and a resource to develop better questions to ask as you go through the discovery and consideration stages of the decision making process.

Subject Matter Expertise

When looking to engage with a content marketing agency, one thing you need to be sure of is that they can write for your industry. Creating good content is hard enough without adding in a technical element that might be foreign to general writers. Keep in mind that it’s okay if your agency outsources content to subject matter experts who know your vertical; you just need to make sure that someone who knows your industry is producing your content from the very beginning.

Practice What They Preach

One of the biggest signs that you’re engaging with a winning agency is that they practice what they preach! Take a look at their blog. Do they provide consistent resources that actually provide value to their readers? What do they offer their audience in terms of premium content like eBooks, guides, white papers, and videos?

Provide Thought Leadership

Any content marketing agency worth their weight provides thought leadership in several different areas. First, they seek opportunities to provide their expertise to industry publications. Second, they are invited to speak and participate at different events and conferences. You shouldn’t worry too much about agencies getting published in Forbes, Huffington Post, Inc.com or any other national publication. Truth be told, anyone can pay a writer can get their content onto those websites. That’s our one, dirty little secret to share with you in this guide. Welcome to the new age of online PR. 🙂 Instead, look for consistency in publishing content that speaks to their audience.

Provide Case Studies & Client References

Before deciding on an agency to go with, you need to make two specific requests. First, you need to request case studies. Some agencies don’t publish full case studies on their website (like us) due to agreements with current clients not to publicly share their data, but can share them privately.

Second, you need to request 2-3 introductions to clients who would be willing to talk with you on the phone to discuss their experience. It’s best if the clients are somewhat related to your vertical, but they don’t have to be.

Here are some questions you might consider asking:

  • Overall, how has your experience been?
  • Has the agency delivered on promises made during the sales process?
  • How is the quality of the content they are producing?
  • How is the quality of the customers they are generating?
  • How is their communication and reporting?
  • Do they treat you as a client or as a partner?
  • Do they work as though they are part of your internal team?
  • Do they think outside the box?
  • Do you believe they have your best interest in mind?
  • Would you recommend them to a friend, family member, or colleague?

Have Clearly Defined Roadmaps & Success Metrics

One area where agencies tend to really struggle is in identifying success metrics for your unique business needs and mapping a plan that will help you get from point A to point B. The content marketing agency you choose should have a very good idea, before you close the deal, of what your business does and how you generate revenue. They should be able to provide you with some KPIs that are unique to your business. You should also request some sample client roadmaps that they’ve created so you can see how they operate on a weekly and monthly basis.

Provide Thorough Reporting

Along the lines of roadmaps and success metrics, your agency should be providing thorough reporting to you on a regular basis. Reports should include what’s being worked on, what’s scheduled, and any road blocks that they need your help in overcoming. Reports should also include your unique success metrics and how far along they are to meeting/exceeding your goals. At minimum reports should be delivered once per month. A good agency will deliver twice per month and hold in-person meetings or calls on a regular basis.

Have A Strategy For Each Channel

A good content marketing agency knows that content should fuel all other channels and create demand for a product or service. When engaging in content marketing, your agency should know how to leverage their content to improve your SEO, create more effective PPC campaigns, and skyrocket your social media presence and engagement.

A good agency knows that different channels require a different approach; you cannot take the same content and submit it to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram and see success. Your audience is conditioned to use each channel differently and requires a unique strategy to reach and engage with them.

It’s also worthwhile to note that you don’t have to attack all channels at once. In fact, a good agency will pick a few channels and focus on getting them right before moving on to additional ones. 

Use Marketing Automation/Lead Nurturing To Convert More Prospects To Customers

Agencies that really understand content marketing know that not all leads coming through a website or any other channel, online or offline, are created equal. Every prospect is in a different part of the decision making process and require different touch points to move them through the funnel. When choosing a content marketing agency, make sure they understand and deploy a strategy for nurturing leads through a marketing automation platform. The platform used is irrelevant, but they should be able to make recommendations based on the stage your business is in.

 

Understand The Buyer Journey, The Sales Funnel, & How To Move Prospects Through It

If you can find an agency that understands how buyers make decisions, how they move through the sales funnel, and how to encourage prospects to take next steps, grab them and never let go. A lot of content marketing agencies just want to build and market content and don’t take the time to map the buyer journey and individual pieces of content to each step. Doing so will not only help you convert more prospects into customers, but also will help position you as an industry leader.

Build An Audience, Not Borrow One

Good content marketing agencies are interested in building you an audience, not borrowing one. If you think back to the days or MySpace, what happened when they shut down their services? Brands lost all that they invested in borrowing an audience on their platform. What happens if the four hundred thousand followers you have on Facebook disappear tomorrow? Smart marketers work to tap an audience, bring them to your “playground” and work to turn them into an owned audience that can be engaged with on your terms.

Sensitive To Your Brand

Every business is unique and every brand is unique as well. Agencies that understand this and know how to work with brand teams to make their lives easier is a huge win. You should look for an agency that has checklists and a process for creating content that’s in-line with your brand and can easily be reviewed by someone internally without sucking a lot of bandwidth.

Interested In Using/Repurposing Already Existing Content

Money is a sensitive topic, even in the business world. Many content marketing agencies want to get in and start producing content day one. Good agencies take a full inventory of all the content owned by a business and determine what can be reused/repurposed for other uses. This process can save businesses thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours that can be invested in other initiatives.

Make It Easy To Work With Them

Flexibility is huge when it comes to working with an agency. A good content marketing agency should be able to plug into your systems and processes without skipping a beat. Be wary of any agency forcing you to operate in a certain way in order to do business with them.

Ask For Data Up Front

You know the old adage — you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been? The same applies to any form of marketing. Unless your potential agency understands where you are currently at, they cannot effectively put together a plan of action, scope of work, or accurate pricing to deliver the results you are looking for. You should plan on providing access to, or at the least, providing PDF exports of your analytics data, webmaster tools data, and lead generation data. Be wary if your agency doesn’t ask for this fairly early in the process.

View You As A Partner, Not Just Another Client

Solid marketing agencies view and treat you like you’re a long-term partner, not just another client. Pay attention to the words they use in referring to your potential engagement. Do they refer to you as a client or a partner? Do they send contracts or agreements?

Integrate With In-House Teams

Along the same lines as above, you will want to find an agency that integrates with your in-house team. Some agencies want to come in and run the show. This usually ends poorly. Good agencies understand that there are always going to be strengths and weaknesses inside of organizations and if they can plug the holes and make weaknesses, strengths, they are likely a good agency to do business with.

They’re Not Cheap

Good marketing — online or offline — requires a significant investment. Creating valuable content that drives brand awareness and gets a prospect to take action is expensive. There’s no way around it. One of the first things you should ask agencies is what their minimum retainer is. If it’s under $3,000 – $4,000 per month for a minimum of 6-12 months, they are going to have a really hard time producing results for you.

If you have a smaller budget than that, ask the potential agency where they feel you would be best to invest it. Good agencies will provide answers like, “hire an intern to help with x, y, or z”, “invest in a redesign of the website”, invest in conversion optimization to turn more if your visitors into leads”, or “invest in a marketing automation solution to convert more of your leads into paying customers”. These are the agencies that really have your best interests in mind and don’t just want your money.

I hope this was helpful for you in your quest to find the perfect agency. In the next couple of weeks we will be turning this into a downloadable guide/worksheet, so make sure you check back. We will also send it out via email, so make sure you subscribe to our newsletter.

If you have any follow up questions please fill out the form on our contact us page and either I or a member of our team will be in touch.

 

What We Learned From IMSLC

By | Content Marketing, How-To, IMSLC, Inbound Marketing, PPC, Uncategorized, Video | No Comments

We had a crazy-fun time last week, bringing you the first ever IMSLC event, hosted by Stryde! Things started off a little shaky with some technical issues, but our speakers’ on-the-fly skills pulled through to hopefully give you some new insights into this content marketing game.

Many thanks to everyone who kept it lively and held a good sense of humor throughout!

 

In case you missed it…

Or if would just like to revisit the presentations, here is a recap of the event. We want to keep you in the loop on where we are and where we’re going with IMSLC.

Bryan Brandenburg, CMO and Co-founder of Salt Lake Comic Con shared his successes with video marketing and how investments in Facebook marketing have dominated referral traffic for SL Comic Con.

Tyler Whittingham and Michael Query, the brains behind Admind, illustrated the importance of PPC and covered everything from targeting and bid strategy, to optimization and reporting.

Emily Burkhart, our very own Marketing Manager at Stryde, drove home the value of proving content marketing ROI. With a content marketing budget increase across the board, and 79% of B2B firms not tracking ROI or feeling mediocre about their tracking abilities, it could be a perfect time to reassess where your efforts are leading you.

 

The Future of IMSLC

We get a lot of work done in front of a computer screen but that can never surmount the value of face-to-face communication. Offline events allow the marketing community to connect in a more personal learning environment. This was only our first rodeo, and we’re not hopping off yet! Here are some ideas we’ve brainstormed for coming events:

  • Smaller groups or conferences
  • Structured group networking session
  • Single centralized theme
  • Targeted based on audience experience level
  • Single keynote speaker
  • Panel discussion
  • Changeable location

As always, the direction of our next chapter depends on you! Please share with us your feedback from the last IMSLC in this short survey so that we can bring you an even better event!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZY5D6WQ

The future of IMSLC may take a new name, structure and venue, but the goal will always remain the same; to bring valuable, actionable insights to our marketing community. We’d like to thank our sponsors once again. And thanks to you for your continued support! What would you like to see at the next free inbound marketing event?

What the 2014 B2B Demand Generation Benchmark Report Tells Us

By | Business, Digital Marketing, Industry News | No Comments

Last year I wrote a post recapping the findings from Software Advice’s 2013 Online B2B Buyer Behavior Report. This year marketing technology advisor Software Advice is at it again, but this time around they put together a 2014 B2B Demand Generation Benchmark Report.

Demand generation, which I’m sure most of you already know, is using targeted marketing programs to help drive more awareness of and interest in your company’s products or services. In this report, Software Advice surveyed 200 B2B marketing professionals, mostly senior-level marketers, and discovered what channels, offers, content types and technologies they used to power their demand gen programs, as well as which ones worked the most effectively for them. Three key takeaways stood out from this report:

  1. The best channels that brought in large numbers of high-quality leads were trade shows, referral marketing and in-house email marketing.
  2. Videos were the most used content type, used by 92% of those surveyed, and videos produced a large quantity of leads.
  3. 79% of the B2B marketers use at least 11 marketing software applications, and 97% use email marketing software.

Best Channels for Generating Leads

The B2B marketers surveyed were asked to rate channels based on the relative quantity and quality of leads generated by said channels. Trade shows and events were picked as generating the most leads and the best leads, which Michele Linn, content development director at CMI, credited to in-person events being meaningful and powerful today when basically everything we do is online.

SA graph

Other channels that did well were search engine advertising, in-house email marketing and TV, radio and print advertisements. If you want to run programs that focus on quantity, these are options you should look into if you aren’t already doing them. But steer clear of direct mail and display advertising, as these 2 finished last.

While trade shows and events brought in large amounts of promising leads, they were also picked as being the channels that had a high cost-per-lead. Low-cost channels included in-house email marketing, organic search and social media. Social media marketing, the campaigns and programs excluding ads, made the top of the list at being the lowest cost-per-lead.

Content Types and Number of Leads They Produce

Next, the marketers were asked to rank content types by their effectiveness with demand generation and lead generation. Of all surveyed, 92% said video was the most commonly used content type for demand gen programs. Videos ranked just ahead of surveys, white papers and case studies.

SA graph 2

Videos and surveys also ranked as the top-2 ways for generating the most quantity of leads. Videos have been most thought of as content that helps brands build trust with their consumers and is used to simply entertain them. But as this report shows, companies must be producing more actionable videos that are generating more and more quality leads.

Rounding out the list of content types given, e-books and case studies finished at the bottom.

Software Applications Used for Demand Generation Efforts

SA graph 3

Software Advice then provided 11 software systems and asked the marketers to select which ones they used to assist with their demand gen efforts. Almost all surveyed, 97%, use email marketing software. Following closing behind were CRM and marketing automation systems. But what should be noted is that 79% of those surveyed use all of the 11 software solutions they were shown, and more than 70% said all 11 were reasonably important with their demand gen efforts. This proves that B2B marketing departments rely heavily on information technology.

Demand Generation Expectations and Spending

The last two questions Software Advice asked were how the marketers’ demand gen programs were performing compared to their expectations and what their plans for demand gen spending were for 2015. Forty-four percent of small businesses, those with less than 100 employees, said their efforts performed below what they anticipated, while 27% of midsized companies and 29% of large companies said the same.

Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, believes these results are because many marketers set foolish expectations. Marketers want things right now, but they forget their prospects don’t function exactly how they want.

“Across the board, we too often expect marketing programs to work immediately,” he said. “We want qualified leads, now! But our prospects don’t work that way.”

As for spending with demand gen efforts, 41% of the marketers surveyed said they were going to increase their yearly spending, 43% said they were going to spend the same amount and 17% said they were going to decrease spending for the upcoming year.

SA graph 4

Linn said it’s no surprise at all that more marketers are planning to spend more for 2015.

“People realize now that having a demand generation strategy is so critical,” she said. “They need to plan content along the entire customer lifecycle. And it can be very time-intensive and resource-intensive. So, from that perspective, it’s not surprising that people are increasing spend at all. It’s an engine that constantly needs to be fed.”

Don’t Waste Your Money On Content Marketing!

By | Content Marketing | One Comment

customer loyaltyAlright… that probably wasn’t fair, writing a post title like that, but it caught your interest, didn’t it?

No this isn’t a post about how content marketing is a big waste of money, in fact, I love content marketing and think it’s a brilliant investment for every company doing business online. However, even the best content marketing efforts won’t help you grow your business, unless your sales team and process are set up to make the purchasing experience 100% positive. Let’s discuss…

Alert! You Sell To Real Humans!

Many companies who do business online have forgotten that they are selling their product or service to a human being. They’ve gotten so far into the weeds that they all they can focus on is SEO this, PPC that, build this piece of content, and so forth. Well I’ve got news for ya… humans care not only about your amazing content and how it led them on their journey to purchase from you, but they also care about how you interact with them in the sales and service process. It can’t just be all about how you are perceived online.

To truly take your business to the next level with online marketing strategy and execution, you need to solve the problems of your users and potential customers. This should begin the moment you start developing your marketing plan, all the way through servicing the client.

Key Areas of Focus

Problem #1: Humans hate to be interrupted. This is why online marketing companies like Stryde exist, because we’ve gotten so fed up with the push mentality that we created strategies to pull people to our clients websites, which creates a more positive experience with the prospect!

Problem #2: Humans have gotten way more web savvy. Your prospects don’t just care about your product or service anymore, they care about the details, about its ability to help relieve their pain, and so forth. Believe it or not, most of your customers are almost all of the way through the buying cycle before they submit a request for more information or pull the trigger on your latest and greatest product. They demand thorough information… they demand product or service reviews… they demand the world… SO GIVE IT TO THEM!!! This is why content marketing and lead nurturing are so powerful. By understanding your target audience, you can help them sell themselves and save you loads of time in the process.

Problem #3: Post-sale relationships matter just as much as pre-sale. Yup, you read that right. Your customers care as much or more about their experience post-sale than they do pre-sale. Humans know when they’re being sold. Sales reps will give them the world to get them to spend money with their business, and it makes us feel good doesn’t it? Well, if you don’t get that same treatment post sale, your won’t be a customer for long, will you? Businesses who truly get content marketing… or just general marketing principles at that, understand that you need to deliver a whole package that caters to the customer. They need to feel like they are your only customer and when this happens you will create a brand advocate for life! Which should be the goal of every business!

Obviously, I can’t lay out a plan to follow because each and every business is unique, however, I can promise that if you start to think of yourself as the customer and strive to build each process with humans in mind, you will see the value of your customers skyrocket. They will keep spending money with you, spend more money with you, and bring others to your front door.

Five Initiatives of a CMO & How Digital Marketing Can Help With Each

By | Digital Marketing | No Comments

cmo initativesChief Marketing Officers often times wear a lot of hats and have a long list of initiatives that they are responsible for, however, there are a small few that truly matter when it comes to marketing the business and ensuring a bright future for the organization and their employees. In today’s post, I want to talk about the five most important initiatives of a CMO and how digital marketing plays a crucial role helping them accomplish their initiatives.

Defining & Identifying The Most Strategically Important Clients

The first, and by far the most important goal of a CMO is to define and identify the most important “growth potential” clients. During the process, you should determine who they are, what their needs and pain points are, and how they prefer to consume information and be introduced to new ideas or concepts. The reason this is most important is because the success of all other initiatives hinge on this one initative. If you simply skip over this or get it completely wrong, chances are you’re going to be in some trouble down the road.

Performing this type of research is very time intensive, so I won’t go into it in this post, but here’s a nice write up by Jon Henshaw over at Raven Tools on defining your target audience and creating buyer personas.

Acquiring The Most Strategically Important Clients

After you’ve taken the time to clearly define your target audience and the customers which will not only bring you the most revenue, but will be the most profitable, acquiring them is fairly easy with several digital marketing strategies. Unlike older, outdated strategies, with digital, specifically SEO, PPC, and Social Media, you can put your message right in front of your most important clients and guess what? It converts at a higher rate and it’s cheaper acquire them too. Shhhhh… don’t tell your competitors 🙂

Retaining The Most Strategically Important Clients

Many will argue that client retention lies solely on the shoulders of the Chief Services Offer and their team of representatives, however, I disagree somewhat. Yes, client retention is heavily impacted by the front line employees and their leaders, however, with the help of the marketing team and focused content marketing initiatives, you can greatly increase the length of stay of each of your clients. Here’s one example of how to do this…

John (made up name) purchased a new marketing automation system from you. The system is fairly complex and has a steep learning curve. By providing a robust FAQ section along with video tutorials and written guides (all produced by the marketing team), you’ve increased the chances of John having a fantastic experience and staying on as a paying customer. If you didn’t provide such resources, John might have started looking for an easier solution online and stopped paying for your product after one month. This is just one of many ways to use content to improve the customer experience.

Growing The Amount of Revenue Coming From The Most Important Clients

Putting great emphasis on client retention as well as growing client accounts are two of the easiest ways for your organization to grow revenue and build a thriving business. There are two specific ways you can work to grow the amount of revenue your clients are spending with you. The first way to grow revenue from current clients is through remarketing. Smart marketers are not only segmenting leads they receive, but they are segmenting their customers based on what they purchased. If I purchased a golf shirt from the Nike Outlet, they could then send me promotions around golf pants, shoes, and other golf products that I might be in need of. These very targeted remarketing efforts always convert at a higher rate as opposed to a blanket promotion such as, we know you purchased something from us, we are having a sale on basketball shoes this week. As you can see, definitely not as effective.

The second way to grow revenue is through content marketing. Putting together ebooks, white papers, webinars or other targeted collateral or training that can be exclusively distributed to your clients for free is a great way to build awareness for your additional products or services. Again, if you segmented your list, you can send them collateral specifically geared towards something else they might need. This, coupled with a follow up call from an account representative to discuss opportunities has proven to be a very powerful way to grow the amount of revenue coming from each of your important clients.

Increasing The Perceived Value of The Products or Services Offered

The last initiative, which I feel is closely tied to the second and fourth initiatives, is to increase the perceived value of the products or services offered to your clients. This not only helps grow your client base, but helps retain your clients for a longer period of time.

To do this, you need to truly understand what your unique selling proposition (what makes you better than everyone else in the space) is and build internal and external campaigns to solidify it in the minds of everyone who interacts with your brand. If your front line employees don’t know what makes you different and consistently sell it to your clients, the perceived value remains the same or decreases over time. Content marketing is a great way to increase the perceived value internally and externally. Again, guides, ebooks, infographics and other digital assets can help you in your efforts.

As you can clearly see, a CMO definitely has their work cut out for them, however, by leveraging new technologies and marketing strategies, getting there is a whole lot easier than it used to be. Do you have any other tips on how to handle these five initiatives? If so, please share in the comments section below.

Image source: PRWeb

Ten Characteristics of A Trustworthy Digital Marketing Company

By | Digital Marketing | No Comments

trusting handshakeI had lunch yesterday with an old colleague and he mentioned to me that not many traditional marketers understand digital and have a hard time trusting an outsourced partner to set strategy and execute on their behalf. He too, is quite new to the idea of digital marketing and we had a fantastic conversation on what to look for when hunting for a partner to help with their fulfillment. In today’s post, I’m going to run through the points I addressed with him to help put anyone considering outsourcing their digital strategy at ease. For me, these are the ten characteristics you should look for when shopping around for a digital marketing agency, they are in no particular order.

100% Transparent

As time goes on in the digital marketing space, transparency is a critical factor of building trust. When a company replies to a question “that’s proprietary” or “we don’t typically share that”, you know they are hiding something and probably not the best company to do business with.

Business Integration

This is probably my favorite as most digital agencies don’t do this. When looking for a trustworthy partner, you need a firm that will truly integrate themselves into your business and become an extension of your marketing team. They need to care about your business as much as they care about their business… or more 🙂

Holistic Strategy

Trustworthy digital marketing companies deploy a slew of marketing strategies to create a holistic approach to your campaign. It is unwise to partner with a company that just does SEO or PPC. A trustworthy agency does it all, in-house and does it extremely well.

Practice What They Preach

A trustworthy agency practices what they preach. Their website is highly optimized (may not necessarily be ranking for head keywords, but they are working on it), they are acquiring great links, they are blogging, they are involved in social media, and they do their own email drip campaigns. Those who don’t practice what they preach and claim they don’t because they put all their focus on their clients are full of it.

Stay Up To Date With Industry Changes

Digital marketing agencies that stay abreast the chances in their industry are those you want to associate yourself with. You can tell who these companies are by reading their blog, following them on social media, and flat out asking them how they stay current in an ever changing industry. If they can’t provide a solid answer, run for the hills!

Physical Location

Not necessarily a deal breaker, but I would be cautious in working with anyone who doesn’t have a physical business location. I’ve worked with too many freelancers and guys executing on digital marketing strategies after they get home from their 8-5 and the quality of their output is sub-par. I trust individuals and companies who have office space, far more than those who work out of their living room. Just sayin’

Selective In Whom They’ll Work With

Trustworthy agencies will be super selective with whom they work with. They won’t sell and service anything that moves and it feels almost like if you are a client, you are a part of an exclusive club. This is important because an agency that does this most likely has their priorities straight and will be able to provide you with extreme value for the money you spend with them.

Report On Proper KPIs

Firms who are trustworthy are very analytical and tend to report on KPIs that are unique to your business. They are experts in setting up custom dashboards in Google Analytics and help you to see the value they are generating for your business versus a focus on keyword rankings.

Honesty

A trustworthy company is honest with you. If something is going to be cheaper in-house, say content writing for a very niche vertical, they will tell you that instead of charge you through the nose for it. It all goes back to the business integration point. You and your agency are all in this together and should do things in your best interest, even if they lose out on some monthly revenue.

Mapped Out Plan

Agencies who can be trusted have mapped out plans that are customized to the unique needs of each business. This doesn’t mean they can’t pivot and go another direction if necessary, but they know where they need to go to get the results you desire.

So there you have it, the ten characteristics of a trustworthy digital marketing company. Does your outsourced partner meet this criteria? Am I missing anything critical? If so, please share in the comments section below.