Author, | LinkedIn
Five Secrets for Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Highlights from this Episode
Carro Ford, author of The Smartass Marketer’s Handbook has over 25 years of experience in content marketing strategy for companies like Xerox, Lexmark, and other tech companies. In this episode, Carro shares why it is important to focus on answering customer questions on their buyer’s journey and why she is a proponent of ungated content. She also touched on the value of anchor content and her philosophy about data capture in the demand gen process
Key points from this episode:
- The primary objectives for content marketing at Xerox.
- How to determine what questions your customers have on their buyer’s journey.
- Strategies for generating the highest quality leads in content marketing.
- Why the bottom of the marketing funnel is the best place to put gated content.
- Optimizing the effectiveness of content you’ve written: anchor content.
- Strategy for gaining better information from gated content.
- Why it is important to have a process in place for what to do with customer data.
- The biggest takeaway from Carro’s experience in content marketing in the B2B landscape.
- Importance of connecting marketing and sales with content.
- Carro’s vision for the future of content marketing.
“If you can focus on anything, focus on answering the questions your customers have at each stage of that ubiquitous buyers journey.” — @carroford [0:02:23.1]
“To be useful, you have to know what problems your customers are having that you can solve.” — @carroford [0:14:43.1]
“It’s all about making it useful, not making it gated.” — @carroford [0:16:47.1]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Carro Ford — https://www.linkedin.com/in/carroford/
Carro on Twitter — https://twitter.com/carroford
The Smartass Marketer’s Handbook — http://smartassmarketershandbook.com/
HubSpot — https://www.hubspot.com/
Scott Brinker — https://twitter.com/chiefmartec
MarketingSherpa — https://www.marketingsherpa.com/
[0:00:07.2] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the B2B Marketing Jukebox by LeadCrunch. Help us start a movement to make B2B marketers the maestros of shareholder value.
On our website, leadcrunch.com, you can find timestamped transcripts of these podcasts and info about the guests. Subscribe to these podcasts on all major platforms, like iTunes. Send topic or guest suggestions to the host at email@example.com.
[0:00:34.1] DG: I am here today with Carro Ford, and Carro is a long-time content marketing strategist for companies like Xerox, and Lexmark and other tech companies, and she also had her own consulting business for quite a long time before going back to the dark side. Most interestingly, she wrote a book called The Smartass Marketer’s Handbook. At some point, Carro, I believe you’re coming out with another addition. But I don’t want to put pressure on you, because I know what deadlines are like.
Anyway, thanks so much for joining us today.
[0:01:15.0] CF: My pleasure.
[0:01:16.3] DG: So, I think everyone knows who Xerox is, but it’s a huge company. Do you want to talk a little bit about the part of Xerox that you’re working in today, and the role that you have there, just put everything into a little bit of context?
[0:01:29.9] CF: I have really landed in the perfect job for me. I’m in on content strategy, demand gen, blogging, anything that needs to be written, I can touch and do, and that’s my thing. I love B2B marketing, complex sales are a specialty. So, I’m in the perfect job for me, and the company I work for is trying to communicate a very important message of how we help customers communicate and share information. That’s what we do, in a nutshell. But we do it in so many different ways, it keeps me busy writing about all of them.
[0:02:07.7] DG: I can imagine. So, tell me about, for Xerox, what the primary objectives are, for content marketing?
[0:02:17.9] CF: Well, my objective for the content I do and bring to my strategies, are is to have something useful. I like to, if you can focus on anything, focus on answering the questions your customers have at each stage of that ubiquitous buyers journey. If you can figure out what the questions are and answer them, you’ll keep engaged with the customer, and you’ll make a difference in their journey. I think that’s the most important thing; useful content that answers real questions.
[0:02:44.9] DG: At a huge company like Xerox, I’m sure there’s lots of resources, but what do you do to try to find out what those questions are, for a particular solution?
[0:02:54.8] CF: Well, I’m lucky in that I have been in this marketplace for a lot of my career, and a lot of my consulting clients were in this marketplace. It’s important for a writer to understand and make the effort to learn their market. Reach out to your sales team. Ask them what questions they get asked over and over again. Or if they could put questions in their customers’ mouths to bring out a differentiation, what would they want to ask? If you can nail those down, even if it’s just a couple questions for each of the three stages, and focus content on that, you will make a difference.
[0:03:28.1] DG: This whole issue within content marketing of trying to generate a lead, which means, “What content do I gate?” What have you found to be really successful where you are able to generate the highest quality leads?
[0:03:47.7] CF: I am not a fan of gating, to be honest. We do some of the gating — I think that there’s some things that it’s important and almost imperative to gate, but there’s far more stuff that I would not bother gating because I think it gets more in the way of a relationship on that journey than it helps. It can become easily a method for a company just to capture bad data and I think, most of the time, that’s what happens.
I know when — I download lots of content, both to see how other companies are doing it and what they’re gating, and for my own professional knowledge and I never give people the right information. My job title is always “intern.” My phone number’s always off by a digit. I want the information, but I could care less that you are trying to get data on me. What really cracks me up is when I’ll download something, and an hour later, I get a phone call. I’ll even tell these people, “You’re really wasting your marketing budget doing this?” They don’t take very well to that.
[0:04:51.0] DG: Yeah. I completely agree with you. I think marketing’s maybe over-rotated, a little bit, on low-cost leads and forgotten the real mission of just building relationships with people. I think that’s what our job is, as marketers is to initiate some relationships that sales people can ultimately build, and they’ll let you know when they want to talk.
[0:05:19.1] CF: That’s right.
[0:05:15.2] DG: They’re not bashful. So that’s a really interesting premise, of letting it out. Companies like HubSpot, I think, agree with you and it’s kind of hard to argue with their success and track record on that. What types of content do you share, freely?
[0:05:31.7] CF: Case studies, “how-to” articles, blogs, infographics, videos. Almost anything. Again, going back to the buyer journey thing with the three stages, anything top of funnel, middle of funnel. To me, I’m very willing to not gate that. I find as you get lower into the bottom of funnel, where people are more serious, that might be a good place, if you wanted to put some gated content out there. They’re more willing to work with you if they’re that far along.
Then there’s other types of content that’s really high value that I think is worthwhile gating, such as sponsored research, or webinar registration, or on-demand webinar. We do print sample kits and we get people, of course, to register for those. To me, that’s a sort of gated content. Or a design guide that’s very detailed and lengthy, very high value. We’re going to gate for that. I don’t think people mind giving you information for that, but again, it goes back to, are they giving you good information? That can be either, you know, it can be intentionally bad information when people, like I mentioned, are going to give you their name is “Mickey Mouse.” Or they’re going to go with inflated titles, it’s very suspect.
Or sometime, I was talking with a colleague earlier about this, and it can be a tech fail. He’s in the UK. Sometimes, when he logs on early in the morning, the servers will route him to American or U.S., North America dot com sites that aren’t as busy, when he’s up so early in our morning. As he goes through the day, those servers might route him back to a site more European-oriented. You can’t tell on that data, though, that you’re going to get a misleading read on what IP address he used, for example.
So everywhere you look, there’s an opportunity to get bad data from gating. It’s hardly ever really worth the effort, to me.
[0:07:27.4] DG: You know, there’s one type of content that people should think more about gating, in my opinion, which is salespeople. Because they’re pretty expensive and you really ought to not waste their time with people that are, you know, really not in a buying mode at all. They’re trying to figure out whether they even have a problem that you can solve. I really like that idea. What do you do to try to quantify or optimize the effectiveness of content that you’ve written?
[0:07:56.8] CF: One of the things I think makes a lot of sense is, if you’ve gotten on a topic you can own in your industry, if you’ve got all the answers to those questions, even things they don’t even know they should be asking, own the heck out of that content! It may be relatively down the long tail content, but if you own the best resource on that, as far as Google can tell, you’re going to be picking up good eyeballs on things who may turn into leads and capture those contacts as you go along.
I think some people call that “pillar content.” I call it “anchor content.” It’s really just a resource webpage. If you can send people you would normally gate, perhaps, to a page like that where you give them a variety of good content, they may be more likely to stay there, stay with you. If you, perhaps, instead of forcing them to form fill to get that content, maybe ask them to complete a short survey and you can get some insights into their problems, or register for a newsletter, or a blog, or something. You won’t get tons of people doing that, but people who are really serious might do that and give you good information.
[0:09:11.7] DG: What’s an example of one of these content anchors? Can you share something just to help unpack that a little bit for others?
[0:09:18.4] CF: Let me think. One of the areas that it’s very specific to what we sell at Xerox, would be document analytics, about the documents that flow around your company, and how they’re used in workflow, and things like that. Knowing how to use your analytics, how to capture them, document analytics, can be very helpful for an IT department, compliance departments. If you can own a page on document workflow for compliance, that would be an example of a pillar content. You can put on there a webinar, maybe, that you’ve done on the subject. You could include links to some blogs you may do on that subject. Anything you can think to package up around that very specific topic.
Then get your social team to help do some promotion of it as well. You will start building up a digital footprint on that topic. It could be an important area of questions, or researching as someone is going through a buyer journey that leads to our document services. That’s very specific, but I think it’s affordable, too. It doesn’t cost a ton of money to build a webpage. If you’re smart about how you populate it, with good content, it could be a lead generator.
[0:10:33.3] DG: Yeah, absolutely. Before I go on, I’ve got to ask you about the title of your book, because I found it to be very funny. Can you tell how you, sort of, the background on that title, The Smartass Marketer’s Handbook?
[0:10:48.4] CF: It didn’t start out that way. My book partner, she didn’t think my original title of something like Simple Marketing, or something like that—she thought that was boring. I said, “Okay, you’re probably right. Let’s think of something very attention-getting.”
People have always called me a “smartass”, mostly when I least expect them to, when I’m not realizing I’m being one. It also goes to my kind of snarky attitude I’ve developed towards marketing, you know? Because there’s so many buzzwords and trends and flavors of the month. So I thought, “This is a handbook for smartass marketers like me, who just need a book to tell them how to get stuff done. We don’t need a book on another theory, or whatever the latest buzzword is.” It’s very practical and straightforward. But I thought that title made it a little more fun.
[0:11:40.1] DG: Yeah, it sure does. I got a chuckle out of it. You had eluded to this a little bit, about how when you ask, it sounds like kind of prematurely, for somebody to provide information in a gated form, that sometimes you get the “Mickey Mouses” and the “Donald Duck” answers. What’s the strategy to try to get better information, in terms of what you can do from a content standpoint?
[0:12:04.6] CF: This is an area where I think, as we see more tools to help us learn about buyer intent and what they’re looking at, maybe on your website, or what kinds of things they’re searching for, I think that’s a way we should be thinking about to really get meaningful data about buyers. But still, we’ve got to have contact with them at some point and if you can just keep it to the bare minimum of a name and an email, I think that helps you get more, capture more context. Then you can always put those people in a nurture program or something.
And that’s the other piece of it; you’re collecting data when someone does a form fill. Do you have a process in place for what you’re going to do with it? Because if you don’t, you may actually get a perfect form fill. But if it’s just going off and sitting somewhere in your form fill metrics folder, it’s not going to help at all. It’s just a waste of time. So you’ve got to have a strategy for your data and how you’re going to use it. But I’m not sure there’s really much gating can do for you, in all honesty, on getting real leads.
[0:13:15.8] DG: Yeah. For anybody that’s ever measured the funnel, you find out very fast that it’s actually a very small number of companies that end up buying and moving the needle for the sales organization. So, it’s not quite as much about volume as it is about the quality and the intent of the buyer, I think. Sometimes I think we can lose sight of that. What’s your biggest takeaways over your career, given the experience you have about this whole area of content marketing in the B2B landscape?
[0:13:48.9] CF: I keep coming back to a couple of basic things. Again, make it useful, and to be useful, you have to know what problems your customers are having that you can solve and then write about it in such a way that helps them understand the problem and figure out what to do about it. So much of the stuff I write, I never even mention my company’s name or products specifically. It’s more practical advice, useful listicles, or checklists for your buying team, things like that I think, if you can keep serving that up to a buyer as they’re going through a process or a buying team, you’re going to build up a perception of being someone who gets it and someone who’s a trusted partner.
Then you also need to connect your sales force at some point, and be sure you’re providing them with the right content as they take this lead, however you got it, and continue a conversation with them. I think that’s an area where we miss, we have a breakdown a lot of times, is connecting marketing and sales with content.
[0:14:54.6] DG: Boy, is that ever true. I’ve interviewed lots of salespeople, and if you’ve ever watched that movie “Groundhog Day,” that’s kind of like the conversations I have, where they always have a funny anecdote about what a lead isn’t, that they’ve gotten from marketing. It’s on cue.
[0:15:13.8] CF: Yeah, they’re out there toughing it out. We really need to do a better job helping them, I think, as marketers.
[0:15:19.4] DG: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. Well, what’s your vision for the future of content marketing?
[0:15:24.6] CF: That’s a tough question, because I don’t see much change. I think, as I said, we are improving in some of our metrics technology and our ability to track people without, you know, this is kind of Big Brother but track them in ways where they may not understand all the time. And I’m not suggesting we be Big Brother, but we can get buying signals and intent signals using tech martech. That’s not my area. That’s an area I’m really interested in. But I think that’s the future. The gating with a form may go away and it may be through other ways where we learn about customers and serve up what they need.
[0:16:04.1] DG: Yeah, I had an interesting conversation with somebody from HubSpot about this, who is a content marketing person over their really great courses, right? There’s all that free how-to content that they give away for free. You know, HubSpot’s long been an advocate of ungating a lot of stuff and getting the traffic there. I think they’ve really leaned into that. His point of view was that chat bots were going to ultimately overtake forms, because it gives people a chance to have a conversation with somebody, which is what they are really after more than they’re after filling out a form.
[0:16:41.3] CF: I like that. It’s all about making it useful, not making it gated. So, I think sometimes we spin our wheels and overthink the gating piece, when really we’re trying to get just another goal.
[0:16:52.8] DG: It sounds like you’ve been looking at tools and technologies in the content marketing landscape. Is there anything that you think the audience should know about, that you think is really interesting?
[0:17:04.2] CF: Oh I wish I could say yes, but you look at some of these, I don’t even know what you call them? They’re like an infographic with a hundred logos on them. And I find those, you know the things I’m talking about? Like the tech overview and it’s just — I don’t know how you’re supposed to use those. At this point to me, it’s very overwhelming on what’s out there. Plus, being in a big company, we have processes for bringing in tools and they have to serve a much larger base than just me. So I’m kind of at the mercy of what my company wants to use. But they are also constantly on the lookout for the best tools for getting our jobs done as marketers. So maybe we will have to come back to that at a future call and I can give you some updates.
[0:17:50.5] DG: Yeah. There’s a blog that I try to follow once a year, by a guy named Scott Brinker and I started doing this when I was at MarketingSherpa because I was trying to figure out who the companies were that might be interested in partnering with MarketingSherpa. It started off with 150 martech companies, and the last time I looked it was 5,000. So, I think overwhelming is absolutely correct.
[0:18:17.8] CF: Yeah, it is totally crazy. So, I just use whatever my company provides and I just try to do the best with what I can control, which is making this content useful, and making it answer good questions, and trying to convince everybody we don’t need to gate all of it.
[0:18:35.1] DG: Absolutely. Carro, thank you so much for joining us here today. I really appreciate it. Any final words for the audience?
[0:18:42.6] CF: No. I just really appreciate the opportunity. Like I said, I’m a content geek, and any time you can get me going on it I’m a happy camper. So, thanks for the opportunity.
[0:18:52.3] DG: All right, thank you.
[0:18:56.1] Announcer: Thank you for listening to the B2B Marketing Jukebox by LeadCrunch. On our website, leadcrunch.com, you can find timestamp transcripts and info about the guests. You can send topic or guests suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to these podcast on all the major platforms like iTunes.
Thanks for joining us and we wish you happy data driven growth