3 Ways Content Marketing is Like Gardening

Okay, you might be thinking “Really, content marketing and gardening? That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?” The idea for this post came to me while I was turning my compost heap. I realized that compost and content have a lot in common. Then I realized that the metaphor could be extending to gardening as a whole.

What I mean is that some of the core principles of gardening are the same as those we apply to content marketing. Gardening is something I love to do as a hobby. We live on two acres, but even before that, I gardened where I was. I had a container garden that lived on my townhome deck for two years.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about taking fruits and vegetables you grew yourself and putting them at the dinner table.

I get a similar feeling when people comment on my content, reply to my emails, or discuss ideas on social media with me. I put something out there that stimulated my audience’s minds. When you see my content online, you know I’m giving you something great. You trust me to give you something great. So thank you.

Now let’s get into why you’re here.

1. You Plant Based on Long-Term Potential

If you’re a gardener, January is often when the seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. You order seed catalogs to give you more choices about what to plant each year. Yes, your local garden store or Home Depot has seed packets to pick from.

However, if you order from the seed catalogs, that’s how you’ll be able to bring the heirloom purple and green tomatoes into your garden. It’s easier to go to the local store, but you’ll be able to grow a unique garden when you select your plants from the catalog.

In content, you may not have the purple and green tomatoes in your organization. Sometimes, you have to look outside of your company in order to find that perfect writer to support your needs.

Any content you create now, blog posts, videos, ebooks, white papers, all of it has the potential to do a lot for your business. Does it happen immediately? Well, when was the last time you planted a seed and got an instant plant? Oh right. Never.

One of the biggest content marketing mistakes businesses make is quitting too early. Content is like a perennial plant in your garden. Like asparagus, content will keep giving, year after year. You have to hold up your end of the bargain though. Tend to it, and it will grow.

You want your content to get more views? Well, what does your distribution strategy look like? If your website has 0-100 monthly views, one blog post won’t boost you to 5,000 monthly views. Just like one watermelon plant won’t feed your family for the week. Or one meal.

According to Hubspot, businesses who blog see 55% more traffic than businesses who don’t. I’m not saying you have to blog 16 times per month to make it worthwhile. But if you blog weekly, and each of those posts generates 50 site views, then that’s 200 site views you didn’t get the month before.

That’s four new pieces of content you can share with your social media and email audiences.

Like a Garden Plan, Your Content Needs Planning Too

You have to create your content with an eye for its long-term potential. Just like you plan a garden each year, plan your content each year as well. At a minimum, plan out each quarter. Line up your content with your business goals.

Hosting an event about new inventory management technology in June? Then your content plan should have content about:

  • Inventory management
  • Its role in a profitable business
  • Techniques to make it better, and
  • Anything else related to inventory management that you can think of

Keyword research will help you generate ideas too!

All of this content relevantly ties into your event, which you can gently remind your audience about as you distribute the content.

Repeatedly posting and emailing about the same thing over and over will just irritate your followers and subscribers. Gentle reminders interspersed with direct event promotion will seal the deal. If you really think ahead, you could have your special event guests do guest posts or video interviews. Then include that they’ll also be at the event you have coming up.

2. You Consistently Show Up and Nurture What You’ve Started

A lack of consistency is another mistake businesses make with their content marketing. If you plan your garden, plant all of the seeds, get cute labels for each plant type, build a (mostly) deer-proof fence, and then forget to water it, what are you going to end up with?

Dirt. You have a nice fence and clever labels for dirt.

All of that planning is for nothing if you can’t consistently show up. If you want a flourishing garden that bears fruits and vegetables from the late spring through the fall, you have to show up. You have to water your plants on rain-free days. You need to plant cover crops during the rest season (late fall through winter).

Bugs are going to try and annihilate your garden (I lost all of my bell pepper seedlings one year because I couldn’t figure out what was eating them). You have to get out there before the sun comes up to catch the little devils.

Weeds are going to come and steal nutrients from your garden plants. You have to get in there and pull them out.

You can create the best content plan, but you have to execute it. Even when business is booming, you need to make time to write new content. Even if it’s short, make time. You need to sustain your content efforts. Sure, you’ll have more time when your client workload lightens up, but a light client workload doesn’t feel good does it?

It can be easier to maintain your content marketing if you bring in help. In the case of my garden, my oldest child is 7. He knows what a weed looks like, and now, I don’t have to do it all on my own. My grandpa is my favorite person to have in my garden, because he knows so much more than I do.

Bringing in help for your content may be the best decision you can make for your marketing plan. It needs to be nurtured by someone who cares about it as much as you do.

You can’t expect results from your content if you don’t have any. That’s like me wondering where the zucchini are when I haven’t watered my garden for two weeks. Make your content plan, and then execute it.

3. A Garden is Affected by Many Factors

Pretty much everyone knows gardens need water, but they can get too much and drown. Likewise, plants need sunlight, but too much heat will kill them. Some plants thrive in acidic soil (blueberries, I’m looking at you), while others need more alkaline soil. Certain bugs are great for your garden (ladybugs, butterflies, bees), while others won’t even leave you with a leaf to your name (snails, stinkbugs, hornworms).

Your content is much the same. People like short social media (most of the time). So you want to be clever and succinct. Trying the same strategy with your blog won’t give you great results. Blog posts answer questions, and the best posts do it with detail.

Emails are another beast; sometimes they should be short, sometimes they should be long. You have to really know your audience to maintain engagement in your email marketing.

Then something like an ebook or white paper, well you had better have included your best writing there, because people normally give their contact info in exchange for awesome downloadables! It needs to be thought-provoking or incredibly actionable. Or both.

While Each Content-Type is Special, It’s a Connected Ecosystem

One year, I overwatered my peas. They got root rot, which I didn’t know until too late. The only sign was discoloration of the leaves and stem from the ground up. Once I pulled up the plant though, I found ugly, slimy, brown tumors growing on the roots. Dismayed, I pulled up the pea plants, and wondered what to do with that spot in my garden bed.

Deciding on something easy, I planted dill. My husband loves dill, and if I let some of the dill plants flower, the bees and butterflies would love it too. Pleased with myself for filling the spot, I didn’t give it another thought until my dill plants started turning red. Turns out, dill and pea plants are susceptible to the same types of root rot, and the spores were in the soil, so….. Sad face. 🙁

You can write blog posts, social media, email, and gated content, and treat them as if they aren’t connected. But you’d be making a mistake.

A strong content strategist will plan to take your blog, distribute it on your social media channels, in your emails, and use it to generate interest in a gated piece of content (like a case study or white paper). Maybe in 6 months, you’ll turn your best-performing blogs into slideshows for videos and for LinkedIn’s SlideShare.

Sometimes, you’ll send emails that don’t have to do with your blog. You’ll share content on social media that’s not yours. You won’t have an ebook for each blog you write. That’s okay. But every piece of content should be tied with a business goal.

That’s another thing a content strategist will plan for. So if you hire one, be prepared to help them get familiar with your business. A great content plan can’t be created without this knowledge. Just like you need to know your soil to plan and grow a truly productive garden.

Gardening and Content Marketing… Who Knew?

I mean really, who expected gardening and content marketing to have so much in common? Gardening isn’t for everyone, just like not everyone can be an expert content marketer. But I know that content marketing can work for any business. Its a long game though that bears fruit over time.

You don’t generally get instant gratification from content marketing, but you do receive dividends based on how much you invest into it. Gardening doesn’t deliver edibles until weeks or sometimes months later. If you plant fruit trees, you won’t get a good amount of fruit for a few years (which is why I’m mad at myself, because I STILL haven’t planted my fruit trees).

Treat your content like a garden. Plan it. Nurture it. Then allow that sense of satisfaction grow inside as you earn your clients trust and generate more business.

P.S. If you liked the images in this post, you should try Stencil, an image creation app. I use it every day to save me time on my social media and blog image creation! Yes, that’s an affiliate link, but I only recommend it because I use it!

How to Create Great Content: Be a Problem Solver, Not a Solution Seller

How do you create great content? The first step isn’t writing or recording it. It’s understanding your target audience. You can have wonderful perfectly optimized content. If you aren’t clear on your audience though, you’ll miss the mark. So yes, you’re going to have to put a pause on creating content for a second until you’re clear on just who you’re writing (or recording) for.

Buyer Persona Research is the Key to Targeted Content

Try to appeal to everyone, and you’ll appeal to no one. You want people to land on your pages and feel like you’re speaking just to them. In order to do that, you have to create targeted content. Of course, you have to recognize your target in order to do this.

Know your audience. Who are you writing for? I’ve written an entire post on the importance of buyer personas, and how you can start creating your own. Buyer personas go beyond demographic information. That’s normally where you have to start. Great buyer personas contain buyer insights.

Buyer personas should always evolve. This is why you should document them, so as your understanding of your target audience deepens, so does your buyer persona information. That document really comes in handy when you hire outside marketing help.

Knowing who your ideal customer is helps you sell better too. When you know someone wouldn’t benefit from your service or product, you can tell them so, and your own credibility goes up. I’ve had consultations with clients who describe their business model to me, and I’ve told them that they don’t need my services. I’ve honestly told people how they can manage their own content until their business warrants a full-blown content marketing strategy and production.

Why would I do that? Because marketing is one of those services that doesn’t work on its own. It needs the investment of everyone involved. There are things that you’d like to have, but your business model doesn’t support it (I’ve been there). Or maybe your budget doesn’t support it (I’m still there!).

It’s kind of like picking a house. What if you connected with a realtor who insisted they knew of the perfect house for you without asking you what you wanted? If you were the realtor, would you take a couple to see houses without asking about their needs and wants? What if you take them to see 3-bedroom homes in a nice HOA community when what they need is a 5-bedroom house and they want a few acres?

Check Out Your Best Customers Online

Most of us have at least a few customers. Some are great, and some aren’t. But you want to use your best customers in order to better inform your buyer persona profiles. I define “best customers” like this: If all of your customers could be like these people, you’d be in heaven.

Use Google to Scope Them Out

First thing’s first: Use Google and look these people up. Check out where they are online. This can show you some of their online profiles and websites that they’re named on. If they’re involved in volunteer efforts, then it’s worth exploring whether or not that’s something more of your ideal customer base is interested in. You may also find indications of hobbies. If you Google me, for example, you’ll find my fitness competition photos, videos from my training, posts I’ve written about knitting. And maybe even my gardening blog!

You’ll Find A Lot of Data on Social Media

Next, you should check out their social media profiles. People have a lot more public (even on platforms like Facebook) than they realize. This is a great opportunity for persona building. A lot of people take pictures with their families, which may help you understand the sort of lifestyle your target audience typically leads.

  • Are they normally single or do they have kids?
  • Do they love to travel? Nationally or internationally?
  • Do they have pets?

How might you use this information? If my best customers love to travel, then I might write a blog post on how you can use your vacation photos in your content marketing on Instagram. I’m still talking about content marketing, but by including the fact that my best customers love to travel in my buyer persona profile, I’ll appeal immediately to more people like them.

Sometimes your content doesn’t tie directly to your services or products at all. And that’s okay. Your content isn’t meant to sell. It’s meant to build a relationship. That connection is how you will create new relationships and maintain current ones.

Look at what your customers are posting, who they follow, and how they interact. Like tends to attract like. So if you’re building a B2B buyer persona, you may find some trends across your best customers’ LinkedIn profiles. If you see that many of them like to share videos, then it may benefit you to record a few and share a few videos yourself. Your best customers can help you expand your reach when you share content that appeals to them.

What Problems Does Your Target Customer Have?

What sorts of problems do your target customers have? You can use this information to build your buyer personas. Your target audience’s goals can be the flip side to their problems. It depends on how they express it. You want to make sure you explore everything from multiple angles. I can say that I can’t seem to lose weight (problem), or that I’d like to get more fit (goal).

How they express their problems and goals is important. You can use their language back at them. This is true for more than just your content. Your advertisements and in-store signage benefit from this sort language as well. Don’t forget about any Facebook or Google Ads you choose to run. Buyer personas can increase the effectiveness of your entire marketing and sales strategy.

Where Can You Find Your Customers Talking About Their Problems?

So we’ve already talked about social media, but where else can you find your customers (or future customers) talking about their concerns, goals, and hopes? Online forums are one place. Search for any potential customer hot buttons or goals on websites like Quora. If it’s B2B, then you may find a lot of great information in LinkedIn or Facebook groups.

Your customer service emails may contain a treasure trove of information as well. What about your company reviews? Sometimes reviewers start their review with “I was looking for….” or “I was struggling with” or similar sentiments. Pay attention to these. You may find problems you weren’t aware of.

What Problems Does Your Company Solve?

Not what services you sell, but what problems do you solve? Let’s say you sell hats. The types of hats you sell will tell me what kinds of problems you solve. Do you sell HR services? Then maybe the problem you solve is for the busy business owner who doesn’t have a big enough budget to hire an HR person but has grown big enough to need HR help.

Frame Your Solutions Within Your Customer’s Problems

Here comes some inspiration for great content. If you’ve identified your customer’s problems, you can use that. You can frame your solutions within your customer’s problems. You can describe their problems, show that you understand them, and immediately hook them. When you talk about your customer’s problems, you appeal to their old brain. Your customer will use their logic brain (or new brain) to explain why they should hire you (or not). But the decision is really made in the old brain. You need to engage that old brain in order to gain new clients or customers.

I know it can be difficult, but I promise, if you work at understanding your ideal customer, not only will your content get better, you’ll find more “best” customers than you know what to do with!

Is it time for your business to have a developed content marketing strategy? Click here to get started with our B2B Content Marketing Workbook.

Should You Outsource Your B2B Content Marketing?

Does your website have a blog? Have you posted articles to it? Have you posted new content consistently? It’s okay if you haven’t answered yes to all of these (or any of these) questions. Many small to mid-sized businesses struggle to get a handle on their content marketing. It’s a serious struggle for B2B service companies because they know they can use their blogs to illustrate their expertise, if only they could find the time to publish great content. So that may be why you should consider outsourcing your content marketing.

Why Invest in Content Marketing?

Studies show that those companies who invest in their content marketing have 55% more site visitors than those who don’t. Why does this matter? Because content marketing turns your website into a lead generation engine. Your ideal buyers (which you determined by creating B2B buyer personas, right?) will self-identify by interacting with your web content. If your content resonates with them, then they do things like subscribe or download your eBooks and slideshows.

Leads generated by your website are leads you didn’t have to chase down. They are leads who have shown you that they are interested in your services and in your company. Great content is an investment that keeps on giving as long as your website is up.

How Do You Know If You Need to Outsource Your Content Marketing?

Okay, you’ve determined that content marketing will help you establish trust with leads and create serious ROI. But how do you know if you need to outsource your content creation and marketing?

Do You Have Anyone with Content Marketing Skills on Your Team?

So first, so you have anyone in your company who has content marketing skills? There are quite a few technical skills involved, but the basics are:

  • Ideation and Strategy: You can create a content strategy and tell the writers what to write.
  • Writing: You can put pen to paper and the words flow to your target audience.
  • Topic Expertise: You’re a subject matter expert.
  • Distribution and Promotion: Once the writing is done, you know how to position it and distribute it best for maximum reach.

Depending on what your business is, it can be a struggle to find even one of these skills in your organization. Don’t let the “writing” skill fool you. When I write that, I mean writing that is optimized for search engines as well as your target audience. Great writing can languish at the bottom of search results if you don’t write so search engines understand that it’s great.

Finding one person with two or more of these skills can border on the impossible for smaller organizations. When you try to find one person with all of the skills, well we like to call those a unicorn. When discussing job postings with other content professionals, sometimes all you have to say is “Oh, they’re looking for a unicorn.” and that justifies not applying.

The one thing I recommend companies let go of is finding someone with their exact niche experience. If you can find someone who can create your strategy, write/optimize, and distribute and promote it effectively, then take that person and teach them what they need to know about your specialty. Or resign yourself to perhaps finding writers with niche expertise, and also hiring a content marketer to work with them.

You have good writers in your company, but don’t they have jobs?

When you assign writing to people in your company, they often do well at first, but…. You need to post fresh content to your blog and social media channels and send new content to your email list consistently in order to have the best results.

Any writer in your company already has a job, correct? Unless you hire them just to write for you. So eventually, as things come up, your content creation and distribution gets pushed to the wayside, leaving you with a blog that hasn’t been posted to in 3 months…. 9 months….. a year. Until someone remembers it, posts a few times, and then leaves it alone again.

Maybe You Hired Freelance Writers, and Things Are Getting Out of Hand

So you hired freelance content creators, and things are getting crazy. It’s almost a full-time job to manage all of them. Not to mention, you struggle to manage all of the distribution channels. And are you sure that blog post was optimized?

When you have multiple contributors, in-house or freelance, it can cost you a lot of time to keep things straight and on schedule. So you should consider hiring a content marketer to tie your marketing goals to your sales goals, create your strategy, implement your content plan, and optimize, distribute, and promote your content.

What Does an Outsourced Content Marketing Solution Look Like?

You don’t have to outsource your entire content marketing strategy. Here are some ways content professionals can help you:

  • Create a content marketing strategy you can implement in-house
    • Pay them for a few extra hours each month, and have them create your content calendar too
  • Consult with them as needed for content marketing pushes (i.e. for large events or new services)
  • Have them train your in-house staff on aspects of content marketing
  • Hire a content marketer to manage content created by your in-house team

Of course, a content marketing solution could also be completely Done For You (DFY). This is definitely the most expensive option because it requires the most time and skill. It becomes more expensive if you expect one person to handle everything. A DFY solution typically looks like:

  • Ideation and strategy creation, providing an overview of how social media, the blog, email, and premium content pieces will all be used.
  • Annual, quarterly, and monthly content calendars and plans (sync with company events and initiatives)
  • Producing regular content that is:
    • Optimized for search engines
    • Contains royalty free photos or photos that you own
      • You’ll want those photos edited to have your brand and blog post title to optimize for sharing (like the ones you see in this blog)
    • Contains authoritative links to non-competitive websites
  • Content management (drafting and scheduling all approved content)
  • Repurposing old content (taking a video and turning it into a blog post for example)

If you completely outsource your content marketing, I highly recommend finding a content marketer you can work with first. Allow them to find the best blog, email, and social media writers. This would be the most cost-effective option for a completely outsourced solution.

So there you have it. Does your company have the symptoms of needing to outsource some or all of it’s content marketing strategy?

Shoot me a message to schedule a free consultation with you to see how you can start using your website to attract the sorts of leads who really need and value your services.

Should Your Business Be on Social Media?

Should your business be on social media? A lot of business owners ask themselves this question these days. Perhaps your business is new, and you’re wondering if you’re “big enough” for social media. The answer is YES, you’re big enough for social media. If Grumpy Cat can have a Facebook page, then your business is big enough. Or maybe you’ve been in business for quite a while, and you believe that you don’t need social media. Well, I’m not saying your business is going to fail without social media, but could you do better if you reach your customers where they spend most of their time? The answer again is YES.

Continue reading “Should Your Business Be on Social Media?”

B2B Buyer Personas: Yes, You Have to Make Them

People hate research. As a result, marketers, business owners, hell, even bloggers, hate creating their buyer personas. If you don’t properly develop your B2B buyer personas, then your entire marketing strategy could be off track. Just to be clear though, let’s go over what a buyer persona is first. 

What Is a Buyer Persona? 

“A marketing buyer persona is a detailed profile of a person who could represent a large percentage of your potential customer audience. These are used to humanize the customer and help them understand how to reach out on a personal level.” via What is a Marketing Buyer Persona?

Why does this matter? When you personalize and target your content, you generate better quality leads for your business. Despite years of saying otherwise, website owners now realize that traffic numbers aren’t the metric of success. For years, the goal was to get as much traffic as possible. Now, at the risk of sounding trite, we realize that it’s “quality over quantity”. Better to have 1,000 site visitors that could go in your pipeline than 1 million who will never spend a dime. 

When you work with businesses, you typically have to create two personas with two different types of demographics. Initially, you have an organization profile that you create, which answers a lot of the questions above. Secondly, you’ll need to create a persona(s) for the person within that organization that you’d like to typically connect with. 

In my case, I prefer to connect with CEO’s/Presidents or Chief Marketing Officers. These are usually the people who have the power to say yes and no. Don’t waste time talking to people who only have the power to say no. I understand both personas, because there are some key differences between the CEO and the CMO. One difference would be in the way you speak to them. The organization has its goals, but communicating in the language of your persona helps you connect with your prospect. 

How to Build a B2B Buyer Persona

According to Risefuel.com, these are the top questions to ask in order to build a strong B2B buyer persona

1. What Are Your Customers Personal Demographics? 

You’ll find this to be the easiest information to gather as you prepare your persona. You’ll want to collect as much of this information as you can. Yes, it’s pretty low hanging fruit, but don’t underestimate its value. 

2. In What Industries Do Your Customers Work? Who Do They Serve?

When you target business, you must know the industries they serve in. Will your services or products help them achieve business success? You’ll be able to communicate your value more effectively. Additionally, knowing the industries will help you answer question 5. 

3. What is the Size of Their Company?

The answer to this question will shape how you market your solution. Are you targeting an ambitious take-on-the-world startup? Or a time-tested family owned business? The size of the company also relates to question four. How you ask? It relates because the larger the company, the longer the decision-making process usually is. This figures into how long this prospective customer hangs out in your pipeline. 

4. What Job Titles Do They Hold? Who Do They Typically Report To? 

Are you talking to the CEO? Someone in the Sales department? Their job title may reveal their stake in the decision to buy your service or product. That job title may also reveal their role in the decision-making process. For example, as a professional content strategist and creator, if I’m speaking to the Chief Financial Officer of a small company, I know that the decision-making process shouldn’t take too long. I’m speaking with the person I would report to, and the CEO will likely take their input very seriously. 

5. What Are Their Biggest Challenges?

Your product or service solves your prospective customer’s problem or fills a need. But so does someone else’s product or service. Your marketing needs to show your target audience why they should pick you over your competitors. 

6. How Is Their Success Measured?

When you know how your prospects measure their success, you can speak to their ideal end goal. When you can intentionally create content that illustrates a prospects problem AND their successful outcome in their own language….. Wow, that is some effective marketing!

Signs Your Buyer Persona Isn’t Quite Right

As you publish content, you generate a significant volume of engagement and conversion data. If you’re thoughtful about this information, you’ll be able to pick up on signs that you aren’t meeting the needs of all possible audiences with your content, including:

  • Regularly getting the same questions posed to customer service
  • A high churn or low engagement with content (as measured by bounce rate and average time on page)
  • Onboarding or survey results that aren’t in alignment with your buyer personas
  • Evidence that new (sometimes unexpected) types of customers are finding value in your product or service

via How to Drill Down Into Your Buyer Personas to Create Hyper-Targeted Content

 How much effort have you put into creating your buyer personas? What is the one part about developing buyer personas that you find most difficult? Let me know in the comments!