Sunday, May 05, 2013

Got Content? Get Readers

Michele Crockett is VP of content services for Penton’s marketing services group. A former editor and publisher at Penton, the largest business-to-business media company in the U.S., Michele now helps companies engage with Penton’s millions of readers in 17 vertical markets through targeted content in the form of videos, web sites, blogs, white papers, newsletters, and other formats.
As a 15-year veteran of the business-to-business publishing industry, I’m accustomed to seeing new acquaintances’ eyes light up when I mention I work in the publishing industry, then watching the light dim when I confess that my company produces magazines and web sites they’ve never heard of—unless they happen to be hog farmers, vitamin purveyors, or truck drivers. But what B2B publishing lacks in glamour, it makes up for in the fervor of the niche audience—or community, as readers are called in our increasingly hyper-connected world.

This audience passion has been an addictive force for me in my career, leaving me no regrets about not pursuing a New York consumer magazine career fresh out of college. (I tried it for a summer, but my small-town roots called me back to the mountains and plains.) My recent focus in the past few years has been helping clients—big-name companies such as Microsoft, Siemens, and Edward Jones, as well as thousands of mom-and-pop businesses—start meaningful conversations with our readers so they can sell them products and services. It’s a fairly straightforward proposition in the B2B world: If you’re a frazzled restaurant owner, you really could use a streamlined, computerized system for tracking employees’ time.

It’s my job as a content marketer to help connect the makers of such systems with their target customers. I help our clients create content—in the form of blogs, white papers, videos, web seminars, and events—that draws in prospective customers.  Content marketing is fast becoming an obsession in the digital marketing world, primarily because it works. If you can pull prospects in with a good story or an entertaining video, you might have a devoted customer for life.

If you’re a fiction writer, the concept is similar. You want to connect with people who will read—and love—your books. And your job is both harder and easier than mine. It’s harder because you need to create the need for your books among your prospective customers, and that’s more difficult when you’re selling entertainment than it is when you’re selling the bolts that a mechanic needs to get his job done. But your job is easier than that of a typical B2B digital marketer because you know how to write good content and you know your target customer.  (Didn’t you have a Dear Reader in mind when you wrote that first chapter?)  So you probably instinctively know how to strike the right tone when you’re addressing the reader for marketing purposes.

Here are a few tips from the B2B digital marketing arena that might help you connect with your readers and turn them into lifelong customers:  

Take time to build a meaningful relationship with your reader. Customers want to feel some affinity with the companies they buy from, so the best marketers take care to lay the groundwork for a long-standing, mutually rewarding relationship with the customer. It’s very much like the dating game: Proposing on the first date pretty much ensures rejection.  But most companies need results fast (certainly the numbers need to be up by the next board meeting), so marketers often resort to short-sighted tactics such as email blasts to rented lists. Then they morosely face the bleak results when the email tracking reports come in. They wish they’d had the opportunity to buy the prospect a cup of coffee before they tried to remove the customer’s blouse (so to speak). Think of your prospective readers as really good friends, and communicate with them accordingly: Not too much, not too soon. And don’t disappear for months on end without a really good reason. (Your own death would qualify.)

Don’t try to befriend everyone. One of the reasons that B2B publishing is so exhilarating, in my opinion, is because the universe is fairly well defined in any industry, and that leads to focus and passion. There are a certain number of hog farmers. There are a certain number of restaurant owners. These two groups have very specific interests and needs, and they form connections with one another that last for decades. When you’re connecting with your readers, keep in mind that they like your books because of the specific nature of your books. So if you write zombie apocalypse novels, don’t fret about missing out on the vampire crowd. It’s hard to fathom, but I know 20-somethings who did not love the Harry Potter books. You will be much more successful cultivating a small, passionate following than trying to get 100,000 Twitter followers who can’t recall why they’re following you.  The test of a true friend is whether they respond in a time of need. The test of a true customer is whether they actually buy your book. Ultimately, you want buyers, not more “likes.”

Set a time budget for marketing. The great thing about digital marketing is that almost anyone with an Internet connection can do it. The bad thing is that it can be a black-hole time suck. You can drive yourself insane thinking about all the blogs you should be writing to cultivate more readers. To stop the insanity, acknowledge that your time is money and establish a budget for how much time you’re willing to spend on marketing. If you don’t like to think of yourself as a marketer, you can think about it as conversing with your readers. But set a time limit, either daily or weekly, and stick to it. Then go in peace.  And get back to your writing.

In the end, B2B marketing isn’t much different from consumer marketing. Creating a connection with the customer is still the ultimate goal, as it is for any author wanting to cultivate loyal readers. As an author, you have an ace in the hole because of your way with words and your intimate product knowledge. And if you ever want a change of pace, any number of digital marketers would hire you to create marketing content.


Irene Bennett Brown said...

Hi Michelle, and thanks for great information!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Irene, isn't that right on?