Every now and then, I stumble across another ClickZ column that makes me blink and sit up a bit straighter. The one I'm going to tell you about now was written over a year and a half ago, but the topic remains as fresh -- and as unexplored -- as ever. And it's directly relevant to business-to-business (B2B) email marketing.
"Optimize Content to Maximize the Bottom Line" by Charlie Tarzian, CEO of Euro RSCG Circle, is an eloquent plea for tracking and leveraging the content on your site so it that has a direct impact on sales.
I feel passionate about this. First, I firmly believe that when it comes to B2B sites, great content is not merely a "killer" marketing tactic, it's an essential one.
Second, I happen to publish an e-newsletter, WordBiz Brief, on how to tie online copy and content to the bottom line. Finally, using substantive content to "sell" applies as much to B2B email marketing as it does to B2B sites.
I make a clear distinction here between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) email marketing. The latter often takes advantage of impulse buying. An attractive sale price, an appealing graphic of gleaming pens in leather cases (Levenger) or bright fleece jackets (L.L.Bean) -- and you're ready to hit "buy now" (at least, I am).
Not so with B2B email. If you're lucky enough to get your target audience to open your message (killer subject line), read it (benefits-rich copy that addresses their pain-point), and click on your offer, you've taken one small step on the path to a sale.
Your hope is that your landing page will get the conversion you're looking for (sign-up for a free trial, download a free guide, etc.). What occurs on this page is the benchmark of success for any email marketing campaign.
But what happens after that? Depending on the sophistication of your technology, prospects may get a follow-up email customized by a sales rep for their geographic area. If your universe of prospects is much smaller, you may pick up the phone and call them directly.
At some point you will want to direct the prospects acquired through email marketing back to your site. What kind of content awaits them? Will it enhance the relationship you began in their inbox?
I called Charlie after reading his article and was amused to learn that he scoffs at email marketing. "It doesn't work because it's not holistic," he said. "Direct marketers don't get it. It's not about selling on the Web. It's about making it easy to buy."
He's got a point. Translate that last comment (making it "easier" to buy) to a content-rich B2B site. We're not talking about eliminating hiccups and making a shopping cart experience go more smoothly.
Instead, we're concerned with a higher-level business strategy of keeping content on your site fresh and relevant and tying articles and sections together so that you move prospects through a decision-making process that leads, ultimately, to a sale.
Good examples are Symantec and IBM. On the Symantec site, go to Firewalls in the Enterprise Security section. You'll find firewall products listed in a left-hand navigation bar, a rotating "feature article" in the middle, and news-related stories on the right ("US Government Gets Shaming F Grade for Cyber Security"). Lots of content, in other words, all arranged as an interlocking web, with pointers at the end of the feature article leading you to "related articles" on the site.
IBM's may be the granddaddy of B2B content sites. Start with "Industries" in the left-hand nav bar on the home page. Then, click on the Industrial section (as opposed to Communications, Distribution, or Financial Services) and from there go to subsections on Aerospace and Defense, Automotive, Chemical and petroleum, and so on. There's layer upon overlapping layer of information.
Charlie's point is that "people don't understand the cause and effect between content and sales." We need to map visitors' behavior to a business objective. If, for example, someone downloads your white paper on firewall security, you should direct her to related articles next time she visits your site.
The issue is not a single, logical progression through the content on your site. The objective, according to Charlie, is "to create a compelling spider web of relevancy, because not everybody thinks linearly."
Lessons Learned About Content
This is my list, not Charlie's. It applies as much to B2B email marketing as to B2B Web site content:
Final note: Tying content to the bottom line isn't easy. If you have a large site with a lot of content, you'll need a sophisticated content management system as well as Web tracking and reporting capability to see who reads what and when.
Remember: Great content means great copywriting. Copywriting is almost always undervalued (both monetarily and strategically) when it comes to developing and managing a corporate Web site (or deploying an email campaign). Read Nick Usborne's recent article on this subject.
'Tis the Season... for the Email Addicted
A while back I wrote several articles on email addiction, the inability to control your relationship with your inbox. If you're an email addict, you spend hours reading, replying to, and sorting through email, all the while anticipating the delicious new message "ding." Your productivity at work suffers, not to mention your enjoyment of "real life" away from the computer.
I admitted that I was an email addict and was rewarded with scores of supportive replies from readers all over the globe. I wish I could say that I have tamed this beast once and for all. I have made significant progress in curtailing email time, but it's still a terrible temptation.
I recently discovered the Nelson Email Organizer. It's a downloadable application that works side by side with Microsoft Outlook (don't ask me how). It does a bunch of things that make it easier to sort through your email, and I highly recommend it. If you're an email addict, put it on your own gift list -- or send it to an email-obsessed friend or colleague. Happy holidays!
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Debbie Weil is publisher of WordBiz Report, which focuses on the business of words online. It was awarded The Newsletter on Newsletters' Gold Award for Online Subscription Newsletter. A former newspaper reporter with an MBA and corporate marketing experience, Debbie is an expert on B2B online content and marketing at both the strategic and creative levels. She was Web content marketing manager for Network Solutions (now part of Verisign) before launching WordBiz.com.
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