One of the mistakes marketers often make in trying to reach their target audiences is over-relying on organic distribution and under-relying on paid distribution. For many B2B firms, LinkedIn is the most important channel for sharing content with the people they need to target. As with other social media channels, a combination of organic (free) and paid distribution is usually the best approach to reach and influence your target audience on LinkedIn.
5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to influence your target audience
(4 of these are FREE, 1 of these is paid)
- Your personal profile (free): One powerful way to share your brand’s content is to publish personal updates on LinkedIn. These are usually short news items, such as links to new blog posts on your website, news items of interest to your personal network and brief status updates that are relevant to your target audience. These are automatically connected to your personal LinkedIn profile.
- Your organization’s company page (free): Just like personal status updates, you can add news items to your company page on LinkedIn. This makes them ideal for links to new blog posts, corporate news and other relevant online resources. Like any web page, you can optimize the content of your company page for key search terms so it appears higher in search results. That’s why you need to make sure your company page is complete, with a logo and company description, contact information and website link, as well as links to relevant content offers.
LinkedIn enables you to create up to 10 showcase pages that are connected to your company page. Each one contains an image and a caption. Some companies use them to highlight their products or business units. A more effective approach is to provide links to resources that are of value to your target audience – such as ebooks, worksheets and free online courses.
- Relevant LinkedIn groups (free): You should be actively engaged in any LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your target audience. Look for questions you can answer, share your opinions where it makes sense and publish links to your new blog content and other valuable resources. Don’t just focus exclusively on the last tactic, or you’ll annoy other group members. You don’t want them to view you as someone who’s only interested in self-promotion. A balanced approach is best in LinkedIn groups; being helpful and informative earns you the right to periodically share content links.
- LinkedIn Pulse (free): This tool enables you to publish long-form content on LinkedIn, which not only gets shared to your personal network, but also shows up in the news feeds of other LinkedIn members, based on an algorithm that matches articles to business professionals with similar interests. Publishing authoritative articles to Pulse is an excellent way to grow your thought leadership in your industry.Many marketers don’t realize you can also use LinkedIn Pulse as a tool to distribute existing content. Here’s an example: You’ve published a new post on your company blog, and want to draw attention to it on LinkedIn. Simply create a new article in Pulse, and copy and paste the first several paragraphs of your existing article into it. Then provide a link to the full post on your website.
- LinkedIn sponsored updates (paid): Using this tool, LinkedIn enables you to convert any status update into a sponsored update and to extend its reach beyond your existing network to people who match the criteria you specify.These powerful, highly-configurable filters may include:
• Company name, size, and industry
• Job title and seniority
• Level of education
• Relevant LinkedIn groups
Your company’s sponsored post will appear in your target audience’s newsfeeds just like a regular update – much less intrusive than traditional banner or pop-up ads.
Is LinkedIn promotion for you?
If LinkedIn is the social network where your customers and prospects gather, you should give serious thought to launching sponsored updates to extend the visibility and influence of your best content.
When visitors arrive at the home page of your website, are they able to quickly and efficiently find what they’re looking for? Or do they become confused and frustrated – because they can’t easily figure out exactly what you do or how your website is structured and where to look for the information they need?
Here are 8 must-have elements that will help you attract and engage the right prospects with your website’s home page:
- Jobs to be done. What tasks or “jobs to be done” do visitors have in mind when they come to your website? What do they need to accomplish? What questions do they need answered? Are they seeking product education? Make a list of these popular tasks, and then rank them in order of importance. Next, brainstorm ways to make relevant resources more visible on your website. Your goal is to help visitors find what they need in as few clicks as possible.
- Economize on home page features. Don’t overstuff your home page with every article, tool and resource you can think of. That will only confuse visitors.
Ideally, the design of your website should visually guide visitors to the most important content and resources.
- What does your firm do? Your home page needs to communicate that quickly, in a matter of seconds. If your home page confuses visitors, they will quickly click away from it.
- Clear and unambiguous website navigation. Visitors should be able to quickly discern how your website navigation works. It should use terms that your target audience knows and understands. When it comes to website navigation, ambiguity is a big problem. Seek to eradicate it at all costs.
- Responsive design. Is your website based on a responsive design that adapts to a variety of mobile screen sizes? If not, you should make this a high priority. In many industries and markets, the majority of website visitors are already accessing company and product information via mobile devices. The time to adapt your website’s architecture is now.
- Hero image. This is a large image, frequently located just below your website’s masthead and primary website navigation. The best hero photoshots perform a gatekeeper role. In other words, they inspire the audience you want to attract to explore further. Ideally, it should also encourage the people you don’t want to attract to leave your website.
- Contact information. Your website’s home page should contain easy-to-find contact information, either in the header or footer. Nothing is more frustrating than visiting a website and searching in vain for an email address, contact us form or office number.
- Shortcuts to the best stuff. Give your website visitors a way to quickly navigate to your most popular and most valuable content.
Why not use this list as a “report card” for your website. How does your website rate? Where do you need to improve?
Email is a critical element of any B2B marketing program because it enables you to communicate with your customers and prospects on a schedule that you control. In addition, if you grow your email list over time, it can become a strategic asset that can help you grow your business. And, don’t forget that costs per-person emailed actually decreases as your list gets larger. Like any marketing technology, email marketing platforms very widely in their features and usability. Here are some tips to select the right email marketing platform for your organization.
Step 1: Define your needs
First, create a spreadsheet that summarizes your team’s wish list of features and functionality. Next, rate each feature on a scale of 1 to 5, where five is essential and one is optional. Use this list to reach consensus with your team on its must-have features. Important features to look for include these:
Personalization. Personalized emails almost always perform better than those that are not. Look for email service providers that enable you to personalize subject lines as well as the body of the message.
A/B testing. You can never be sure what your audience will respond to. That’s why you need to run experiments with your emails. The concept behind A/B testing is simple: Create two variations of a headline, call-to-action button or other page element and send them to a sub-set of your list (e.g., 500 people each). Then, see which one performs best. Once you declare the winner, send that version to the rest of your list.
Performance tracking. To what extent can you track audience interaction with your emails? You not only need to track message open rates, but also click throughs for each of the links within each message.
Templates. How easy is it to set up templates within the email platform? Does the email platform vendor need to create the templates for you, and at what cost? You’ll want a lot of flexibility here, especially as you segment your list. Be sure you can customize templates with your organization’s branding requirements.
Deliverability. Before selecting an email platform, make sure you ask about these features, which can enhance the deliverability of your messages:
- DNS, SKF and DKIM certifications help receiving mail servers verify the authenticity of your messages, which helps improve deliverability. Your email provider should be able to help you create these settings on your server.
- Ask if the provider “seeds” client lists with email addresses, so it can verify the deliverability of each of them and can identify any problems before they become major issues.
- Ask if your messages will be sent out from a shared IP or via a dedicated IP address. If it’s the former, you have little control over the reputation of that IP address. If another client is spamming its lists, your deliverability could suffer. With a dedicated IP address, you will be the only domain sending email over it, which improves your reputation and therefore your deliverability.
On boarding. What resources does the email platform provide to help you move your email lists over to their platform? Do they offer training or live support to help you solve common problems?
Support options. How quickly can you reach someone to help you solve a problem when it occurs? You should have the option of working with a human being when you run into big problems that need to be solved immediately, whether by phone or live online chat.
Step 2: Evaluate email platforms
Open your wish list of rated features and add columns to the right for each of the email platforms you are considering. Once again, rate each feature on a numerical scale based on the extent to which it supports the functionality you need.
Step 3: Trial use
Once you’ve identified one or two email platforms that appear to be a good fit, request a trial use. You need to determine how well each tool fits into your workflow before you make a final decision.
Step 4: Selection and implementation
Select the email platform that is the best fit for your company. Import your lists and set up your templates. Then, you’re ready to go. Good luck with your new email platform!
Today, if you’re not yet on board the content marketing train, you may get run over. It’s that simple. Your customers have changed and you need to adapt the way you’re marketing. If you continue to use the same old ways to communicate with them, you’ll be left in the dust.
Today’s B2B customers tend to ignore pushy messaging and salespeople. They prefer to do product and vendor research on their own, and don’t want to talk to a salesperson until they’re ready to make a purchase. They want to be educated, not sold to.
That’s why content marketing is so powerful today. It starts with a target audience’s needs, and aims to build relationships and trust by providing informative, helpful, useful content.
If you insist on maintaining the status quo, you do so at your own risk. Here’s what’s at stake if you do nothing:
1. Competitors will run you over. What if one of your major competitors launched a well-designed and well-executed content marketing strategy? Let’s say it does a marvelous job of answering the questions and meeting the informational needs of your mutual audience. They’ve become THE trusted source for information on your type of product or service. It will be much harder if not impossible for you to catch up with and surpass them.
2. Flat sales. Your customers have changed how they buy products – but you haven’t changed how you communicate with them. They’re learning to ignore your messages, which are typically all about you, not them. They don’t trust you as much as they once did, because you’re not focused on their needs like your competitor is. That means you sales will probably remain stagnant or slowly decline, as your competitor’s content initiative gains steam. The content marketing train has left the station – and you’re not on it.
3. Commoditization. Your products and services are in danger of becoming commodities because you’ve not the company influencing the way people think and feel in your niche. Becoming the industry expert to your target audience requires a lot of excellent content. But you’ve decided to abdicate that role. Your competitors have filled that void by providing high-quality knowledge and education to your mutual customers. Maybe that’s why prospective customers treat your products like a commodity.
4. Diminished customer loyalty. Like a magnet, customers and prospects tend to gravitate to those suppliers who do the best job of anticipating their information needs – before, during AND after the sale. Today’s customers want to be educated, not just sold to. If you treat them as a single transaction, you’ll miss the opportunity to build deep relationships with them and that will inevitably result with them tossing you on the trash heap.
5. You’ll become invisible. At the very least, your old-fashioned interruptive ads, emails and direct mail campaigns will teach your target audience to ignore you and your brand. At the worst, they will remove you from consideration for upcoming purchases. They may even actively avoid your brand. Once the damage has been done, it’s hard to reverse.
What you need to do now
Don’t panic. You need to create a content marketing strategy now and here are some ways to get started:
- Interview your sales people and key customers. Learn more about their needs, and the ways in which their buying process has evolved.
- Use the information you have gathered to map out the customer journey, from the time a prospect realizes he has a need until he makes a purchase.
- Use what you’ve learned to determine the types of content that are needed at each step of their journey to nurture them toward a sale.
Your focus should be to provide them with the right content, at the right time, in the formats they prefer. Good luck!
Would you stack bagfuls of cash into a crude pyramid, and then set it on fire? Of course not! That would be stupid, and you’re not stupid, so you’re not going to ignore inefficiencies in your content marketing initiative, are you?
Here are five areas that are especially problematic:
1. You’re producing content, but it’s campaign focused
Campaign thinking is deeply embedded in the minds of most marketers, which is why it’s so hard to escape. Campaigns, which can last anywhere from several weeks to several months, tend to confuse today’s buyers. They love the advice you’re giving them on a timely, valuable topic, but then you suddenly move on to something completely different as you transition to the next campaign.
And… you’ve lost them.
2. Failure to cut through the clutter
Your target audience is swamped with messages which all sound the same. “Blah, blah, blah…” (cue eye roll and tune out). Why should they pay attention to yours? To stick out like a sore thumb, your content must have what Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Inc. and the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, calls a content tilt:
“Your content must be different. It must fill a content hole that is not being filled by someone else… Without tilting your content just enough to truly have a different story to tell, you likely will see your content fade into the rest of the clutter and be forgotten,” he explains.
Too often, brands try to target too broad of an audience with content that is too similar to what their competitors are publishing. Generic, derivative, “me-too” content gets ignored today. What’s the solution? Narrow your focus until you can define a subset of your audience that you CAN serve with a unique, valuable content offering.
3. No plan for nurturing prospects
By now, most companies realize that they need to provide gated access to white papers, webinars and other resources as a way to gather email addresses. But then they confuse these interested people with prospects who are ready to buy. They’re not the same!
What’s missing is a nurturing strategy – a sequence of content, resources and emails, delivered over time – that is designed to move them steadily toward a sale. Don’t just focus on the “top of the funnel” (acquiring prospects’ contact information); have a strategy for the rest of their customer journey, too.
4. It’s all about you, you, you
Some marketers still insist on using their blogs to promote themselves and all of the great advantages of their products and services. That’s not what today’s customers want. They want to be educated. They want content that addresses their needs, challenges and aspirations. Instead of telling YOUR story, demonstrate your understanding of THEIR needs by addressing common pain points and providing relief for them.
5. Not building a base of email subscribers
During the last decade, many companies have focused on building their social media followers, while underinvesting in their email lists. There’s only one problem with this approach: You don’t own those social channels. The rules can be changed at any time – and have been doing so with increasing frequency. Frequently, they want you to pay to reach the followers you have painstakingly gathered. Instead, focus your efforts on the digital properties you DO own: your website and your email list. Continue to use social media, but adjust your tactics to always drive your followers back to your website.
Where can you improve?
Invest some time to identify your shortcomings and make plans to correct them. Remember: Every great success isn’t a “one and done” deal. Usually, it involves numerous setbacks and course corrections. Don’t get discouraged. Improve, assess, then improve again. The cumulative effect of this approach will put you miles ahead of your nearest competitor!