MRP Lesson 4: Format, focus and research
MRP Lesson 4: The 6 weapons your marketing arsenal needs (and how to acquire them)
Thus far, we’ve talked about the difference between traditional marketing pieces and information-based marketing. You’ve seen how the tone of this approach is more akin to journalism than sales talk – more factual, more “objective,” more … well, informative.
But how do you know what type of marketing collateral you need?
The 6 Major Types of Information-Based Marketing
Case Studies – Remember when I told you that a TechTarget study showed 78.3% of prospects wanted case studies to review but only 28% had access to them? These “success stories” are popular with prospect for a good reason. Property targeted, these stories lower the perceived risk of making a buying decision and make prospect look well-informed to their superiors.
White Papers – While there are a variety of documents floating around under the name “white paper,” a simple definition would be a persuasive document that examines a problem and its solution. The tone is somewhere between a brochure and a magazine article, and the focus can be on technical issues, business benefits, or a hybrid of the two.
Technical Briefs – These are the drier, more technical cousins of the white paper, useful for getting buy-in from staff responsible for nuts-and-bolts implementation of your solution. They can be critical to getting on the “short list” of vendors that eventually goes to decision makers.
Advertorials – As the name implies, these are a hybrid of advertisements and editorials. They are frequently seen a insert or supplements in print publications like newspaper and trade journals.
Blogs – What used to be a form of online journaling has come a long way a a marketing tool in the last several years. Searchers online see company blogs as a trustworthy source of information on a company’s activities and offerings.
Press Releases – Whether posted to your company website or distributed to major media, press releases attract media attention to your product or service.
The best part? The research and interviews you do for one piece can be re-purposed into another. A great success story can become the basis of a press release; a blog post can be based on a technical brief. The only real limit is your creativity.
Gathering information and conducting interviews
Regardless of which type of information-based marketing collateral you choose, you’ll need to do your homework (and legwork) before the writing can begin.
Information interviews with sales and marketing team members
Because your salesforce and marketing team are closest to your customers and prospects, they’ll be in a perfect position to know:
- What questions are being asked most frequently
- What compelling business results actual customers are seeing
- What gaps exist in current marketing materials
- What upcoming events (trade shows, product launches, PR opportunities) can be targeted to maximum effect
- What common characteristics the most desirable prospects have … and where there’s a potential “match” with a customer reference
- What kinds of narrative and educational hooks will open prospects’ doors
Take advantage of their experience and systematically plan your writing efforts. Together, build a wish list in the form of a grid with such intersecting slots as:
- Product or service
- Customer location
- Customer industry
- Customer size (revenue, # of employees, etc.)
- Business objectives addressed (operational efficiency, cost savings, regulatory compliance, etc.)
Obviously, this grid will vary based on your particular business, and it will change as time goes on. But putting this in writing first will provide an “editorial calendar” to focus future writing in the service of specific marketing goals.
Interviewing successful customers
Since many of these materials have a strong narrative element, your most successful, happiest customers have a big role to play here, too.
Don’t, however, make the mistake of interviewing every satisfied customer you have, thinking you can turn them all into marketing opportunities. Before contacting customers, ask yourself these questions:
Does this meet a legitimate marketing need? If this customer’s profile (product purchased, industry, size, etc.) doesn’t fill a gap identified in your discussions with sales and marketing, then it’s a waste of your time (and theirs) to pursue a customer success story for marketing purposes.
Has this customer seen verifiable business results from your product or service? If they haven’t (for whatever reason) measured the impact of your efforts, their story will lack a crucial “social proof” element your marketing materials need to be truly persuasive.
Does this customer have permission to share their story? Just because your main contact at the company is eager to help doesn’t mean he or she can. Success stories often require approval by multiple functional areas, such as legal, executive, and marketing/PR before you are allowed to publish materials based on them. While you would obviously run a final draft past all necessary stakeholders prior to publishing, you can save yourself a lot of headaches by getting preliminary approval prior to doing extensive interviews and writing.
Smoothing the path with customers
Sometimes, the hardest part of writing these pieces is getting customers on board. While they may be happy to do some relatively low-profile reference calls with your prospects (within reason), a public testimonial may be another story. Their objections tend to center around the time their participation will take, the way their company will be portrayed, and even whether such publicity may “tip their hand” to their competitors.
Some customers (particularly the large “name-brand” ones, unfortunately) have a blanket policy against participating in such projects. (It’s understandable, really — they’re probably inundated with such requests.) Others, however, may be persuaded by arguments such as:
“It’s good for your career.” Individual employees quoted in these stories see these as documented proof of their effectiveness on the job. That’s a leg up on the next promotion or raise, or perhaps good publicity for a move to another company.
“Everyone admires good decisions … and great decision-makers.” Companies who are nervous about how they will be portrayed in such stories can be reassured that you will take great pains to portray them in a positive light and will never publish anything they don’t approve first.
“This is good marketing for you, too.” Anytime you can engineer a co-marketing solution with a customer, it’s the very definition of win-win. While it’s not always easy to do, finding ways to tell your customer success story so their own prospects see your customer as a thought leader and innovator can overcome many objections.
Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start writing! We’ll spend the next several lessons covering the six types of information-based marketing materials in depth, including discussions of each one’s typical audience profile and suggested length and structure(s), as well as links to resources with more information.
See you again in four days!
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