It’s funny, but oftentimes we marketers are our own worst enemy when it comes to marketing ‘ideas’. In my time I’ve had the pleasure of conceiving some truly dreadful press briefings and writing some deadly dull ‘opinion’ pieces in the name of trying to grab people’s attention.
The fault usually lies in believing our own hype: in assuming that the things that get us all lathered up are the same things that get customers, web searchers and reporters excited too. More often than not this is simply not the case. The fact that your widget has successfully passed a beta test phase for version 11.5.2 is probably of interest to only five people in this world – and four of them are likely to be sat in the same cubicle as you.
And even if you do know you’re on to a hot thing, how often are we wise enough to factor market forces into the planning process? We might be selling very hot cakes indeed, but if everyone else is too then it’ll be extremely hard to make ourselves seen and heard.
In practice, it takes a great mind to fathom this stuff. The skills for getting it right aren’t really marketing skills per se, they’re more about being a good salesperson.
The trick is to get inside the heads of the people you’re trying to reach, and to understand the competition for their mindshare… and only then to figure out what it is that you’re going to write or produce and how you’re going to distribute it.
Good salespeople do this all the time. They have a keen appreciation of things like ‘pitch angles’, ‘buying cycles’, ‘competitors’ and ‘budgets’ (or someone’s ability to cough up cash)…. all of which requires a great handle on the pulse of the marketplace. Conversely in marketing, when it comes to generating new ideas for content, we’re more likely to organise a 30 minute brainstorm meeting, then neck a Diet Coke (or three) and start hammering away at the keyboard.
This approach is not good. It can result in a bunch of boring, irrelevant deliverables or things that are destined never to be heard amongst a sea of white noise (and sometimes both!). Worst of all, doing things this way nearly always represents a gamble in terms of time, money and resources – since we have no idea if there will ever be a realistic market out there for our new-fangled stuff.
The salesperson’s trick is to know the pitch thoroughly and to have researched the market well enough to know whether she will be wasting her time – before setting off. Now whilst it isn’t always possible for us marketers to do an in-depth analysis of our customers – reporters, web site visitors, etc – there are some great new tools that we can use to make our work more scientific.
Over the summer months Google released a stack of (FREE!) new search marketing research tools to help us understand what the web is interested in. Their Keyword Suggest tool is primarily designed to help people make better decisions about keywords for Google Adwords (Pay Per Click / PPC) campaigns, but it’s also an very valuable app for researching the popularity of our content offers and the language that we use to describe them, as well as understanding our competition.
For example, I’m thinking of creating a new white paper on ‘mobile marketing’ to help me go and sell to mobile marketing-type people. What Google Suggest tells me is that there’s a healthy number of people searching for this term – approximately 31,000 per month right now. But if I run a normal Google search on the phrase I also find that I’m up against approximately 33 million other web pages who are also interested in marketing ideas, products or services in the same area.
Alternatively, a bit of research on the phrase ‘mobile promotions’ gives me 1,600 searchers per month and just over 1 million competing web pages; and ‘mcommerce’ gives me an audience of around 900 per month and only a million or so competing pages.
Now assuming that my budget is limited, I have some valuable new information to play with. I know that it’s going to be far more cost-effective to create content offers around ideas and phrases such as ‘mcommerce’ than ‘mobile marketing’: and, whilst the general thread of my piece may not be radically different from what I’d originally planned, if I optimise the content around these new ideas I stand a far higher chance of engaging with people through search (because my corresponding web page will be fighting it out for the top spots on Google with only one million other pages, as opposed to 33 million.)
In addition, I might just find I have a bunch of new angles to play with. Let’s say I decide that ‘mcommerce’ is a different kettle of fish to plain old ‘mobile marketing’ – as mcommerce speaks to buying and selling over a phone, whilst ‘marketing’ may be more about finding and influencing people. Hey presto! Another rich – and marketable – seam of content ideas is opened up. Further, this angle might just ring a few new and meaningful bells for the piece, as it’s the importance of the transactional capabilities of the mobile web that my sales guys have been banging on about for the past six months……
With Google to play with there’s really no excuse for inventing our content plays in a vacuum. Pulling useful research data from the interweb has never been easier, and it ought to make our work more effective. So buff your pitch up. A 30 second stint of research might make your content efforts go a whole lot further than you thought….