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Content Marketing 2.0: Content Merchandising?

We know how to create content that hits the heartstrings of our buyers and move them along the funnel. But are we as good at merchandising that content? Might the next step of content marketing be the science of content merchandising?

You’ve made an eBook, a white paper or an infographic. You put it on your website. Maybe you put a form in front of it, to determine who (and how many) look at it.

Maybe you email your database about the eBook.

Maybe you tweet about it.

Maybe you put it on a trade media site. Maybe…you don’t.

It’s not easy to hear if you’ve poured your heart, soul and budget into creating an eBook, but you need to hear it:

Once you’ve made it, you’re only halfway there. Now you need to merchandise that content.

Content Merchandising – what the &!?$ is that?
Merchandising is the exercise of putting a certain product in a certain place, at a certain time, so that it’s far more likely to be consumed. Like seasick tablets on the gangway. Or earplugs at the doors of a metal concert. Or bottled water at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Content merchandising is the exercise of doing that to content. Like putting a PPC ad pitching your “How to think social in HR software” eBook in front of people searching on Google for “HR software”. Like putting a link to your infographic in the signature of emails. Like creating a display ad for your content.

Here’s why this whole exercise makes sense:
Oftentimes, it will be far more useful for all parties involved to offer content (valuable information and a route in to your products) in lieu of your product when you encounter people in the wilds of the marketplace.

We’ve had conversations with companies that go a bit like this:

Us: “So you’re marketing solutions that radically change and improve a company’s operations?”

Company: “Yup.”

Us: “And you’re aiming to get new customers with PPC ads on Google?”

Company: “Yup.”

Us: “And that’s your only proposition: Cilck on this link to radically change your operations?”

Company: “Yup.”

Us: “Did it occur to you to get the conversation started on a lighter note, with less purchase pressure?”

Company: “But how?”

Us: “By offering them to engage with your content, instead of going straight to a demo or purchase?”

Company: “No. But that makes sense.”

It does. For long, large and complex purchases, the early contact with purchasers should probably be simple engagement with content. In these cases, your initial product isn’t your product. It’s your content. The actual product comes later.

Content Merchandising Tactics
There are a lot of ways to get content in front of prospects, some obvious, others less so. We’ve tried most of them. (If you’d like to add your own, leave a comment, will you?)

Here are some of the tactics we’ve used, and what makes them good and bad.

Content merchandising on your own site
There are a few ways to do this.

1) A big honking promotion on your home page saying “Check out our outrageous infographic/eBook/whitepaper thing”;

2) A sidebar widget that appears on several (relevant) webpages of your site pitching the content;

3) A display ad within your own blog posts (drawing people from low-value content to higher-value content), and

4) Direct links within your site’s copy (blog or body copy) to the download page for the content.

It’s good because the placement is free, or nearly free, you control how and where the content is displayed, and you are able to “monetize” otherwise potentially worthless traffic.

It’s not good because it’s using up a scarce resource (site real estate), it risks interrupting someone’s experience with your site (they stop reading the blog post, for example) and it’s another thing you’ll need to update.

Content merchandising on search
Google and Bing are great places to present high-value content. We’ve had tremendous success helping clients advertise content, and drive content downloads from interesting prospects, based on Google search terms.

Worth keeping in mind with this kind of merchandising: Make sure your content is titled in a way that links well to keyword searches, and the words you’re advertising for. Develop a landing page with good SEO principles (keyworded titles and – if you can – great backlinks). And make the “free” nature of your valuable content apparent in the ad text itself.

Challenges here relate to maintaining your “quality score”, which determines how prominent your PPC ads will appear to searchers (top of paid ads, or page 3 or 4). Newish content landing pages without strong backlinks and/or poor keywording will struggle to attain good quality scores.

Content merchandising in display ads
Many B2B companies do some placement of display ads on trade media sites, catalog sites or comparison sites. Here again, content offering insight and ideas usually pulls through more conversions than a product ad that offers only an opportunity to purchase.

Imagine a display ad that markets “the world’s most sophisticated project management software” versus one marketing “The ten project killers and key workarounds: a free eBook (by the most sophisticated project management software)”. Which do you think would be more drive more clicks and interest?

Content merchandising on LinkedIn
Like Google ads or display ads, a text or display ad in LInkedIn puts your thought leadershop in front of more eyes. The kickers with LInkediN advertising is that you can put it in front of very relevant eyes by segmenting down who sees the ad by job titles, region, industry, copany size etc.

Content merchandising in guest posts
Writing guest posts on others’ blogs brings double joy: 1) The added traffic you bring to your content and 2) the backlink you gain from a highly credible site (which most blogs are, to Google at least). Obviously, you’ve got to do this deftly, to ensure you’re bringing value to the blog you’re writing for and its readers (not just carpet-bombing for the sake of increased exposure). A good litmus test for this: Would my guest post bring value to the blog’s readers even if they did not have any interest in my company’s products, and did not go to any additional content that I have linked to? Most bloggers will hold you to this, anyway.

Content merchandising in trade media
Most trade media sites will help you gain leads with your content either by renting their email distribution lists (so you can push out a pitch for your content and draw people back to a landing page) or posting your content directly on their site – in a spacial area, and gated by a form.

This always deserves a subjective, case-by-case assessment: How good is the site? How well-managed is their email list? How much do they charge, and is this real value?

Content merchandising in twitter or forums
Some LinkedIn Groups and twitter feeds are overrun with marketers hawking their content wares – not a very conversational (social) gambit. Better if your thought leadership can be spun or redirected into either a meaningful debate or an open, nonpartisan discussion. Perhaps invite a couple influenctial tweeps in your field to conduct an open hashtagged debate tying back to your eBook or microsite.

Content merchandising in video, infographic, hosted presentation or other sites
Like guest posting about your larger content offering (eBook or microsite), some times it can pay to develop new, small content nuggets to better merchandise or position your larger thought leadership pieces. We’ve had some success producing short videos or infographics based on the content of an eBook or white paper, and which drive more traffic to that content (generating more leads). This kind of content can pull relevant traffic from content sharing sites for video like YouTube, for viral infographics or images like Pinterest or Flickr, or for slide presentations like SlideShare or Scribd.

Content merchandising via email
Email’s a standard go-to-market route for many content marketing projects, particularly where a company has a good database (or access to one). Writing compelling email copy and linking it back to a landing page that makes the most of the opportunity (not to mention segmenting content and audience) is essential and something we’ve written about extensively before: Just search “email” in this blog and feast.

Content merchandising is the next generation of good old-fashioned distribution strategies – like a newspaper, a great content product’s still key , but you need the metaphorical paperboy to get it in front of readers (even in our web 2.0, information-is-free world). There are many people working this discipline, but few seem to be doing it (or talking about it) in any systematic way.

 

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