4 takeaways for content marketers in the time of COVID-19

Brands are playing it safe with their messaging, but there are still opportunities to serve and engage audiences.

The post 4 takeaways for content marketers in the time of COVID-19 appeared first on Marketing Land.

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Creating brand content during a global pandemic is not on anyone’s résumé list of experiences. Brands now have to rethink their customers’ priorities to determine what’s worth communicating, while balancing marketing goals with customer empathy.

This conundrum has businesses playing themselves, generating nearly identical messaging across site banners and emails. The content din makes it more difficult for audiences to discern one brand from the next.

Despite these new challenges, there is guidance for brands that seek to continue serving and engaging their customers. On Live with Search Engine Land Friday, Meghan Keaney Anderson, CMO of HubSpot, Amanda Milligan, marketing director at Fractl and Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing, shared some of the lessons they’ve learned while working with clients and marketing their own agencies on what brands should be communicating at this point, how to convey the right tone, identify content marketing opportunities and finding the right ways to measure success.

How should brands be communicating at this point?

“There are two ways that I would think about this: One is, ‘how do you communicate in direct response to the crisis?’” said Anderson, whose organization initially halted all social promotions and new product launches until it could assess the tone of its messaging. 

“The second piece of this is, after the [initial outbreak] of the crisis, there is a new world that you are marketing and selling in, and so how do you reflect those times?” she said, pointing out new brand opportunities, like providing educational content, as people shift their focus to longer-term goals.

“Don’t say anything if we’re not going to be providing some kind of value,” Milligan advised, adding, “there’s a lot of sentiment going around and people are getting kind of skeptical or cynical about brands just saying things that sound nice, but they’re not actually doing anything.” Brands that are able to assist their target audiences, or simply continue serving customers the way they were pre-pandemic, will continue to build trust and an audience, Milligan said.

“Generally, the trend has been to be supportive and empathetic to the customer: to really dig into, ‘How does this current environment change life for our customer and where can we be of assistance?’” Lee said, pointing out that content marketing initiatives don’t necessarily have to be framed by the product solutions that a business offers. 

“SAP just did SAP for Kids,” Lee used as an example, “it was a ‘bring your kids to virtual work day’ with celebrities and artists and influencers; it was a really great way for people to turn this live YouTube video on and have their kids sitting there next to them at home and actually take a yoga class or learn how to draw something or make a song,” he said.

How do you balance optimism and sensitivity in your messaging?

“You have to acknowledge that something’s going on, you don’t want to be oblivious . . . Because then, if somebody’s listening to that and they’ve had a very different experience, they’re not going to trust you anymore,” said Milligan, explaining that, while it is not necessary to dwell on the negatives, businesses must recognize that industries and customers will not return to the same status quo after the pandemic.

“The best way to judge whether something is going to land right is to talk to people within your own company and talk with your customers,” Anderson suggested, noting that both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to have affected a member of your own organization or one of their family members, and that taking their experiences into account can help you find the right tone.

“The other thing is, you’re going to make a mistake in this — we’re all going to make a mistake in this,” Anderson added, “And I think part of having that humanity is if you do say something that is accidentally out of tone or gets a bad reaction, to just listen and own that, apologize for it, move forward and not let it keep you out of the arena.” The unprecedented challenge that the world is facing may make for slightly more forgiving circumstances, but this is also a time when inappropriate messaging could strike a fatal blow to some businesses, making it even more important to, as Anderson recommended, discuss your strategy with the client and members of your own organization.

How do you identify content marketing opportunities during COVID?

“The opportunity identified is using search data to understand that there is an increased demand for certain types of products and solutions,” said Lee, emphasizing a back-to-basics SEO approach that he says companies should be employing year-round.

“A lot of people are looking to fill in the time that they’re not spending commuting,” he pointed out, “There might be ‘infotaining’ content that your brand could put out — it’s still contextually relevant to your business, but at the same time, it’s entertaining in some way.” Although some of these initiatives may not directly feed into the ROI outcomes that organizations are used to pursuing, audiences will remember the positive experiences that brands provide for them during this time, Lee said.

For businesses whose services or products do not explicitly lend themselves to the crisis, opportunities can still be found by exploring the thoughts, emotions, and challenges that their audiences may be facing right now. 

“Different software that is about efficiency, or like ‘do-it-yourself’ has gotten much trendier now — probably, the sad reality is that people are downsizing and they have to try to make it work,” said Milligan. “So, what I’m encouraging people to do is to take that time to assess: What are the emotions being associated with here and the smaller struggles happening? Any kind of pain point you can alleviate, at this point, is much appreciated, and that could be a design tool that’s free and you can give to your whole team right now,” she said.

Can we rely on the same KPIs as before?

“We’re putting more emphasis on qualitative data than quantitative right now … we’re more okay than we typically are with trying to understand anecdotal evidence and gut reactions because these numbers are different than we’ve seen before,” said Anderson, adding that such qualitative data, once viewed as more of a supplement to cold hard metrics, has taken on more importance for her organization.

Switching to more qualitative measures of engagement has enabled HubSpot’s social media teams to monitor whether their messaging is being received positively or negatively, which helps the company adapt on the fly and informs its subsequent social media posts, Anderson said.

“It’s important to remember that even if you recognize that [KPIs have shifted], you have to set that expectation internally or with your clients,” Milligan said, adding, “It’s you determining, ‘Okay, what is now the purpose of this and what are the KPIs I’m going to assign to it?’ then telling that story internally or to your clients so that everybody’s on the same page.” Setting and communicating the appropriate KPIs helps your team and client understand what they’re trying to achieve, which will increase the odds of success.

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land. For more on search marketing and SEO, click here.


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Content and coronavirus: How you can differentiate from the masses

How to think about content, SEO and your customers during the crisis — and prepare for the future.

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All coronavirus all the time: that’s what everyone’s content looks like right now. It makes sense, because most digital marketers feel compelled to respond to the crisis.

However, the proliferation of “conronacontent” also creates a dilemma and a practical problem. There are a ton of me-too listicles and volumes of “how COVID-19 is impacting e-commerce” data circulating. This creates a kind of content din and raises the fundamental question: what should you be creating and how do you differentiate your content when everyone is basically doing the exact same thing? We know content is foundational for SEO success, but rising above the rest is easier said than done, particularly now.

It’s a challenging issue and there’s no single, simple answer. I reached out to a range of digital marketers to help answer this question: Meghan Keaney Anderson, VP of marketing at Hubspot; Casie Gillette, senior director of digital marketing at KoMarketing; Todd W. Lebo, chief marketing officer at Ascend2 and Patrick Reinhart, VP of digital strategies at Conductor.

I also asked them about non-coronavirus content and whether and how to prepare for the post-COVID future. At the end, I’ve tried to distill their advice into a list of principles.

Meghan Keaney Anderson, Hubspot

At its core, content marketing is about helping audiences solve problems. In recent weeks, we’ve seen countless businesses, employees, and communities face new and unprecedented challenges for which there is no pre-existing playbook. High-quality, relevant content can be invaluable at a time like this.

We have never witnessed such sudden and dramatic shifts in what audiences need, and we are continually adapting our content strategy in order to be as helpful as possible. Marketers across every industry should try to do likewise. In this rapidly changing environment, content that was hugely helpful to audiences last week may not be relevant to the challenges that next week holds.

My three pieces of advice to content creators right now are to:

  • Remain laser-focused on audiences’ most pressing needs by continually gathering feedback and closely monitoring engagement rates on new content being published.
  • Strive to deliver unique value without asking for anything in return — instead of dialing up the promotion of products and services, focus above all else on being helpful.
  • Always be prepared internally to quickly adjust content strategy as the rapidly changing situation continues to evolve.

Casie Gillette, KoMarketing

Right now, people are writing about the Coronavirus because it feels tone-deaf not to. That being said, and I can’t stress this enough, you shouldn’t be writing if you don’t have something unique to say. I have clients who serve the restaurant and retail industries and the content they are putting out deals with how they are helping/can help during this time. It’s unique to them and their customers so it’s genuinely useful. We always say, don’t write for the sake of writing and that certainly applies here. 

At the same time, we are encouraging clients to publish their regularly scheduled content — why? Because some of that content is being created to help them rank in search and by delaying it, they aren’t helping themselves. We do want to be cautious though. For example, we had a client post scheduled to go live that included the phrase “statistics to keep you up at night.” Nope: that title was fine two months ago but certainly not now. I think publishing is fine as long as you are being mindful of what you are putting out there.

A side tip: as for not wanting to appear insensitive, one suggestion I have given to clients is to make your COVID post/announcement sticky. That way it’s always at the top of the blog and it’s the first thing people see. 

In terms of preparing content for the future, I have a client in the healthcare space who is already thinking about this. We started creating topics around the issues hospitals will be facing when the crisis slows. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but you have to be OK with the uncertainty of knowing when to publish that content. I’m of the mindset it’s better to be proactive than reactive so if you are thinking about your future content initiatives, I’d start by thinking about what challenges your audience will be facing at the end of this and what information they’ll need.

Todd W. Lebo, Ascend2

My suggestion is to create content based on research and data (tests and other sources). Readers want science and data to help them make the best decision and this is especially true during challenging times.

Our June 2019 study, Content Marketing Engagement, found that when it comes to content, having solid evidence to support a claim is extremely important. That is why a 60% majority of marketing professionals report that research and case studies are the most trusted content type by target audiences.

Another B2B study we conducted shows that research is what prospects consider the most valuable content vendors can provide them. Research provides an agnostic perspective on topics that are most important to your prospect. Prospects consider original research extremely valuable because they can use research to generate ideas, influence decision-makers, determine strategy, get approval for their budgets, and much more.

Patrick Reinhart, Conductor

It’s tough to differentiate because everyone is putting out content that speaks about the impact of the virus to their business and in their industry. We did that at Conductor so we are no different. What I think businesses should consider is having a “next step” that compliments their research or content. I am not seeing a lot of companies put out that type of content along with research and statements, etc. This may not work for some businesses but will for the majority.

Right now, you should be creating content that helps your customers and users. Every time you put something out, the question you should be asking yourself is: “will this help my customers?” If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track. If it’s just a piece of content that you’re putting out for the sake of putting out then it’s more than likely not worth it. 

As for non-virus-related content, you have to be OK with not addressing what’s going on. It’s OK to still run your business, it’s OK to still try and help your customers, you just have to be careful how you go about that. The biggest mistake businesses can make right now is appearing like they are trying to capitalize on the pandemic so it’s a balance.

You should absolutely address what’s going on in the world, but you also should be OK with not addressing it. What a lot of businesses are doing right now is only talking about the virus and not talking about other ways to help their customers. Right now is a great time to plant trees for SEO if you haven’t already. The trees you plant now will provide shade on sunny days in the future and there is nothing wrong with creating it along with content that addresses the current state of things. 

Answer questions to help your customers; go and contribute on forums that are specific to your industry, create video tutorials, etc. Everyone has to remember that this is a snapshot in time and there is the other side to this that we all need to be planning for.

Content lessons and takeaways

Below are the distilled lessons and advice from the group:

  • Don’t create content for the sake of content, but do maintain a regular publishing schedule.
  • Don’t be self-promotional or appear to be capitalizing on the pandemic.
  • Focus on customer needs: does your content pass the “will this help my customers?” litmus test? Get regular feedback on customer needs.
  • Determine what you can say or what value you can provide that’s (relatively) unique.
  • Review scheduled content to make sure it’s not inappropriate or insensitive.
  • Be agile and prepared to change your content plan as the environment changes.
  • Be proactive, plan content for the post-COVID-19 future (be thoughtful about when to release it).
  • Use research and data to support your content.
  • Continue to develop and publish content that helps your longer-term rankings and SEO.

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land. For more on search marketing and SEO, click here.


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B2B buyers consume an average of 13 content pieces before deciding on a vendor

A mix of first and third party content is required to seal the deal.

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The average B2B buyer’s journey involves consumption of 13 pieces of content. That’s the principal finding of a new survey from market research firm FocusVision. The company polled marketing executives at companies with at least 500 employees and $50 million in annual revenue who had purchased a martech solution in the past year.

A mix of 1st and 3rd party content. The 13 content pieces breaks down into an average of eight vendor-created pieces and five from third parties. This content ranges from video to blog posts, white papers and customer testimonials to software reviews and analyst reports.

According to the report, the B2B buying process takes on average two to six weeks and involves 3 – 4 internal decision makers. The top source of content was the vendor’s website, followed by search and social media. Asked “how did you find content,” these survey respondents said:

  • Directly through vendor website — 70%
  • Internet search — 67%
  • Social media  — 53%
  • Sent to me via email — 41%
  • Word of mouth — 33%

FocusVision identified four buying stages (and the content reviewed at each stage in the process): 1) understanding the problem, 2) looking for vendors, 3) short-listing and 4) final decision.

Content reviewed at each stage of the B2B buyer’s journey

Source: FocusVision (2020)

Websites and peer reviews. The consumption of content is not entirely liner. Vendor websites, for example, are visited throughout the buyer’s journey. Peer reviews were consulted at the top and bottom of the funnel as well.

The most useful types of content to aid purchase decision-making were those that addressed: product specifications and functionality (67%), product comparisons (65%), product success stories (60%), content to specifically show value to internal stakeholders (54%), product tutorials (49%) and guidance on my problem/how to solve it (48%).

Larger companies, with revenues above $250 and $500 million, displayed some differences from the average according to FocusVision. Larger companies tended to rely more heavily on third party sources — third party websites, analyst reports and third party articles — probably because of their perceived independence.

Why we care. We know that content is incredibly important for ranking in search. It’s also critical for sales support. But this report makes clear there are a broad range of first and third party content types that are highly influential to B2B buyers. It also shows how critical the vendor website is in the buying process. Indeed, the report basically outlines a content strategy for the entire B2B buyer’s journey.

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