Blogs can be powerful tools for driving awareness, demand and leads.
Most fail either because on nonstop promotions accompanied by little content worthy of interest, because they fail to focus on a specific audience, or because they create expectations that outpace their resources. Producing a great business blog is difficult and not for every organization. It’s easy to espouse all the wonderful things a blog can do. Execution, however, consumes time and resources, and can be difficult to maintain.
Have I dissuaded you?
If not, then this document will serve two purposes. For those considering blogging it will help you answer the question, do I want to do this? And, should you make the commitment, I will help you craft your roadmap.
A typical answer to, “Why blog?,” usually goes along the lines of, “To drive sales.” It may seem like an obvious answer, but it’s a foolhardy path. Too many businesses post nothing but sales pitches and company news. While this might make sales directors and PR managers happy, it’s ineffectual. When the bulk of messaging consists of sales or corporate pats on the back, readers tend to view such blogs as spam. They’ll never subscribe or they’ll quickly unsubscribe. These blogs sit there, mostly unread, often abandoned, accruing internal frustration from the lack of results.
Here are four solid answer as to why a company should blog.
- Audience Generation
- Demand Generation
- Lead Generation
You likely recognize the first three as the layers of the marketing funnel. Pitching, while a legitimate blogging activity, is not in the marketing funnel. It’s in the sales pipeline. The mission of the marketing funnel is to deliver leads to the sales pipeline. I find it useful to keep the funnel and the pipeline separate for numerous reasons including operational focus, measurement, analysis and so on. As a practical matter, a successful blog, one with readers and subscribers, also serves as a great delivery channel for occasional sales promotions.
- Audience Growth & Retention
- Grow Brand Awareness
- People working in industries, professional communities and occupations your organization serves
- News Media
- How to
- Industry News
- Opinion & Reaction
- Company News
Audience generation is a difficult concept to discuss. When we think of funnels the obvious analogy is putting oil in your car. The problem with this is that all the oil passes through the funnel into your engine. In the marketing funnel, only a portion of everyone inside progresses down through each layer and out through the bottom. A vibrant marketing funnel is filled with people who will never become customers. And, because the marketing funnel is proportional, the Audience Generation layer has the most people in it. While most will never be customers, what they will do is read and share your content. This sharing is valuable because their word of mouth grows brand awareness and their links and social media sharing fuels search engine optimization. Don’t ignore Audience Generation.
Because not everyone will become customers you can unburden Audience Generation from the limits of customer personas and target a larger audience. To keep it relevant, create content for people working in industries, professional communities and occupations your organization serves.
When planning content for Audience Generation, a sound method is to approach it like you would selecting topics for conference or convention presentations and keynotes. You may mention your product in passing, but you’re not selling and not pressing the value of your brand. Instead, select topics that are useful to the members of your audience. Not only will this establish your organization as an industry thought leader, it opens the range of topics to make selecting and crafting content far easier.
Audience Generation content is where rain making starts. There’s a cliché in business, teaching sells. It’s true. Tutorials make excellent content. Opinion and reaction pieces work well too. Every now and then an established writer publishes something that cries out for a response. Instead on commenting on their sites, write your response as a blog article. Then, email the author of the original article. Mention them in social media posts. With a little luck, they’ll link to you from social media and send their audience to your website. This does not work every time, but when it does it can be golden.
Audience Generation is also where media relations or PR takes place. It’s a great place to inform your audience about non-product related company news. I like to throw in interesting industry news into the mix as well.
For successful Audience Generation, be interesting to the audience you want to have.
- Nurture Market Demand
- Your Organization’s Target Personas
- How To & Best Practices
- Analysis & Studies
Demand Generation is market demand, not demand for your product. It’s likely your product represents just one solution or method among many related or differing approaches. A search engine optimization company may sell a keyword research tool, but its Demand Generation content can include posts on optimizing for mobile, link building or making pages load faster. These are all issues SEO professionals deal with.
Demand Generation content helps people to understand the broader picture and accomplish all their work, not limited to a specific part. It’s about planning, achieving objectives, solving problems and identifying and exploiting new opportunities. When creating Demand Generation content, write to the people who use or could use your product in their work.
As for the types of content you might produce, there’s overlap with Audience Generation, such as how to articles. The different, again, is market focus. Deeply researched and detailed content works well. Because you’re targeting personas, this is a good place to promote gated content and get names into your marketing automation software. For example, your organization might analyze the data it gathers to create an insights paper. Or, it could survey customers to learn about and produce a trends and opinions report. The full document may be perfect for high quality gated content. On your blog, you can then write one or more articles, each focused on just one topic, and invite readers to visit a landing page to acquire the full paper. Repurposing presentations to industry trade shows and conferences is another good example of Demand Generation content. Not all Demand Generation articles need be so meticulous. However, when you do produce content that goes above and beyond, Demand Generation topics make sense.
- Create Product Demand
- Product Announcements
- Product Tutorials, Demonstrations & Best Practices
Whereas Demand Generation addresses the broader work associated with people who use your product, Lead Generation is about the problem your product solves or addresses. If your product did not exist you should still be able to make a case for the principles, methodologies and work flows it uses. Then, use your product to demonstrate or illustrate these. Create content that’s helpful for your prospects and let your product speak for itself.
When you use your product to demonstrate or illustrate Lead Generation topics, offer additional gated content or conclude with a Pitch: If you’d like to learn more about how [Product Name] can help you [objective], we’d love to help you get started. Call us at (###) ###-#### or complete This Form. After all, you want Lead Generation to identify prospects.
- Leads or Sales
- Product Promotions
- Blog Subscription Links
- Email Signup Links
- Landing Page Links
Since the mission of the marketing funnel is to deliver leads to the sales pipeline, it’s important to convert prospects to leads and identify prospects within your marketing automation application. You also want visitors to subscribe to your blog so they receive content in their inbox or feed reader.
Pitch can take different forms. Content wise, post sales promotions and product announcements onto the blog. As I discussed in Demand Generation, Pitch can take the form of a link from posts that features your product. A blog subscription link, placed in the sidebar or header, is a good practice too.
Now that you have the different categories of content – Audience Generation, Demand Generation, Lead Generation and Pitch – where should you begin and how much of each ought you publish?
Where to Begin?
If you’re just starting out with blogging or do not have an audience reading your content, begin by focusing on Demand Generation. Write content that can help the customers you already have better perform their work. From a practical standpoint, your customers are the audience your business has, and can most easily make your champions. Because these contacts exist it’ll be easy to promote blog posts in emails and customer newsletters. Focus on getting the people you know onto the blog and encourage them to share with coworkers and on social media.
As your readership grows, add Audience Generation content that will appeal to a larger audience. Then start dribbling in Lead Generation content that uses your product to demonstrate methodologies and work flows.
While it may be tempting to include product promotions early on, refrain from this until your audience grows and you get landing page form signups. Allow some time for the marketing funnel to fill and people to filter down through the layers. When you have no readers, product promotions to a nonexistent audience serve no purpose. Grow your blog by being a valuable resource, not an infomercial channel. Keep in mind, your blog, early on, is not for sales leads. People already interested in your product will visit the brochure content on your website; they’re not looking for your blog.
There is no hard rule for how much content to publish for each layer of the marketing funnel. As you establish your audience and as the blog matures, I recommend aiming for a ratio I call the Rule of Tenths:
- 4 Tenths – Audience Generation
- 3 Tenths – Demand Generation
- 2 Tenths – Lead Generation
- 1 Tenth – Pitch
Eventually analytics will come into play. Keep track of which types of articles get the most readers, social media mentions and links. Then, adjust your content ratio accordingly. Apply common sense and maintain a reasonable content mix.
How Much Content to Publish?
Stick to a publishing calendar you can maintain, ensure quality and support with promotion. Yes, more is good, but few organizations publish daily. If you do one article a week, that’s 52 a year. Assuming you don’t have a dedicated content person or team, shoot for two a week to start. It’s a reasonable pace. If time and resources are limited, reduce Audience Generation; it’s a practical solution and your Demand Generation content should be share worthy anyway.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of quality. Write the best articles and use the best graphics, images and videos as reasonably possible without it becoming a hindrance. Write articles worthy of sharing. If you would not print it then hand it to your friends, why would anyone else share your work with their coworkers or peers?
The worst articles often go something like this:
- A blog is a place to publish articles on your website
- Blogging is important
- You should blog
Change blogging with whatever topic comes to mind. I’ve seen thousands of these pushed out.
Another sin is writing about topics others have covered many times before, without adding new value. Google actually warns webmasters and SEO professionals to avoid this practice.
Good content is informative or helpful. As an example, a well written How To article:
- Introduces a topic
- Explains why the topic is important
- Describes how to use or do the topic
- Genuinely helps readers succeed
You can find plenty of articles espousing best practices for quality content. Google and read some. But, keep them in perspective and take bold pronouncements with a grain of salt. For example, lots of tutorials recommend writing 1,500 words or more; they may even include research to prove the point. However, if you can write a good, complete post in 500 words, then 500 words are all you need. Again, quality is important. Value it. But, don’t let it hold you up.
Who Should Blog?
Who should blog is a tricky question. There’s who should write and who should post. Anyone can write for your blog as long as the voice is consistent, the quality is high and the topics are on point. Lots of companies spread out writing duties among their employees.
More important is the person or persons who post. If you have thought leaders who present at conferences and events, or if you want this to happen, consider publishing under this person’s or persons’ byline. They don’t have to author everything, you can use ghost writing, though I highly recommend that they make an editing pass to ensure consistent voice and tone. This will strengthen and reinforce your thought leaders’ credibility, and possibly lead to opportunities.
I am strongly against round-robin blog writing, then posting each article as the writer’s own, especially early in the life of your blog. While many organizations do this, it waters down authority and looks like you’re handing out a duty roster. Praise ghost writers internally, then publish under a thought leader’s byline.
Another reason to use fewer public facing bylines is promotion. People tend to follow personalities and thought leaders more readily than brands and organizations. Cultivating your own thought leaders can make content promotion much easier.
Here’s something to think about. Many of the top marketing blogs began with one or two writers:
- Moz – Founder Rand Fishkin
- Hubspot – Founder Brian Halligan
- CoppyBlogger – Founders Brian Clark & Dharmesh Shah
Only after they grew their audiences beyond a tipping point did they add more writers and evolve content into fully staffed departments.
Be strategic with your bylines.
The last thing I’ll add about thought leaders is to be sure they use their influence to encourage their followers and audiences to subscribe to the company blog and its social media accounts. Assume, at some point in the future, thought leaders will leave the company. Their social media accounts are their own; plan now so they don’t take your whole audience with them.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Blogging without not telling anyone about your posts, promoting, is wasteful. You’re better off improving and expanding other marketing efforts. Make and implement a plan to promote blog posts. Here’s three ideas:
- Share on company social media sites and link to people and companies featured in articles
- Email companies and people that you link to inside articles
- Email customers when you write articles relevant to them
Company thought leaders and sales persons with a professional social media presence ought to share as well. Don’t bother asking all your employees to share your blog’s stories on their personal social media accounts. First, their friends are probably not the audience you want to cultivate. Second, it’s an imposition that can corrode workplace culture or morale.
The extent of your promotional efforts can depend on the nature of each article. Execute full-bore promotions plans for signature pieces. For example, accompany big reports or industry studies, or new product announcements, with PR. For example, HubSpot publishes an annual State of Inbound report that enjoys lots of media attention. At the opposite end of the spectrum, many articles will deserve no more than posts to your organization’s social media accounts. Make sure, for every article, you ask how much promotion it deserves.
It’s worth adding, a mistake many business bloggers make is to hit the publish button too soon after an article is complete. Refrain from releasing until you know how you’ll promote and until everything’s in place. For example, if you will be emailing announcements to influencers, do so before you publish. Send them an advanced copy, give them the URL and tell them when the story will go live. Give them the opportunity to plan their own support.