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The power of content

Planting seeds that grow into future sales

Almost always, as I’m interviewing a customer to learn about them, their operations, and the successes they’re achieving with a manufacturer’s product, they volunteer feedback the manufacturer finds incredibly useful.

I was recently sent to cover a story on the first-ever purchase of a newly redesigned piece of equipment. The article was to be a sort of product review from the new owner’s perspective. What made it particularly interesting was that the new owner had no familiarity with the brand before this purchase. I was curious as to what it was that seduced him into changing brands.

He told me it started with an article. He’d been looking to upgrade his previous equipment with his former manufacturer. He had a model picked out but changed his mind when he saw a piece about this new design in a magazine.

I knew exactly the article he was talking about – it was one that we had written. He’d never considered a rig like it before or thought about that manufacturer’s offerings. Yet the story had gotten his attention right away, at exactly the right time. He’d torn out the article and kept it with him.

During the next few months, he followed up on it. He asked around. He got in touch with the manufacturer. He was impressed by their facilities and their customer service. He learned their history and their reputation. He went from “knowing little to nothing of the company,” he said, to confidently purchasing from them.

We almost never get to put a black and white assessment on marketing ROI like this. The content we generate as press releases, case studies, customer spotlights – these are seeds we can easily forget we sowed. Yet, if we hadn’t planted this one, this chain of events would not even have begun.

It underscores a lesson once again. Never underestimate the power of content marketing.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

On the importance of the lowly press release

It’s easy to dismiss a press release as “just” a press release – until you need one. That’s when it dawns on you that just about every piece of marketing material – ad copy, product briefs, brochures and even job stories – will repeat a great deal of your press release’s content and exact phrasings. In effect, you’re not just making a press release; you’re creating the foundation of all things to come.

The piece itself will appear in numerous publications and prominently appear in online searches each time someone looks for information on that product. Of course, we can’t control what a publication’s editor might do with the piece’s title, length or formatting, but most editors are reluctant to change the precisely worded expressions of a product press release. In our experience, most editors will print what was written in the release. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.

The impact of a single press release widens exponentially online, as excerpts from its text are copy-pasted, word-for-word, into subsequent discussions and in comparisons of your product to other market offerings.

Press releases can be much more than just announcements introducing technological innovations and newer, better capabilities. They present valuable opportunities to influence market perception, or head-off unintended misperceptions. Novice writers often either overlook this opportunity or jump on it heavy-handedly, bungling it. An experienced writer, on the other hand, considers the reader’s frame of mind and then deftly handles subtexts in the piece.

Another error is to say too much. A press release should only plant the seed, giving the reader just enough detail to back up abstract claims like, “More powerful! More fuel efficient! Increased productivity!” Is it more powerful? Give its rated torque or horsepower. Then stop. If it’s more fuel efficient, ball-park a figure you can stand by. Then stop. The release should not give a potential customer so much information they feel confident making purchase decisions based on it alone. And a publication wants to keep their product news short and sweet. They don’t want to publish a book about every new product on the market.

For potential customers who might not be in the market now, the release has their attention. They’ve noted the model and the manufacturer. That’s its job, to prompt further investigation. It also serves as another level of branding awareness and to show your client is always developing products, whether someone is in the market to buy it or not.

Informative yet tactful, nuanced and tight –never underestimate the power of a good press release, and never trust just anyone to create it for you.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

Small details make big impressions

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While stopping to fill up on my way home from doing a job story for a client, I got a tip from a trucker for a “greasy spoon.” The little truck-stop diner was tucked out of site behind a one-strip airport, so it was also a popular cross-country waypoint for private pilots chasing “$100-hamburgers.” He’d just eaten there himself. He promised large portions of the best-tasting diner food I’d ever find.

After the waitress took my order, I realized the buzzing noise I heard wasn’t from the flickering lights. A fly was trapped inside my sugar shaker. I set it free to join some others that were buzzing around another table. I wouldn’t need sugar for a burger and some fries, thank goodness, but it had turned my attention to noticing stains on the broken-tile floor and hazy light of a dust-covered window.

The little distractions didn’t stop my mouth from watering when my order finally arrived: beautifully crisped home-cut fries piled high next to a giant burger overfilled with lettuce, cheese, grilled onion and tomato. A bite of each, and I agreed with the trucker. This diner was a hidden treasure – but then a large gray mat of dust flew off a ceiling fan’s blade slapped me on the head, exploding across my plate and table.

A satisfied trucker still recommended the restaurant. So, do these little details really matter to its brand? That depends entirely upon the promise of the brand.

When your brand represents the smartest, most innovative solutions for your customers’ challenges, you can’t afford any distracting mistakes – flies and dust bombs – in your marketing material. And you shouldn’t have to do it yourself. You can keep your focus on what you do best while letting content specialists like Ellcom (or a marketing communications expert on-staff) handle those tasks for you.

We immerse ourselves in the applications of the industry itself, not just the product line you offer. That’s why we so easily collaborate with sales reps, customers, product end-users, environmental scientists and engineers – we learn and speak their language. This kind of industry fluency tends to make us a fussier about details than those who can rely only on their Ethernet connections, repeating text they merely Googled.

The Web is a very handy source of information, but it’s missing the warning math teachers give their students: You must understand the problem, or your calculator will give you the wrong answer.

Take for example just how wrong basic metric conversions can be. These are tiny, tiny little details that, overlooked, betray ignorance of the concept. Specifications often come in metric values only. They can be copy-pasted straight from the monitor into a document. To get U.S. Customary (“standard”) equivalents that are more convenient for American customers, you could use the same Google browser you found them on to get a quick conversion. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be putting flies in your sugar shaker.

The following online errors were unfortunately approved by someone else’s clients and published without correction. Our industry-fluent Ellcom editors would have cleaned up details like these in an instant.

– A machine part’s 87 mm diameter was converted to 3 3/7” (What ruler reads in 1/7th inches?)
– A 9 mm fitting was changed to 0.354331” (Why?)
– Nominal class sizes were converted to thousandths of a kilogram (1 kg = 0.035 oz.)
o < 0.6 tons (<544.311 kg)

One hard-copy brochure showed inches converted into metric “fractions” – 16” (41/100 m). That’s just funny! – unless, of course, you paid for that brochure.

Each little mistake above shows the writer had no clue what the figures represented. I bet your customers do. Will you lose a rig sale for a nonsense conversion on a sales sheet? Probably not. But don’t they have to wonder, if you permit your dining room to be this messy, what’s your kitchen like?

We offer you far more than just keeping your brand distraction-free. Our knowledge of your industry provides you with professional, full-spectrum content generation. We’ll take care of your social media management, ad copy, press releases and case studies for magazines, brochures and sales sheets, white papers and technical papers – all prepared and edited by our highly trained, professional staff with boots-on-the-ground industry experience.

The result? Content that is to the point. Professional. Distraction free. On-message.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

 

Who controls what’s said of you?

Content generation that just keeps paying off over and over and …

We often repurpose articles to trade magazines that were originally written for our client’s in-house magazines – stories of valued customers doing well with their equipment and support, pieces that translate technology for market professionals without an engineering degree. We can write about a mom-and-pop startup or create a textbook of applications and equipment for a given market used by colleges and universities.

 But today I saw a most remarkable thing, a return-on-investment that was completely fortuitous. It is both windfall and testimonial to just how valuable the content we create is for our clients.

 A tech piece I had written for a manufacturer’s in-house magazine was cited by a major international trade magazine in the mining industry.

 We hadn’t pitched it to them, and we hadn’t repurposed it elsewhere yet. It existed so far only in the client’s self-produced publication. The only possible conclusion is that the tech writer had searched for this information on the Web, located my article in our client’s magazine and then cited at length from it, summarizing how advanced our client’s equipment was compared to market competitors.

 That’s incredibly valuable. It cost our client not a cent more than they had paid for me to do the original piece. And it verified for them not only that there was interest in their articles outside their own mailing list, but that a prestigious industry magazine trusted its veracity and significance for use in an international discussion of state of the art.

 And we will still re-purpose the original article in another trade magazine in the future.

 Why isn’t your marketing content being used in similar fashion? Give us a chance to give you that. Call or email Matt, our business development manager, at 507-945-1005 or matt@ellcom.us.

 

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

Smile! Google Earth is watching!

A last-minute opening in a construction magazine gave one of our manufacturing clients a spur-of-the-moment opportunity for a case study. They had one perfectly suited to the editor’s needs that showcased our client’s machine at the hands of an expert on a real-life job. But the green light to proceed came during the busiest part of the tradeshow season. Everyone who could provide a missing piece of the puzzle was unavailable. I had very little hard data to go on. Deadline, imminent.

My main problem was that I couldn’t for the life of me picture the jobsite or the operations that took place there. Heck, I didn’t even know what street it took place on. Two of my client contacts I reached didn’t know either and wouldn’t be free to help me for about a week.

When you start a phone interview with a client’s customer, you’re almost always asking a prominent company figure to take precious time away from their main concern – meeting a project deadline, or more often than not, several project deadlines. You certainly don’t want to start the interview asking for basic information. They might not mind taking time to give you information you couldn’t have known without their input. The rest you should have known before you bothered them.

Google Earth to the rescue!

I had a few clues from the job story data collection form. It was a heavily travelled four-lane corridor through the metro’s downtown area. I knew at one end of the project was a strip mall with many entrances. The data collection form said so. It also mentioned a big-box store, government agencies and institutions along the route. I should be able to instantly locate that on Google maps.

Unfortunately, the map showed three routes satisfying the description – at least from the map and satellite views. Choosing the most likely one, I zoomed down into “Street View” to see if I could match up clues from store fronts, not just the few business tags on the overhead depiction.

Sweet serendipity! The Google car had actually caught the job in progress, and the digital capture was still the most current street view. Right there on my computer display was the customer’s crew, using the equipment I was to write about! Service trucks brandishing their logo lined the street. Their heavy equipment was lined up in a parking lot.

I cyber-traveled the length of the project, noting where excavations had been made and restored, how traffic was controlled, how the project was laid out. It was the next best thing to being there.

These details condensed and focused my interview questions later that day, keeping the conversation brief and to the point. The contractor was relieved I already knew a lot about the project, saving him from tedious explanations. He called up the view himself, and we discussed the project together with a common reference.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this has happened before. Not long ago, for another story, I couldn’t grasp over the phone how a horizontal directional drilling crew had run a pipe line from one lift station to another via a small sandbar in a river. The routing defied description until I could see it for myself. I had turned to the Google Earth satellite photos on that occasion, as well, just to see how large the sandbar was, and how far it was from a direct line between the two. It wasn’t just an empty sandbar, though. I could see something on it in the satellite image. When I zoomed in closer, I saw the drilling crew at their HDD rig alongside their fluid pit. I saw them pulling pipe through and immediately understood the strategic advantage of this halfway point.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

 

 

 

Don’t miss any PR opportunities in 2018!

It’s mid-year. Time to analyze what’s working and what isn’t. It’s also time to start thinking about what you’ll do differently next year, because by the time you are juggling budgets and plans in September and October, it will likely be too late to add anything new.

One basic PR tool you should consider using next year (if you’re not already) is the custom editorial calendar. In its simplest form, this is just a big table or spreadsheet that has all your industry magazines going down the first column, and the months of the year running across the top row.

mkb_logoYou or your agency will have to obtain and then review the editorial calendars of every trade publication that matters to your business. Depending on your products, their applications, and the industries you serve, that could be anywhere from 20 to 100 magazines. (Our proprietary Media Knowledge Base has contact and other data for almost 700 trade publications from North America and around the world.)

 

Magazine by magazine, month by month, you will look for any editorial focus that applies to your products, and then note that focus on your custom, combined editorial calendar. When you are done, you have a basic roadmap to the new year, at least as it applies to the trade press.

Your custom calendar can help you plan articles and job stories in plenty of time to get your pitch accepted. And it can assure you that you won’t miss any product-roundup type of section that applies to your products. I know this seems like a fairly dull type of PR, but what does it say if a magazine runs a roundup of all the companies in your product category, but excludes you because they had no information from you? To a reader, interested in this type of product, you will not even exist!

If you are thinking that you can depend on the magazines to remind you of upcoming features, just ask yourself, “Whose responsibility is it to make sure my company gets noticed? Mine, or the editors?” Remember, you are not the editors’ priority; their readers are.

It is true that some publications are very good about sending reminders to advertisers, and even some non-advertising contributors. But most are not. They usually have more content than they can use in each issue, so making sure that every single possible manufacturer gets a shout-out is just not on their to-do list. And if you do not already have a very active PR program, the odds are even worse that they will remember you. Sure, if you are an advertiser, your salesperson may help out with reminders, but again—some do, some don’t. Plus, you should not limit yourself to just the publications in which you advertise. The best magazines will run appropriate content whether you advertise or not.

Add to all that the fact that you—and your agency if you have one—are the experts on your products’ market applications. I have one client whose product is, by its very nature, a multi-use platform. It truly applies to dozens of applications and many vertical markets. Some magazines will send a reminder to my client when they are running a focus on the platform, but they certainly won’t think to remind them every time an application of that platform is featured! It is my job to figure that out and communicate with the editors.

edcal2017I know that some of you are staffed well enough that you are already using a custom editorial calendar as a central and basic part of your PR program. But to those of you who are not yet using this tool, I strongly encourage you to make it a priority for your next annual plan. If you don’t have the staff, time or media database to do it in-house, let me know. We create these custom editorial calendars and then manage them throughout the year, staying on top of all the opportunities they reveal, for many clients already, and we’d love to add you to the family of companies we work with.

 

As always, if you have any questions or would just like to know more, please call me at 507-945-1005 or email me at matt@ellcom.us for a no-obligation consultation.

 

Matt5

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

tagged in PR

Making the case for content marketing

I talk to a lot of marketing managers. A common thread running through a lot of these conversations is a concern that some in upper management may not understand the importance of content marketing. This tends to lead to under-funding content marketing projects, which in turn results in a severe lack of useful content online and in the trade press.

Another factor contributing to this budget shortfall is the understandable rush to replace old or outdated websites. Many companies I’ve talked to over the past few years have told me that they are totally focused on creating a new website—something they probably do need—and as a result management has said they cannot spend any money on content marketing or PR, because “web stuff is eating up the whole budget.” Then these web projects often drag out over a whole year, or even longer. Therefore, even when complete, the beautiful new website often ends up with, at best, placeholder content.

joe

Consider this: Google says that consumers research 10 or more pieces of content online before making a purchase. Beth Comstock, a SVP at GE, recently told Google that their company has found that this online research behavior applies to both their consumer and B2B business areas.

So, does your company even have 10 pieces of content online? Let alone 10 pieces for every significant product category you sell? You can’t count puff pieces that may adorn your website, written in a style that many customers refer to as marketing… ahem… baloney. (That is, lots of words that don’t really say much more than “we’re great.” I call this “zero-content content.”) The industries we work in are famous for their no-nonsense, bottom-line people. They want facts, specs, useful descriptions, relatable application stories about problems being solved profitably.

That brings us back to the challenge so many marketers face. “How do I convince my C-suite that they need content marketing?” The answer will be unique to your industry, your products, your company, your managers, your business goals. One company’s greatest challenge may be that no one but the marketing manager believes that content marketing is important. Another might have mainly budgetary issues to answer.

A good third party resource offering a broad spectrum of answers that I’ve been recommending is the Content Marketing Institute. They have some excellent suggestions from a wide range of industry pros that can help you show the value of content marketing to your C-suite. The link I’ve provided will give you a variety of ideas— you know the individual personalities and business priorities of your own company and will recognize which strategies are suited to your situation and which are not.

Matt5

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

tagged in PR

Content Marketing Study for B2B

When you are using your vast amounts of free time (snark alert) to try to keep up on trends and updates in the PR world or the world of content marketing, a common obstacle is the way a majority of the reports are skewed towards consumer goods. Stories that deal with Pepsi’s new nutrition awareness campaign or Nike’s community outreach—and political scandals—predominate. That’s not to say we can’t learn things from the consumer goods world, but B2B marketing is fundamentally different.

That is why I was so interested to read the B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America study. This report, from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs contained a fair number of interesting nuggets, with a lot of the expected cheerleading one would expect from such organizations, touting successes and upticks overall (“63% of B2B marketers say their organizations are extremely or very committed to content marketing,” was one example from the study.) But even those points are of greater than average interest because they only deal with B2B firms. That is, they speak to the kind of business done by my clients and all the companies I want as clients. It probably speaks to your business, too!

You will want to look at the report for yourself—it’s a SlideDeck—to see what catches your eye, but one item in particular is, I know, a true thorn in the side of many marketing managers I speak to regularly in the construction, mining and pipeline industries. The study reported that only half of respondents agree that their leadership gives them enough time to deliver results from their content marketing efforts. This is particularly true when you’ve been weak in one area—let’s say application stories—and after you finally crack loose the funds to pay for a good story, management wants to know how much new business the lone article has generated. And they’re asking before the story has had time to appear in even one magazine!Finding ways to convince your upper management to invest more in content is a topic I plan to explore in a few months. Meanwhile, did some other finding of the report stand out to you? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts—please send them to me at matt@ellcom.us.

Matt5

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

tagged in PR

SEO Basics: Write for Humans

SEO is a scary subject for some, and a lot of the “advice” and “conventional wisdom” we hear is based on misinformation from about 5 or 6 years ago. Or more.

I’d like to share a few tips which are really no more than generally accepted standard operating procedures for online writing provided by experts and Google’s own guides to SEO writing. (By the way, if you want to really dig into the nitty-gritty of SEO, I would recommend making Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide your first stop. Once you follow this link, just click on the link at the top of the new page to download the guide.) But all of these tips connect with the basic advice to write for humans, not bots.

Focus your writing on themes that interest your customers. Ask yourself what they would like to read about. This is a hard one sometimes—they don’t want to read an ad or a marketing “puff” piece or a vanity profile. That might be what we want to write, but put yourself in their shoes. What do they care about? What questions do they have? What expertise can you share that would make their life easier or their business more profitable?

Don’t trade a cheap by-the-word rate for quality content. Quality counts. There are content mills out there that will churn out 1,000 words that just regurgitate copy from your website or brochures, and will do it for almost nothing. Unfortunately, that’s about what it is worth. You want quality writing that is engaging and expert.

Don’t base your writing on keywords for robots and algorithms, but on what is interesting to, and easily read by, actual human readers. Google is getting better and better at rewarding that kind of writing.

You can learn a lot more about optimizing for search engines, and it can be helpful. But if you skip the above basic tips, it will be a waste of time—what good will it do to get to the top of search results, if the content, when clicked on, is sub-par and represents your company badly?

 

Matt5

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

New Tier 4 update presents marketing opportunities

Tier 3, Interim Tier 4, Tier 4 Flex… the process of bringing off-road engines up to Tier 4 standards is a story that seems to go on and on like Scheherazade’s 1,001 nights. Except it’s been going on for a lot longer. So it’s normal when “Tier 4 fatigue” sets in. When you upgrade your engines you write a press release, you add a bullet point to a brochure, but maybe you just don’t feel like it matters anymore. It’s a thing that is happening; what more can you say?

There is a new report out now from EquipmentWatch, a world leader in data for the equipment industry, in partnership with the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP,) that digs into the cost of Tier 4 to the industry at large. The 2016 Tier 4 Benchmark Report cites key trends that you may be able to use to your advantage in marketing and PR efforts.

The entire report is basically a 10-page infographic, but a nice summary of key issues from the report was written up in Compact Equipment magazine. Both sources say that the number of Tier 4 compliant equipment in fleets is still actually very low, pointing to a sales opportunity. It also supports the notion that Tier 4 products are much more ubiquitous in ads, brochures and news releases than in the field. Which means that continued educational and promotional efforts are still required. The key will be to keep finding fresh and interesting ways to present this content to avoid getting your message tuned out.

However, the report also notes that rental companies are no longer charging a premium to rent Tier 4 equipment, which is good news for manufacturers and end users alike. This should lead to a greater familiarity with the equipment, and perhaps a need to educate those individual end users who may tend to look at Tier 4 as just another expense their businesses have to support. Fuel cost savings will likely be the most touted advantage to the nation’s growing Tier 4 fleet.

In fact, for manufacturers who are eager to overcome the negative perceptions of future “increases in purchase prices, maintenance costs and training costs,” job stories, application stories or case studies that focus on significant fuel savings would be a safe bet. If you have customers who are willing to go on the record regarding fuel savings, it would help you win over the roughly 3 in 5 polled who simply don’t believe that the supposedly more fuel-efficient Tier 4 equipment will actually drop their fuel costs. That is a significant number of potential customers that the right story would win over.

Did some other finding of the report stand out to you? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts—please send them to me at matt@ellcom.us.

Matt5

 

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.