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

 

R in PR is ‘relationship’

Part 1: Lesson in humility, learned on a photo shoot

My Peruvian driver had pulled over to indulge my irresistible urge to photograph the near-vertical gardens of Andean farmers in the shadow of El Huascarán. Lost behind my viewfinder, the sound of hooves bearing down on me gave me just enough time to step precariously near the road’s cliff-side edge making way for a family of mountain people on donkeys.

Huascaran in morning light

They drove their little herd of goats to pasture past our high-tech, low-emissions automobile on the freshly paved asphalt road. I was caught for a moment in a time warp, past superimposed on present. Instinctively snapping off a few shots, I lowered the camera, seized with guilt for presenting myself as some tourist. These were people, not landscapes, not objects. I hastily recapped my lens and lowered the camera behind me to my side, nodding at men in ponchos and limp, wide-brimmed hats.

I haven’t deleted the files, though. One of them in particular is my private reminder of the lesson. In spite of striking cultural differences, we are the same: doing our jobs, sustaining private lives. Against the backdrop of the majestic Andes Mountains and wearing the traditional knit-cap chullo of the mountain people with tasseled ear coverings, a young boy on a donkey is leading his father and uncles toward me, smiling for the camera, looking straight into my viewfinder. Behind him his father on his donkey is also looking straight into my eyes—not smiling. It shames me to see his scowl even today, rekindling my sensitivity.

vegetable gardensI had at first thought the juxtaposition I encountered that day was something I had to go to a different country to see. Not so, as shortly thereafter, while driving across Minnesota to cover a story in Wisconsin, I saw a Mennonite buggy driven by a bonneted woman clop across the overpass of Interstate 90 I was about to pass under. It brought a wide smile to my face: We have our own overlapping cultures living side by side. I did not take her picture.

My awareness of our shared humanity doesn’t extend just to strikingly different cultures. None of us is ever merely an object to be captured and framed, posted around the Web to amuse someone’s friends. These are real people, doing real jobs, supporting real families, many of them carrying on a family line, a legacy, created and built upon by multiple generations.

I learned early in my tenure with Ellcom that the R in PR stands for “relationships”: our relationship with you, the relationships you have with your customers, and the relationships they have with the people they serve.

Every time I go into the field, is a practical application. I will get the job done, but respectfully, mindful of the carefully cultivated, continuously nurtured relationships that make it possible for me to be there in the first place.

Joe4

 

 

 

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

What is “content marketing?”

Most of us should have a pretty good idea of what “content marketing” means. On the other hand, if pressed by a member of the C-suite to define it quickly and simply, how many of us could do so?

CMI_Final_20131The Content Marketing Institute defines it this way: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

You can tell that the CMI is trying to use as few words as possible, but they require two more paragraphs to define the definition—which indicates that this is, indeed, a bit more complex than it may appear at first glance. I prefer their explanation a couple of paragraphs down:

“Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

Okay, we nod our heads. Then we stroke our chins and ask for examples. Here’s where it gets interesting. In answer to this need for samples, a year ago the CMI website offered a free download for an e-book listing one-hundred different examples. I looked up my original notes on this version of the book, and I found that only about 20 out of 100 organizations profiled were B2B companies, and of these, only a handful were manufacturers. On the other hand, 20 is a lot more examples than I thought I would find, and many of those profiled were applicable to what we do. Since then, CMI has replaced that book with a new one containing 75 current examples of content marketing, and of those, only six might be considered B2B (more about that later.)

E-books, reference books, white papers, company and association magazines (print and digital), newsletters (print and digital), podcasts, webinars and videos, articles and blogs, all were well represented in both versions. I was impressed with the number of e-books and magazines included in the examples of excellence. I appreciated one of the comments regarding a corporate magazine, which said in part, “Most successful custom publications speak to the interests of … readers without overly promoting its brand.” Ellcom currently publishes three regular “in-house” magazines for various clients, and we have found that adhering to that philosophy builds a dedicated readership. E-books and even printed versions of reference books are also popular with our clients and their customers.

Magazines 2016Without a doubt, content marketing is a successful strategy that can benefit most marketing departments. Of course, the actual creation of quality content is what tends to trip up companies wanting to increase their content marketing efforts. It requires a very specific skill set and time that not all teams have.

But when I see that even fewer B2B companies are represented in the newest edition of CMI’s examples of excellence, it makes me wonder if creating great content isn’t an area of real opportunity for manufacturers in the construction, mining, oil and gas, and bio-sciences vertical markets that we serve. If your marketing efforts are not standing out from the crowd as much as you’d like, beefing up your content marketing—with an emphasis on quality, engaging content, of course—is likely your quickest route to a turnaround.

 

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.

Why “in-house” publications are perfect brand messengers

Sara Schmuck is the Managing Editor for Client Publications for Ellenbecker Communications. She has worked in marketing for the equipment industry for years and previously worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. She prides herself on practical solutions to whatever marketing challenge she faces. She enjoys the process of communicating—from photography to typography and all the stuff in between.

Equipment manufacturers don’t market to their consumers with sales blitzes (Back-to-school 0% financing!) or with tear-inducing TV commercials (“When you care enough to send the very best”).

Publications, whether a newsletter or full-fledged magazine, are effective mediums to reach out to potential customers and to make current customers feel like they’re a part of the family.

Manufacturing company marketing managers should rely on in-house publications as much or more than their sales forces or other print, web or broadcast media to effectively carry out their message. While a good salesman can seal the deal, a great publication can quietly open the door.

Publications aren’t cheap to produce when companies consider expert writers, photographers and printing and distribution costs. Even online publications carry a lot of the same production costs as a hard copy pub. But there shouldn’t be sticker shock because a good publication pairs with other marketing strategies to get higher brand recall and meaningful interaction.

Selling points for a company publication:

  • An in-house publication will consistently share the brand’s message. We can’t expect that from the “neutral” trade press. Our clients like to be in control, after all.
  • An in-house publication establishes the company as an open communicator–ready to spend a little time together without it hinging on a sale. A well done publication establishes the company as a leader, an expert, a trusted authority that doesn’t just reach out to consumers when they want to sell something.
  • A potential customer might have seen an ad or read a little something about a product in a press release. That is nice. But additional details and selling points come out clearly in a customized publication. It’s like having a salesman visit that customer, even if that salesman doesn’t know the customer is in the market for a purchase. Many of our readers tell us they read our publications from cover to cover, including articles that don’t speak directly to their work. They have staying power beyond a brief ad.
  • Distribution. This is a key factor in successful publications. You can talk to current customers and introduce yourself to those you want to be customers. This database is useful for future sales leads or customized regional marketing.

These are all great starting points for a company publication.

But the very best newsletters and magazines are at least in part about the customer, not just the manufacturer. Equipment buyers are accustomed to hearing pitches. They know how to read a spec sheet to get the functions they need. It’s our job to remind them of all these things, of course, and to help manufacturers set their equipment apart from the rest. However, consumers also deeply care about what other successful companies in their industry are doing. They want to read about techniques that make their jobs easier. They want to know what equipment others are purchasing and why.

This type of conversational, journalistic-style of reporting on the industry actually does sell stuff! I can testify that salesmen often carry our magazines and hand them to potential customers, saying, “If you don’t believe me, see what this guy said.” And it works for them.

The best in-house publications make those featured in them feel like stars. They make readers think they are paging through an industry publication, not a sales flyer. And the very best publications make readers want to be a part of the family.

4 sure-fire ways to annoy an editor with your press release

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer.

The trade press is much more receptive to corporate press releases than typical news media outlets are, and they are certainly much more forgiving of poorly written releases than mainstream news magazines or websites. But even the long-suffering editors of trade journals grit their teeth and dig in their heels when they are faced with the following PR transgressions:

You embed your photo in your press release

If you want an editor to include your amazing photo alongside your press release, please do not embed your photo in the Word document (or even worse, the PDF). There is a loss of resolution and overall quality, which will likely make it impossible to use, at least in a print edition. And even if the publication is online—and can thus use a lower-res photo—why make the editor go to the work of extracting or copying the photo from the document? That brings up another excellent way to annoy an editor…

You make them work for their photos

Editorial staff has been reduced at most media properties and everyone has too much to do. So when you send a complicated set of instructions to the editor detailing how he or she should go about finding and then downloading the photo you’ve chosen to accompany your press release, you’re not really giving them much of an incentive to use your photo. This is a leftover from the days when emails regularly got rejected for exceeding size limits, or they took too long to download. But it’s not 1999, so go ahead and send a 2MB photo as an attachment right along with your Word document. Speaking of Word documents…

You send your press release as a PDF

Editors like to be able to cut and paste the text from your press release, sometimes directly into the content management system of their website. That is really difficult with a PDF. Why would you ever send your press release as anything other than a Word document or .rtf or .txt document? The key is to make it as easy as possible for an editor to use your information. We’ve been told by editors that some companies—who do not use PR agencies, incidentally—regularly submit their releases in this format. Editors will edit your submissions. Sending them as a PDF doesn’t “lock in” anything. It just forces someone to retype your release.

You include a lot of fancy formatting in your document

Some inexperienced communications people go all out to make their press release look like it is a page in a magazine or newspaper. However, each publication has their own layout style and all the work spent on the press release document, getting the text to flow around the photo just so, for example, will have to be removed by the editor before they can do their edit or re-write of the piece. Sometimes the press release will be full of italics and bolding and underlining—all of which will have to be removed by the harried editor or an equally harried assistant before it can be used.

AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE DON’T USE ALL CAPS. IT’S HARD TO REFORMAT THAT, AND SOMEONE WILL HAVE TO SPEND TIME (THAT THEY DON’T HAVE) RETYPING. Neither editor nor assistant will be inclined to go the extra mile for someone who has made their work day even a little more difficult.

Some minimal amount of formatting, for the purpose of making the press release easier for the editor to read, is acceptable. For example, a headline will likely be in a larger font to make it stand out, and the lede paragraph may be in bold because it also serves as the executive summary of the overall piece. But formatting that goes much further than this just becomes, well, annoying.

Bottom-line…

Obviously, we believe that it is best to retain the services of a full-service agency such as Ellcom to handle these tasks for you. We know the editors, and we know that these four mistakes can cost you a certain degree of cooperation. We know this because we talk to these editors all the time. They tell us their pet peeves. And we give them press releases crafted in such a way as to avoid these and many other annoyances so that our clients have the very best shot at getting their story published.

How much PR will you send out this month?

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, and is responsible for new business development.

Clients often want to know how many press releases and other types of PR their agency will be sending out each month. The answer is, “As much as possible.” There are two constraints on the quantity of PR one can send out. One is client communication and the other is relevance to the media.

Stated simply, the client must communicate all potential news leads to their agency in a timely manner, or provide access to those who may have the stories and don’t recognize that they have a story to tell. Also, the story must be relevant to the media—a reputable agency will not send a story to a publication that is not appropriate for their audience, or that is merely a marketing message. It must be of interest to their readers.

And when it comes to scheduling, the simple rule is that all press want the story as soon as they can get it. Manipulation of the news flow—by “holding” a story so that an artificial quota of stories goes out each month, for example, serves no purpose but to irritate the media. The only appropriate reason to hold a story is if the story is not time-sensitive and the agency is trying to keep from overwhelming the publication with more stories than they can use in their current issue.

At its best, PR is just another source for real news. If the story has value to the reader and is pitched at the right time, it will get ink.

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