It’s an exciting time to be a content marketer. But it’s also a challenging time.
As more companies continue to jump on the inbound marketing bandwagon, the influx of content seems to be turning into a bit of a traffic jam. And few things have the power to cut through this noise like data storytelling.
Combining the visual appeal of images with the trust engendered by raw data, data storytelling is a force to be reckoned with. Marketers are using data storytelling to support every part of the buyer’s journey, from attraction and consideration to conversion and delight. What better content to offer a consideration-stage buyer than a comparison chart between your services and your competition’s?
Not a data analyst? No worries. Check out the list of tools below. From data collection to design, this roundup of resources is designed to make it easy for anyone to get started with data storytelling.
If you ask an inbound marketer, inbound marketing is not only the best thing since sliced bread – it’s the saving grace of marketing in general. Now, I will admit to having some bias towards Inbound. I think it works a helluva lot better for today’s customers who are becoming
But, it’s not the be-all and end-all, everything-you-need, one-stop-shop for SaaS success.
Not even if you do it really, really well.
Inbound’s strengths are in supporting the Awareness, Consideration, and Decision-making stages of the buyer’s journey. At its best, it reaches out to ideal customers, reels them in with genuinely helpful content, warms them up, and gently nudges them towards clicking the “Buy” button.
“What else is there?” you might well ask.
All of the stages inbound marketing typically addresses are about acquisition, which is great. You need to acquire customers or you won’t have a business.
But you also need to retain customers – or you won’t grow your business.
Ah, yes. Retention.
Inbound Marketing doesn’t do much, if anything, for retention – but your content strategy, together with your onboarding process, should.
Because your goal isn’t just to attract and convert customers. You have to keep them too.
Life after the Buy button
Inbound marketing – to date – has been about making that initial sale. But with more and more SaaS companies coming online with subscription-based models, SaaS content has to include retention strategies.
Let’s strip the jargon for a second. What I mean by “retention strategies” is:
Building relationships with your customers based on trust
Earning that trust with a solid track-record of supporting customer goals from the beginning
Managing expectations, so you don’t over-sell and under-deliver
And setting customers up for success in the real-world
It sounds good, right? But in most companies, this outline would likely find some pushback. Management, in most cases, is very fond of evaluating their sales teams, and gauging the success of their companies, based off of revenue – not Lifetime Value.
What’s the difference?
Revenue is the amount of money you make in a month, a quarter, or a year.
Lifetime value is the dollars-and-cents number you can attribute to each of your customers, both in terms of what they pay in recurring subscription dues, and in terms of the business they bring to the table over the entire time they are your customer. Think cross-sells, up-sells and referrals.
It’s too easy to see the $20K you make from a new customer, and miss the slow and steady $5K that drips in from your existing customers – but if you only focus on those shiny new customers…
You’ll pay more to acquire that short-term sale (it costs far more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one)
You’ll make less revenue in the long-term
And, you’ll grow more slowly – unless you are able to retain the customers you make
When all of your customer acquisition effort and budget is spent just trying to replace existing customers who’ve left, growth is sluggish – if it happens at all.
Lincoln Murphy sums it up in this equation:
Anti-Growth Math: 1-1+1=1
Focusing efforts (and budget) on Lifetime Value (LTV) requires a substantial shift in mindset. But, when you nail retention, you’ll find that acquisition rates rise, and revenue?
According to Bain and Co., a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitabilityby 25% to 95%.
In a study of over 500 SaaS companies, Patrick Campbell, CEO and Founder of ProfitWell, found that increasing retention had a 6.71% impact on a company’s bottom line – compared with acquisition, which only had a 3.32% impact.
Gartner Group found that, on average, 80% of a company’s future profits come from 20% of their existing customers.
The Customer Success Equation: 1+153162562939000+Their_Friends=A Lot
How do you retain a customer?
Let me put it to you this way:
If your goal is to have more people find your website and buy your products through Facebook ads
And there’s a company that sells Facebook ads… (Note: This is where most companies stop – once they’ve found product/customer fit)
And that company not only sells you Facebook ads but also teaches you how to create highly-effective Facebook ads…
Then, you actually succeed in having more people find your website and buy your products via Facebook.
Are you likely to leave that company? No!
That, at least, is the theory driving AdEspresso’s customer retention efforts. Since success for their customers isn’t actually the act of placing an ad on Facebook – they’ve gone one extra step to ensure that customers learn how to get the very best results from their ads by launching the AdEspresso Academy. Their academy doesn’t fit into the Awareness, Consideration, and Decision-making stages of Inbound Marketing – that is, it isn’t focused on bringing in new customers, instead it’s focused on keeping the ones they have. By investing in the real-world successes their clients care about most, their retention rates soar, as do their referrals.
And, by producing so much genuinely helpful content, they attract new clients who want to learn how to improve their Facebook ads – who then find the AdEspresso product that helps them do just that.
At this point, you’ve probably heard that consumer attention spans are now shorter than that of a goldfish. While you might get sick of the comparison, the point remains important: The shift to mobile has changed how we consume content.
As content marketers, our first instinct might be to freak out a little. Collectively, let’s all take a deep breath. While shortened attention spans might make our jobs more challenging, it doesn’t make them obsolete. It’s more of an evolution – something to be excited about. It’s up to us to create content that immediately captures attention, that stands out in the fleeting moments of attention we receive.
The Evolution of Interactive Content
With awareness of micro-moments – Google’s term for the seconds consumers spend using their smartphones to take various actions – increasing, marketers have experimented with new tactics to capture attention immediately.
One answer? Interactive content. One study found that interactive content better educates customers, putting its effectiveness at 93 percent compared to 70 percent for static content. That makes sense – it’s the moderated discussion style of learning versus the memorize-the-information-for-a-test approach. Like a mutually beneficial discussion, interactive content better educates viewers because it helps the brain process information in a busy environment (in our case, the Internet).
If the educational benefits aren’t enough to convince you, consider this: Consumers actually like interactive content. Ninety-one percent of buyers prefer it to static content, which gives you the window you need to further engage them beyond the initial micro-moment. Interactive content lengthens the digital conversation they have with your brand. Consumers typically spend very little time on a landing page – 55 percent of them will leave in fewer than 15 seconds. Interactive content not only keeps them there longer, but allows you to better measure exactly how long they stayed on the page, what they clicked on, and how they engaged.
Using Interactive Content
Interactive content provides viewers with something more powerful than a static landing page or another listicle blog post. There are numerous great use-cases for interactive content that will not only drive results, but diversify how we spend our days as content marketers.
Retail brands, not typically known for content marketing, can actually use interactive content effectively with pieces like personal style quizzes, complete-the-look features, and shoppable video. Added bonus: marketers can collect valuable, self-declared data from this kind of content even if the shopper doesn’t convert.
CPG brands often use coupons, videos, and recipes on their sites. All of these forms of static content can be adapted and made interactive. Consumers can unlock coupons and recipes by taking a fun quiz to find out what kind of Oreo they are, for example. Interactive video can give a product demo that asks questions of viewers along the way.
Interactive content increases the fun factor of B2B marketing. Interactive infographics help companies qualify leads by engaging them and collecting profiling data. Marketers can do the same with interactive video. Product hunts help leads find exactly what they came looking for, reducing bounce rates.
Interactive content can power marketing success when used effectively, because it will educate, and engage your customers while moving them further along in the customer decision journey. Ninety-one percent of non-engaged customers become dissatisfied – but engaged customers are 4x more likely to appreciate a brand’s outreach and 7x more likely to claim offers from the brand. We can’t ignore those numbers any longer. The next time you’re in your content planning session, challenge yourself to think: Would this capture attention in eight seconds? If not, consider making it interactive and see what it does for your marketing.
Good copy is readable, maybe even enjoyable, and probably free of spelling errors, grammatical snafus and typos. But it’s not going to win you customers (though it might show Google your website still has a pulse, which isn’t nothing). Great copy is the kind of thing people talk about and share with their friends. Great copy makes the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, garners high page views, and contributes something of genuine value to the world – or it’s just really, really funny.
But I’m not here to talk about good copy, or even great copy. I want to talk about a very specific kind of copy: Conversion copy.
The most inspiring, forward-thinking educators and marketers may have different goals, but I see a future in which their methods converge. Education is evolving right alongside our ideas of how to deliver what people want in the ways they need. And, just as educators learn how to teach their students, marketers can use the same techniques to reach their audiences.
Two thought-leaders in education right now are Salman Kahn and Sir Ken Robinson. They both argue that education works better when it’s interactive and individualized – much like marketing.
Have you ever revisited a book you didn’t like as a child, only to find that you love it now? Now, it says exactly what you need to hear – because you’re ready to hear it. Great content is like that. Not only does it need to be well-written, interesting and valuable, it also has to be timed just right to have the most impact. This is where the Buyer’s Journey comes into play. When you create content around each stage of the Buyer’s Journey, you increase the chances that the right information finds the right people at the right time.
User-generated content, whether in the form of reviews (on Yelp or Amazon, Ask Me Anything sessions on Twitter or Inbound.org, Forum Q&As or testimonials), can be among the best resources at your disposal as a marketer or business owner. Best of all, you don’t have to write the content yourself – users already have, and they likely said it better than you ever could! But employing user-generated content to your best advantage still requires strategy, and most importantly, ethics. As generous as users are with their comments, ideas, and suggestions, no one should ever end up feeling, well, used.
Whether you’re writing a report or an article or a short story, you’ve most likely encountered the irrational fear of the stark naked page before you. You might be envisioning a ton of people expecting you to fill it a certain way or you might fear that the well of inspiration is running dry.
Whatever your reason, I’m sure you know this fear is ungrounded. And those of us who have to produce a certain amount of words every week (for money) know that when “the muse” is hiding, you have to hack your way through it. Eventually those hacks become habits.
So let’s see how we can “hack” this…
Take a Walk
I’ve already written about the benefits of walking — it clears your mind and refreshes your memory system. It also gives you fresh ideas and helps you focus. This is why walking meetings are quite productive.
But what if you’re not * required * to take walks? What if — like me — you’re working remotely? Then you have to make walking one of your priorities. Like my friend Carl Hamlet, who walks 3 times a day, every day.
Habits form and settle in a 3-step process called “the habit loop”:
Briefly, the cue is you feeling stuck and staring at the blank page. What’s your response? Probably distracting yourself from your failure, which brings you temporary satisfaction.
Science says, replace the routine for better habits.
So next time you feel stuck, go for a walk and revisit the page once you’re refreshed. That way, the bad habit you previously had becomes a healthy one. Plus, you don’t only get temporary satisfaction, but also a dose of inspiration.
Find a Writing Buddy
A couple of weeks ago I had trouble coming up with content, so my co-founder — Mike Sutton — suggested co-writing every other day. The mere knowledge that someone else is struggling at the same time you are is somewhat comforting. Not to mention at the end of the session you have to report what you’ve managed to accomplish, which motivates you.
It’s mostly necessary for people who struggle with managing their own time. For example, because I’m a remote worker, I work alone at home and sometimes I get carried away with unimportant tasks. There is nobody to “monitor” and guide me, so I end up getting lost.
In this case your writing buddy becomes your compass. It’s even better if they live in the same town and you can arrange a meetup over coffee.
If you’re not that good at meeting people, try an online community. People there are actually very friendly and willing to pair up on projects, so why not check out some Slack groups or create your own!
The image on the left is a list of my favorite slack communities (left) and the channels in my own slack (contentheroes). I created it because I wanted to invite my favorite people and be able to reach out to them anytime.
It goes beyond twitter and skype. People say it’s even replacing IRC at work. I’m not surprised. I can’t even remember what it was like before Slack becoming a part of my every day routine. You won’t either if you try it.
Light Yourself On Fire
Just choose a topic that lights you on fire.
It’s virtually impossible to stay silent when you really care about something. If you get me started on gay rights or genetic engineering, forget it. I’m going to yap until the Sun comes down, and then back up.
When you do something with a lot of passion, you don’t stop to think about what you’re doing. Most importantly, you’re not overthinking it.
Here’s a quote from Stephen King I just love:
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
So psych yourself up and write about what moves you. Something controvertial or personally challenging. Even topics that seem dull to others can come alive before you if you feel something.
Make It Visually Appealing
Sometimes you need a little extra to really focus your efforts. For example, when I wrote my first novel (yet to be edited) I had to use multiple methods of outlining, like colorful sticky notes and cork-boards, and so on. The colorful aspect added a fun side to the process and it gave me additional motivation to soldier on through the hard parts (like editing and writer’s block).
Another example is Belle Beth Cooper’s content calendar. She says it helps her visualize how much work she has for the week and how she’s progressing. Not to mention it looks way more fun than regular scheduling.
Indeed, they say visualizing facilitates processes such as memory and learning, so why not use it in your writing process? You can even treat it like a project.
If you don’t have a white board, Trello comes pretty close and it has colorful labels — the digital equivalent of sticky notes. Most of us use it for work anyway, but it’s also useful for side projects and just gathering your thoughts on a subject. Not everyone will want to (or have time to) outline articles, but if it could help you fill that page, it’s worth a shot, no?
See It As It Could Be
I was going to say something cliched like “recognize the blank page for what it is: an illusion of the mind that stands in your way”, or something.
But then I realized it’s not enough to see what it actually is. It’s also important to be able to see things as they could be.
The most amazing innovations in history were things that somebody imagined before they even saw them. They were products of rich imaginations; of minds that could not settle with the way things were, but seeing thing as they could be. This is why we have computers and planes.
Now apply the same logic to the blank page. What could it become?
It could become a thrilling story or something that helps someone. It could reach people you never hoped to reach before. Or it might just reach the right person and before you know it, your vision has become reality.
And that’s the power of the blank page — it holds potential, promise.
Recognizing the blank page as something positive will definitely get you out of your rut because it is only the fear that stops you. When you acknowledge that, you’ll be able to accomplish your goal, which is not just filling the page with words and paragraphs. Your goal is to convey a message. And if that message is understood and maybe even acted on, you’ve succeeded.
Good luck, I know you can do it justice! ☺
Violeta Nedkova is a writer first, marketer second, and entrepreneur overall. She’s the co-founder of Amazemeet and fan of all communities, especially creative ones. She tweets a LOT, consults some, and blogs about startup marketing.
On January 13th at Inbound.org, Lincoln Murphy, Founder at Sixteen Ventures, said “Ask me anything.”
The four things that he LOVES to talk about (“won’t shut up about, actually,” as he puts it) are the same four things I LOVE to talk about:
If you missed Lincoln’s AMA, then I’ll wrap up the session’s highlights for you.
Lincoln Murphy’s January 13th Ask Me Anything on Inbound.org — Highlights
First, why you want to ask Lincoln Murphy anything:
In the past nine years, he’s helped more than 300 SaaS companies grow faster than duckweed (a pond-dwelling plant with superlative reproductive skills) by optimizing the Customer Lifecycle. Lincoln Murphy is also one of the top thought-leaders in Customer Success and Growth Hacking for the SaaS industry, and his Twitter feed contains a Master Class in web marketing. Recent Twitter gems include “You keep saying ‘price point’ … Just say ‘price.’” Right? Stuff of genius.
Note. These are not all the questions and answers, and some questions and answers listed here have been shortened. To read the full text, click here.
Q. What are some good indicators you’re undercharging?
A. It’s hard to know for sure, but…
You aren’t making money
You can’t afford marketing
Everything seems expensive
You’re charging less that all of your competitors
Your market refers to you as a toy or otherwise doesn’t take you seriously
You’re eating ramen noodles in a shared dorm in a non-ironic way and you’re 35 years old
You don’t know what your product is worth to your customers
You want to be low-touch
You complain about not having money, even though you have a lot of customers
Your churn is 0%
Your sales cycle is 3 minutes
You’ve never had anyone complain about the price& ever
Q. Should you do a pricing page on its [sic] own or put the pricing on the homepage with the rest of your SaaS product details?
A. The general rule for me is the less complex your product and the more your customers are already sold on what you do — the quicker you can present a price to them AND expect that they’ll take action on that.
Q. How important is it to nail your price proposition before launch? Is it safe to best guess and adjust based on feedback/onboarding metrics?
A. Try to get pricing as right as possible out of the gate. That said, pricing is not a set it and forget it event. . . . Whether it’s to better align with your customers (always a good reason), or because you left money on the table (most companies start out by pricing too low, not too high), or because you want to segment your pricing tiers to reflect more accurate use cases, your pricing will evolve over time.
Q. Price changes — Your feeling on grandfathering clients forever in to their current price point or giving them a window of time until they are moved to the new pricing based on their current plans?
A. If you raise prices, you grandfather current customers in at the current rate. If they ever stop being a customer and want to come back, they’ll come back at the new rate.
If you lower prices, you should lower prices of existing customers, too, unless you want some sort of revolt. Never underestimate spite as a driver of business decisions! That means if you lower prices for new customers but not existing customers, some customers may leave — even if they’re happy with the service and otherwise have no complaints and regardless of switching costs… because they hate you now. So keep your current customers in mind when you do things like change your public pricing.
When it comes to grandfathering, though, one thing I try to do is have a way to eventually get people off of grandfathered plans… usually, that involves some incentive to move to the new plan (maybe a big, but time-limited discount)… it’s not required, but I like dealing with as few grandfathered folks as possible. Something to think about at least.
Q. What are some channels someone can look into to really get engrossed in and learn about growth hacking?
A. Join http://growthhackers.com and just start absorbing all of the content there. And then as quickly as you can find something to grow. Go to work for a company in a GH capacity, join a startup, start a startup, start a website and sell something and use GH tactics to grow it. Volunteer to GH a charity campaign. I don’t know how to become fully engrossed in Growth Hacking without actually doing it at some point.
Q. How can you use content and social media and generate traffic and generate more leads over time?
Content and Social are two different things and — while thats obvious — it helps to keep that in mind.
Think of it more like Content and Distribution, where social media is the distribution modality if thats what makes sense for your audience. Use the appropriate distribution channels to reach your customers. That’s all that matters when it comes to distribution (vs. leveraging a channel that you’re used to or good at).
If content is part of distribution — guest blog posts, email drops on other peoples lists, etc. — then you want to have pillar content that those pieces link back to on your owned properties.
Your owned content is key. No algorithm changes at Google can change that. No policy changes on social media channels can change that.
Everything you do should revolve around that content in some way.
And that content should be surrounded by Calls to Action to opt-in to your email list, sign-up for your Free Trial, request a Demo, sign-up for your email course, etc. etc. Whatever the appropriate CTA is, that content should drive people to take that action.
Use social channels that are where your audience is to distribute and amplify that content, but ultimately drive people back to your content.
And also use your email list to drive people back to your content.
But a good rule of thumb is to spend 90% of your time promoting content and only 10% of the time creating the content& regardless of the channels you use.
Q. Do newsletters still work, or is it best to stick with blog posts?
A. Most blogs that have a ton of traffic (and social shares) do so because they have a newsletter that they use to promote their content. Yeah, maybe they didn’t start out that way, but they used the blog (and still) do to grow the list, and then used the list to promote the blog. Circular.
Q. What kind of identifiers/actions can we use to qualify leads which come through our blog (pre signup)?
A. Look at the topic of the post they signed-up on and use that to infer where they are on the awareness ladder (or in the buying cycle, sales funnel, etc.) If it was tactical and product-centric, that might mean they’re later-stage and you maybe reach out or put them into a lower-level nurture track.
If it’s earlier-stage content — more higher-level stuff that’s not tied to your product or even taking tactical action — they may be too early so you put them into an earlier-stage nurture track to get them to a point where they become interested in solving the problem with your product.
Q. What are the MOST important aspects of user experience that affect overall conversions?
A. Everything we do should help the customer toward their Desired Outcome, which itself has two inputs: Required Outcome and Appropriate Experience. The Required Outcome is the thing they have to achieve/accomplish/do/etc. … but how they do that is also important. What the “doing that” feels like to them, how they’re emotionally affected by the process, etc. All of that matters. Just allowing them to achieve their Required Outcome but with an inappropriate experience will not lead to a feeling of success. So the most important aspect of a good UX is understanding and solving for their Desired Outcome.
Q. If you had to narrow it down, what specific data/metrics do you think are most crucial for SaaS companies to look at when making decisions about how to improve conversion and customer success?
A. This is one of those annoying answers that starts with “it depends.”
But it does… it depends on the maturity of the company, the goals of the company at whatever stage of maturity they are, etc.
In the early days you may be more focused only on net new customer acquisition. Later, you may realize you need to keep your customers. Then you may realize it’s not just about keeping them, but growing their use and expanding their revenue. Then you may discover that getting your customers to be advocates for you is the thing you should focus on.
That said, two metrics that are almost always something to keep in mind are:
Customer Acquisition Cost and how efficient it is.
Churn and measuring it the right way. Separating avoidable from unavoidable churn, figuring in only customers that could churn to get your actual churn rate (those that can’t churn due to contracts shouldn’t count), and keeping customer and revenue churn separate (but measuring and acting on both).
This AMA session with Lincoln Murphy was packed with excellent questions — no dumb questions in this crowd! To find out the answers to such brain teasers as “What are the first steps a SaaS company should take when creating a Customer Success initiative?” and for Lincoln Murphy’s super simple, yet detailed answer to “Give me a roadmap for B2C lead conversion best practices” — you’ll just have to read the thread yourself.
I hope these highlights help you on your Inbound Marketing journey! But if you’ve got more questions, stay tuned for the next AMA we host at Inbound.org.