Online Marketing Content: Timing and Material are Everything

Source: lobstar28 (Flickr CC)

Source: lobstar28 (Flickr CC)

Timing is everything.

So is good material.

It’s as true for technology marketers as it is for comedians.

Last month TechTarget hosted its 2009 Online ROI Summit East in Boston (the Newton Marriott, to be precise). It is well worth attending, offering some excellent – and free! – insight into effectively connecting and communicating online with potential IT buyers of your technology.

I regret I could not attend this year’s event. I can say one of the most valuable presentations I had seen in last year’s event, re-presented this year, was by TechTarget VP Bill Crowley, on the topic of matching your collateral to your target audience and where they are in the sales process. Link to the video presentation recording and slide set here. *

My own notes follow, summarizing some of the key highlights from of Bill Crowley’s talk, which focused quite a bit on white papers. I have worked to integrate this methodology when developing marketing content, and have found it is indeed effective:

The starting point of any development of any technology purchase is an awareness of a problem; followed by interest in specific solutions to solve the problem; and finally, the decision stage, a creation of a “short list” of solutions and hopefully yours is the solution ultimately selected.

This sounds like a fairly clean, iterative process, and it often is, but in reality people are entering and exiting each of these three purchasing stages online without you even knowing it!

When developing online marketing content, think of two key variables: the different types of marketing content, categorized broadly as white papers, podcasts/webcasts, and trials/datasheets; and the content topic, categorized broadly as IT problem definition, technical overview, and solution descriptions. From this definition of content type and content topic, we can create a 3×3 matrix of marketing content:

Online Content Matrix

Now, consider the engagement level of people using each type and topic of marketing content:

Content type: Level of engagement begins with the initial engagement of white papers, increasing on up to webcasts/podcasts (a commitment of 15-45 minutes of time), and finally on up to trials/datasheets with lots of product-specific information (suggests a plan to experience that functionality).

Content topic: Level of engagement goes up, beginning with problem definition (suggesting the prospect is in the awareness stage of purchasing), moving upwards to technical overview (there is now interest in finding solutions) on up to an actual decision making stage.

By matching the marketing content to each topic category (and each increasing level of engagement), you are filling the unique information needs of that prospect, and you are therefore developing new sales opportunities for your company you would not otherwise have.

White papers play an important role throughout the purchasing process. Example: Suppose our company offers a data warehousing application. Here is an example set of possible white paper titles I came up with, based on the TechTarget model:

IT Problem Definition (Prospect is in the awareness phase): Solving Informational Challenges by Data Warehousing. Notice the use of a very broad theme; the goal is to direct the reader to your problem definition and away from alternative approaches to the problem (using a data warehouse, not reporting tools, for example). Notice also we’re not yet speaking about competing vendors.

Technical Overview (Here, a phase of interest in filling the identified problem):  The Top Ten Checklist for Data Warehousing Success or perhaps: What you Need to Know to Avoid Data Warehousing Pitfalls.  Ideally, such a white paper features an outside “expert” as opposed to vendor content.

Solution Descriptions (catering now to a decision making phase): Advance to GO: The Rapid Implementation and Flexibility of a XYZ Company Data Warehouse or Your XYZ Company Data Warehouse: The First 30 Days. Such white papers are clearly intended to be a ‘follow-up’ collateral piece intended to help identify late-stage prospects.

* Note: there is a sign-in required to access this presentation; I suggest it’s worth watching in its entirety (of course, the event generates lead to encourage people to work with TechTarget, but the event does offer truly valuable content.  Disclosure:I have not worked with TechTarget before, but once suggested doing so to my former employer).

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