It’s not about how much you spend. It’s about how smart you are with your marketing dollars.

Working with multiple clients across multiple industries gives us some unique insights. For example, most of our clients are looking for new ways to strengthen brands, drive business results from content marketing and get more from their marketing dollars. Here are some insights in those areas based on our work with some truly collaborative clients:



It’s frustrating. You have a great story to tell, but your messaging and marketing materials miss the mark. They fail to convey the real experience prospects would have if they truly understood your brand — your people, your technology, your products, your services and the thinking that drives it all.

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There are typically four (eminently fixable) reasons for this brand malaise:


1. Default Language. Compelling brand messaging requires a deep understanding of your history, your vision and the products, people and technologies that comprise your brand. In the absence of this understanding, brand messages tend to be built with familiar phrases. World’s leading this. Truly innovative that. And solutions that drive productivity and efficiency. You know the words. You’ve heard them a million times.


Here’s a simple test to determine if your brand suffers from this: Grab your most used marketing materials — websites, presentations, ads, news releases, collateral. Pull snippets of content from each one and see how unique it is to you, your story and your brand. Does it describe you — or could it describe any brand? If you find lots of terms like world leader, innovator, solution, customer-centric, productivity or cutting edge, it’s a bad sign.


2. Bulletization. Marketers are taught from the beginning to boil things down to a few salient points. While this might work on a PowerPoint slide or a product sheet, it’s detrimental to your brand. Ultimately, products and services within a competitive space offer similar features and offer similar benefits.


Too often, the boiled down and bulletized approach is used as a platform for brand messaging. As a result, everyone sounds the same, you lose differentiation and your brand feels undersold.


3. Myopia. There are lots of examples of great brand messaging. Some focus on technology, some on products and services and some on thought leadership and innovation. But the one characteristic all great brand messages share is audience empathy.


Great brands are articulated with a deep understanding of their target audiences. The owners of those brands understand that to connect with an audience, you must start from their point of view and draw a line back to your brand story — not vice versa. Most brands start with an internal view of the world and attempt to connect with audiences by drawing the line that starts inside the company. Those connections are very rarely made.


Effective audience empathy not only includes what your brand message says — it includes an understanding of where and how your audiences want to find information. Mastering this aspect of brand messaging requires an understanding of social media platforms and a strategy for orchestrating messages across all physical and digital media.


4. Consistency v. Repetition. The distinction here is critical. Consistency helps build credibility and understanding among customers, prospects and other target audiences. Repetition causes audiences to tune out.


Consistency is difficult because it requires original thought and the continuous generation of differentiated content. It also requires remaining true to the core story. Executed effectively, marketers can build a unique and compelling brand that builds over time in the minds of customers and prospects. Simple repetition is often used in an attempt to achieve the effects of consistency. This rarely works.


Doing content marketing right — in a way that positively impacts revenue and growth — is hard and it’s going to get much,  much harder.


It’s no secret how marketing is changing. Not long ago, prospects were about 30% down the road to making a purchasing decision before they engaged your sales people. At that point, your sales reps would use brochures, presentations and other materials to lead the prospect the rest of the way. Today, prospects are more likely to be 80% (or more) down the road towards a buying decision before they engage with your sales people.


This means the content you create — for distribution on websites, social media and email campaigns — is critical.

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Unfortunately, your customers and prospects are awash in a flood of bad-to-mediocre content — and the volume of redundant, myopic and poorly constructed information is increasing at an alarming rate.

So, what’s the effect of all this bad content? Your customers and prospects are going to slam their doors and ignore almost all of it. This doesn’t make content marketing impossible. It just makes it difficult and raises the barrier to entry. Which is good news for those who master it. In our view, mastering requires five things:


1. Exclusive Insight. From a readership and call-to-action perspective, it’s more important to be interesting than right. The content that gets the best acceptance has an element of insight or exploration that rises above a conglomeration of facts — or thinly veiled product information. Think of the “early adopter” curves you’ve seen in books and presentations over the years. The thin part of the bell curve (to the far left of the chart) represents about 3% of the world’s population. They are the innovators and the people who bring new ideas to the world. They probably make up 5-7% of your employee population. Finding those people and bringing their ideas to life is critical. If you can’t find it inside the organization, look at your technology partners, channel partners or universities for possible sources.


2. Audience Perspective. All great content, whether it’s for marketing, education or entertainment purposes — starts with audience empathy. You start by understanding your audiences and what’s important to them, then you draw a line from that point of understanding to your content. That must be your story arc. If you do it the other way — beginning with what you want to say or what you want your audience to believe — it’s incredibly difficult to make the connection.


3. Authoritativeness. People who search for content are generally looking for new ideas and companies or individuals who are authorities in their area. Effective content will always come from a point of knowledge, depth and understanding. It won’t overtly try to persuade, because it comes from a place of confidence.


4. Strategic Intent. Much of the aforementioned bad content is simply sales material poorly disguised as content. It’s fine to mention products, services or technologies where they make sense, but the focus of your content should always be strategic. Your content should solve problems, introduce fresh ideas or propose new lines of thinking. This consideration is almost always met when you adhere to the audience perspective ideas mentioned above.


5. Plagiarism-Free. The flood of bad content surging through your audience’s computers and mobile devices is largely repurposed. You’ve probably seen it yourself — the same stats and infographics repackaged, regurgitated and positioned as “content.” As hard as it is, be sure your content is original. If you do include commonly used stats or trend information, be sure to frame it in a new thought or insight.


Whether you’re trying to get to an actual ROI calculation or if it’s just gut feel, you probably think you should get more from the money you spend on marketing every year. Don’t feel bad. Every marketer in every company in the world is in the same position.

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So what do you do about it? Here’s what we think:


1. Put the “Have-To’s” Under Severe Scrutiny.

During your planning process, you likely have a number of things that are sacred — or at least considered as givens. The largest of these expenditures tends to be trade shows and events. Massive direct marketing campaigns and collateral systems frequently fall on this list as well. These tactics are often justified by someone saying you “have to” do it.


Don’t settle for that rationale. Take the five or six biggest expenditures in your budget and run ROI-driven “what if” scenarios. What if you launched a content marketing site instead of spending $200K at the same trade show? What if you shifted money from product collateral to digital sales playbooks for our direct sellers and channel partners?


2. Focus on a Small Number of Big Bets.

Near the end of every fiscal year, we meet with our larger clients and identify where we hit it big over the past 12 months — which campaigns, programs or initiatives drove incremental increases in sales, leads or market share. Without fail, a small number of “bets” emerge as big winners. (The “have-to” initiatives mentioned above almost never make the list.)


Content marketing, advertising, websites, digital campaigns and other tactics often take on lives of their own. They’re interesting, artful and require intelligence, skill and artistry. So, they become consuming and rewarding in their own rights. But they’re only meaningful — and worthy of investment — when they move the organization closer to its stated goals.


We’ve seen clients have great success with a prioritization process that identifies a small number of big bets, then makes sure those bets are properly funded and staffed — even at the expense of some “have-to’s.”


3. Leverage Assets Over and Over — Without Being Redundant

The refinement of messaging documents over the past several years has been a boon for clients looking to get more for less when it comes to marketing deliverables. Articulating a complete story (brand, positioning, insights, products, use cases and vision/roadmap) and creating a set of visual assets makes the production of sales tools and other deliverables much more efficient and economical.


The key to this strategy, however, is understanding the difference between redundancy and consistency. Simply using the same content and visual assets over and over in various deliverable formats leads to redundancy — which is a surefire way to lose an audience. It’s boring and feels insincere.


Consistency comes from a nuanced understanding of each audience and versioning the content to speak to the specific interests of each audience. A creative and strategic application of the core story and visual assets removes time and cost from the deliverable production process — and leads to strong audience engagement.

Ready for a fresh perspective? Let’s talk.