Mobile app development. Cloud computing. Virtualizaiton. Big data. Social location apps. These are some of the hot software categories I’ve observed recently. Stacey Higginbotham seems to agree as she noted in her latest Gigamo blog post on 10 Austin Startups to Meet at SXSW 2011.
But despite the rapid advances in innovative technology, marketing strategies do not seem to be keeping pace in the software sector. This leaves plenty of room for savvy marketers to get ahead of the pack and outsmart their competitors in some of the hotter software sectors.
Software companies are still using the same old same old
In a biting commentary on traditional websites, Austin, TX-based Brian Massey described what seems to prevail with most software and app development companies: The Brochure Pattern. Massey said: “…the brochure web site is modeled after the glossy print publications that have been created by businesses for decades, and ignored by 99.99% of those who have received them.”
But this Brochure Pattern doesn’t just apply to websites. It applies to a company’s approach to marketing in general. The brochure is alive and well at software and app development companies.
And even though many companies now have blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups, these efforts seem to follow the ‘Brochure Pattern’ mentality.
So isn’t ‘Content Marketing’ just writing more useless content?
You’ve probably heard the term ‘content marketing’ thrown around quite a lot recently, and your eyes may have glazed over. It’s become a bit of a buzz word. Yeah, you have a lot of content in those ignored brochures, spec sheets, and in the “news” section of your website.
‘How will putting more of that stuff out there diferentiate me?’ you may be thinking. And you’re right, if you put more of the same old boring content out there.
But content marketing is not just producing a bunch of information about your company, your product, your processes, your methodologies, and your technology.
As content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi states:
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. (Emphasis mine).
Note the terms relevant and valuable.
Valuable and relevant content is giving customers what they want when they want
A friend of mine, who is the CTO of an identity management company, and blogs on a consistent basis, told me he gives away valuable information on how companies can build their own identity management systems. He also regularly gets taken to task by friends who are amazed that he would be giving away “such valuable intellectual property.”
My friend responds: “I’m giving them what they want…and they always come back to us and have us do the work for them.”
As Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman say in their book Content Rules, quoting Amy Black, former senior marketing communications manager at software maker Kadient (now Qvidian): “…there’s no better content than helping someone be better at her job…”
Read on to find out why else you should implement a content marketing strategy as part of your marketing mix.
5 Reasons Software Companies, App Developers and Systems Integrators Should use Content Marketing
1. Content Generates Leads
Social media expert Scott Allen listed content marketing as one of the 9 most effective ways to generate leads, such as article writing, YouTube videos, guest posts, and SlideShare presentations, to name a few.
Content management and web analytics software maker Hubspot is a master at generating leads using content marketing. Their marketing resources section is full of blog posts, videos, articles, ebooks, white papers, webinars, case sudies, PowerPoints, infographs, web redesign kits and free apps (have I left anything out?) that generate tons of traffic via Google searches and social media sharing.
According to Mike Volpe, Hubspot CMO, their blog is the third largest lead generator, and as a result they have added about 30,000 subscribers to their RSS and email feed.
But Hubspot is the darling of content marketing or “inbound marketing” as they refer to it, you may say to yourself. They’re the exception rather than the rule, right?
Qvidia, another software company and definitely not another Hubspot, cites content marketing as one of their top sources for lead generation. In 2009, 70 percent of their prospects had downloaded the ebook How to Create Killer Sales Playbooks, which translated into 12,000 downloads (Content Rules, Pg. 239).
2. Content Can Provoke Buyers
Sales reps can get into the act too. Instead of using the tired old PowerPoints and corporate brochures, savvy sales departments are taking a “provocation-based” approach. Marketer Britton Manasco helps companies develop Power Presentations, visually provocative infographs and PowerPoints that help sales reps explain complex concepts and create that “a-ha!” moment with busy executives.
Manasco helped 3rd party logistics provider MD Logistics create a two-slide animated graphical demonstration of their clients’ typical problem scenario, or as he calls it “process breakdown,” and then shows how their prospects can achieve a “process breakthrough.”
As Manasco describes it, using visual provocation during a sales conversation enables sales executives to:
- provoke conversations
- accelerate comprehension
- clarify the case for change
- demonstrate business value and
- drive the deal forward
3. Content Acts as Absentee Sales People
Customers prefer to meet with sales representatives as little as possible, and later in the sales process than before. This creates a difficult situation for sales executives, who are essentially kept from influencing opinions and explaining new concepts.
An effective content marketing strategy can take the place of the sales person during those days and weeks when she’s not face-to-face with her customer.
Mind mapping software company MindJet uses content marketing as an effective way to educate it’s prospects on how to solve everyday problems using mind-mapping, As explained in this blog post on the Junta42 website, MindJet provides webinars, free productivity packs, sample maps, and case studies that help prospects understand what mind mapping is, and how it can help their organizations.
Content is also an effective follow-up tool for sales reps when they want to keep in touch with customers and don’t want to be a pest. They can email their latest case study, research report, or their CEO’s latest thought-leadership article.
And speaking of thought leadership…
4. Content Marketing Can Help Your Company Become a Thought Leader
Thought leadership is another overused term. Everybody is trying to be a thought leader these days. Everybody wants to be a guru, right?
But give thought leadership a chance. Really.
As Britton Manasco said in a recent blog post, “you win by presenting a distinct point of view on a key issue and establishing yourself as a trusted authority.”
If you don’t you risk going to market with “powerless presentations, weak white papers, and tedious talking points.”
Thought leadership is more powerful, however, for concepts that are new to the market. As thought leadership expert Fiona Czerniawska said:
Long before they reach the point when they decide to hire a consulting firm, clients need evidence that it makes sense to invest time and effort in an idea or problem they’ve been mulling over – and case studies and thought leadership can provide this.
The traditional vehicles for communicating thought leadership have been white papers. But the ebook has emerged as the sexier younger cousin for white papers, with interesting graphics and a more open writing style.
Tim Hayden, CMO of 44Doors and partner at Blue Clover, told me that you can also deliver thought leadership content during a speech or presentation, then provide attendees with a QR code so they can view videos or download reports on their smart phones as they’re walking out of the presentation.
Now that’s real-time thought leadership!
Finally, how can software firms close deals, or accelerate their sales cycle with content?
5. Content Marketing can Move Prospects Down the Sales Funnel
Have you bought a business book online recently? Did you find out about a book from a blog you were reading? Did you download the free chapter that was promoted on the sidebar? Did you then go to Amazon to read the description? What did you do next….did you read the reviews? Maybe you also clicked on the books that appeared in the section “Buyers of this book also bought these books….”
Then after reading everything, you finally had to buy the book because you were so excited about everything you had already read.
Massey describes a process whereby you use valuable content, such as how-to advice, tips and new ideas to attract prospects, and then you “advertise” the next set of content as a sidebar element or at the end of a blog post or webinar.
Each piece of content you advertise requires “payment” in the form of more information for your database. First a name and email address, then a phone number, an address, the decision-making time-frame.
Each content offering is different too. An ebook, a webinar, a video, a white paper, a case study, an infograph, a subscription to your email newsletter. Each is designed to coincide with different stages of your prospect’s buying cycle.
The final call to action is a conversation with your sales rep.
From then on, your sales rep will use a Power Presentation during her first meeting with the prospect. She will then follow-up with interesting articles or another a case study. Then she’ll conduct a demo in a subsequent visit (if appropriate). And finally, she’ll submit a discussion document, a proposal, and maybe even another white paper that your prospect will use to justify the decision to go with your firm.
These are just some of the reasons why you should adopt a content marketing approach. Lead generation, customer provocation, selling when you’re not there, thought leadership and moving prospects down your sales funnel. These are pretty important reasons to adopt content marketing as your new marketing paradigm.
What I invite you to do is to enroll yourself in our content marketing process. Sign up for our newsletter so you can continue to receive valuable information about content marketing for the software and consulting industry.
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