The antidote to uncertainty

A few weeks ago, Doug kvetched about the adjective of the pandemic: “uncertain“.

But aside from the cynicism of brands trying to smuggle their way into your wallets under the banner of empathy, there’s no question everyone’s feeling the same sense of, well… je ne sais quoi.

Frozen budgets and interrupted plans have ground things to a halt. But I think the worst thing marketers could do right now is stand still.

Quite the opposite—with a rising premium on known outcomes, there’s a new imperative for marketers to run towards quick wins that deliver tangible value. 

That’s because clarity is a newly powerful commodity. Measurable performance, concrete results and demonstrable ROI have always been important—but now they’re also potent antidotes to the unknown.

In these uncertain times, there’s a big opportunity for marketers to create certainty.

The key is to focus on the things we can control in order to make the things we already have work as hard as they possibly can.

You don’t need a big idea to hit a home run right now

The brand response to Covid-19 has been wildly varied. There’s been a lot of we’re here for you crap. There’s also been some genuinely great sincere (and even fun) responses.

But you don’t need to make big moves to deliver big value. In fact, one of the most valuable things you can do as a marketer right now is to go small—to get so brilliant at the basics you deliver better outcomes with greater certainty.

Like Neil covered recently, the most effective B2B marketing has two sides: a demand generation machine that continually informs (and is fuelled by) high quality content.

Integrating these two functions takes effort. It was hard when we could sit in a room together and it’s not going to be any easier from a distance.

But the difference now is that there might be some time to reset and refocus on some best practices that were easily deprioritized in yesterday’s busyness-as-usual.

Now is the perfect time to take some small, practical steps that help your existing activities build towards more certain outcomes.

And for what it’s worth: getting good at this now means you’ll be ready to make better decisions once we can all go back to booking meetings instead of sending emails. 

So here are six small moves to get started.

Six small moves to get brilliant at the basics

Sync up

On paper, it’s crazy that content production and demand generation would ever be separated—you need both to build an audience and propel them to action.

In reality, it’s understandable that they drift apart. 

Content creators get so lost in brand building and novelty bias they start measuring success by a subjective idea of content quality (or even volume) instead of actual performance.

Meanwhile demand generation gets so focused on short-term sales activation they overextend into paid media at the expense of organic, earned engagement that sustains businesses long-term.

The trick here is that brand building and sales activation are equally essential—but they need to happen together for either side to be effective (and boy, do they make each other so much better when they’re in sync).

Start with metrics

The fastest path to more effective content (and more certain outcomes) is to know what you’re aiming for from the start.

That doesn’t just mean “be accountable to content performance KPIs”. It means it’s just as important to design quality KPIs as it is quality content. (You might want to read this to find out how to do that).

A good start is to focus. Think of your performance KPIs as a series of dominos working backwards from your annual target. If you know you need to deliver X number of MQLs, that means you need to fill the funnel with Y number of prospects, which means you need to grow inbound traffic by Z visitors per month.

The great thing about simplified goals is that they quickly raise specific objections that implicitly reveal the metrics that really matter. What about our bounce rate? What about the MOFU drop-off? What about our time-to-conversion? 

Well, exactly.

Get strategic on search

Domain authority is a marathon, not a sprint. Every content program you execute should start with a clear search strategy and keyphrase focus that builds and matures over time. 

But here’s the scam: you can apply this approach retroactively. 

If you’ve got a bank of site content or blog posts all related to a key strategic area for you, but they’re not optimized around consistent keyphrase clusters, go back and change them. 

Make sure you’re optimizing for quality keyphrase clusters over quantity of discrete keyphrases. It’s infinitely more effective get hyper targeted around 4 keyphrase clusters on topics that matter most to your business than to dilute your focus with 800 discrete keyphrases spread over disparate topics.

And once you’ve done that, why not ungate your best performing PDF (or even turn it into a web page) so Google can crawl it?

In short, do everything you can to make it easier for Google to connect the dots between the pieces you’re publishing and the domain areas you’re targeting. 

Play to your strengths

This one is simple: tailor your content output for your strongest demand gen capabilities.

Don’t plan out a kickass social campaign if you haven’t got the team to orchestrate and report on it—particularly if you’ve got a fully configured marketing automation tool ready to go. Most creative ideas can be refactored towards your strongest demand gen capabilities

The same applies to content formats. If you’re just starting your content marketing journey, don’t spin your wheels trying to fill a library with a video and an ebook and a slideshare and a webinar and a case study and a newsletter. 

Just do the newsletter. Or make a podcast. Or just write a good blog. Pick one thing, get great at it, then get known for it.

Re-fuel the MA tank

Marketing automation tools need a decent flow of content to deliver results. If you’re serving a wide range of customer segments or industries, you need more than a handful of big content pieces to serve meaningful (and ongoing) customer journeys across those groups.

Atomization is your friend here. Look for opportunities to break the bigger pieces in your library into smaller (and maybe sessionized) content to drip feed over time.

Another great option (from this fantastic Twitter thread of 9 “free money” marketing channels from @davegerhardt) is to revisit your existing nurture cycles and:

  • Change the subject line of your last email campaign & re-send to everyone who didn’t open
  • Change the copy of the last email campaign you sent & re-send to everyone who didn’t click/sign-up for your offer.

Again, this is about squeezing the most value from what you already have. Just because the subject/email copy didn’t work for a section of your audience, it doesn’t mean the underlying nurture step was wrong—try again, with feeling.

Drive consistency to the edges

Big ideas are like best-laid plans—they rarely survive contact with reality. 

I’ve seen it happen all too often: marketers painstakingly construct a narrative/campaign/nurture and send it out into the wild. And then field marketers take all that careful (and expensive) thinking and either edit it to oblivion, misunderstand it, or ignore it entirely.

This isn’t always a car crash—if the work is good (and the field marketers are capable) there’s no reason why they can’t tweak things to suit their local needs. In fact, that’s something to aim for!

But if you know you’re losing control of your content programs once they reach the execution stage—and it’s hurting results—now is the time to find out why. The good news is it’s almost never malice. People are generally either trying to help or they didn’t quite grasp what you’re shooting for.

And in both cases, the solution is open communication and clear instruction. In fact the only thing you can really get wrong here is to continue ignoring the problem.  

Thinking small doesn’t mean letting up

I think small (but deeply practical) moves might be the antidote to the uncertainty and inertia marketers will inevitably navigate through over the next few months.

This isn’t just an academic activity to keep your hands busy—it’s significant work that creates demonstrably better outcomes. The key is focus and consistency—pick one area and get great at it over the next three months.

There’s a premium on concrete results right now—and you probably already have everything you need to get going.

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