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Category : Content Marketing

FAQs: Content and SEO’s Low-Hanging Fruit

Creating content in support of your products and services is hard. Finding something to say which is both unique and valuable to the audience is a non-trivial endeavor, however it remains critical for persuading your audience that your product or service is right for them … and persuading search engines that your website is important.

That said, it’s incredible how many brands overlook this one simple, effective, easy-to-create content tool: the FAQ.

You don’t even have to do the thinking for an FAQ. Your customers do it for you. In your day-to-day sales and support operations, customers are asking questions all the time. All you need to do is document them and their answers, put it on your website, and bingo! – You now have an FAQ.

FAQ Best Practices

It’s absolutely possible to make a terrible FAQ, but really easy not to. If you follow these guidelines when creating your FAQ, you’ll be set:

  • Talk to your sales and / or support teams about the questions that they are getting from customers. If you’re creating an FAQ, you want to be sure it’s answering questions that your customers actually have.
  • The best FAQ questions are broadly relevant and / or address an important question. If you have a question from a person with a niche application which would only be relevant to a small subset of the audience who is also using your product for that application, it’s probably not worthy of adding to the FAQ. If you have too much clutter, people won’t use it.
  • It’s really easy to end up with oceans of FAQ content. Your don’t want your FAQ content to fluster your audience because there is too much of it. In addition to being selective with what content makes the grade for your FAQ section, use design tools such as accordions to help minimize the content overload and help ensure that customers are only presented with the FAQ content which is most relevant to them.
  • Keep FAQ content on the page of the product / service it pertains to whenever possible. Forcing people to navigate away to FAQ content is usually neither a good navigational experience nor the best for SEO.
  • If you have a long FAQ section, try to keep the most important and / or broadly relevant information towards the top, where it will be more likely to be seen.

To give you a better idea of how you may be able to leverage FAQ content, let’s take a look at a few examples.

FAQ Critiques

Agilent’s website makes ample use of FAQ content, which is great. To give an example, I’ll look at the page for their 280FS AA Atomic Absorption Spectrometer. They have a lot of stuff on this page, but they use a left-hand navigation menu with anchor links to help users find the information they need. In the “Support” section there is an FAQ, along with other categories of content, each of which has an accordion feature.

FAQ section on a product page of the Agilent website

Agilent’s FAQ has a good amount of content in it, and they make it more manageable by only showing the questions. You have to click the question to see the answer. Unfortunately, when you click the question, you are directed to a page that has only that one question and answer on it, meaning the page is of relatively low value and has taken the user away from the bulk of the information they are seeking, leading to a sub-optimal user experience (you need to wait for the page to load, then click back to get back to where you were). Additionally, having many pages with “thin” content is far less beneficial from an SEO standpoint than having one page with lots of content. If, for instance, they instead had a nested accordion in which the answer dropped down when it was clicked, this would circumvent the need for individual pages for each answer while still showing a relatively manageable amount of information to each user.

Laboratory Supply Network also makes frequent use of FAQs. FAQs are perhaps of even greater value for distributors and resellers since these companies are often starved of unique content. FAQs, product reviews, and other mechanisms for generating unique content can both improve their SEO and differentiate them from competition who may be selling similar (or the same) products. As an example, we’ll use their Q500 FAQ on Homogenizers.net. Laboratory Supply Network puts their FAQs in a separate tab from other information on the product page, helping to prevent clutter. They also have all the FAQ information directly on the product page, which maximizes the SEO benefit. However, within the FAQ tab, there are no aids to help users find the information which may be of value to them. The only way to see which questions are answered is to scroll through them all – and through their answers. This is non-ideal, especially if there are a lot of questions and / or the questions have long answers. While users will scroll, too much scrolling decreases the likelihood that content near the bottom will be seen.

FAQ section on a product page of the Homogenizers.net website

In Conclusion

FAQs add value for your customer and improve the SEO of your website. As with just about any content generation effort, your primary question should be: “can we do this in a manner which is valuable for our audience?” If you have a complex product or service or there is any common uncertainties that customers have about your business, it’s likely that you can both deliver and receive value through an FAQ. Ensure that you’re following best practices, and you’ll maximize its value.

"Looking to create content which has a discernible impact on your business? Looking for practical, realistic means to improve your search marketing? BioBM helps life science companies with almost any marketing needs. Contact us today and learn how we can help build your company into a powerhouse brand with rapidly growing revenues."

We Just Got Skyscrapered

Just yesterday, we got skyscrapered. No, we didn’t get an office in a giant building or fly an ad from one or anything like that, nor is that some weird pop-culture thing that teenagers are putting on YouTube. We were the target of an attempt at “skyscraper marketing” … and I’m talking about it, so I guess it worked in a sense.

I’ll talk more about this particular instance in a moment, but first I wanted to give an intro to skyscraper marketing for anyone who isn’t familiar with it.

The “What” and “Why” of Skyscraper Marketing

Skyscraper marketing was one method which was popularized after Google’s 2013 Hummingbird algorithm update. To summarize the implications of that in brief: there was once a time when you could “trick” Google into thinking that your website was more important than it was by posting links around the internet pointing to your website. Hummingbird was the Google update that put an end to that once and for all and penalized websites that did not comply. From then on, if you wanted to prove your website’s importance (and thereby improve your search ranks), you needed to earn your backlinks organically.

That’s about the time when content marketing became more important. From that point, not only was it the validation that showed prospects you knew what you were talking about, but it was the primary tool at your disposal to influence your search rankings (beyond the basic on-site optimization, such as optimized URLs and title tags, that everyone does and therefore isn’t a real source of competitive advantage). The more shareable the content, the more backlinks it would likely get, and therefore the better it was for SEO.

Thus, Skyscraper Marketing was devised. At its most basic, I can break it down into a three step process:

  1. Find successful content.
  2. Improve upon it.*
  3. Share it with people who would be interested in it and, in turn, share it themselves.

*The necessity for improvement is debatable, but you do have to do something to it. More on that in a moment…

The “How” of Skyscraper Marketing

Skyscraper marketing is, essentially, a type of influencer marketing in that the important part is the last step – getting people with engaged audiences to share it. That being the case, there are two primary approaches (and you don’t have to choose between them – you can do both at the same time).

The first approach is the incremental improvement approach. You find some good content which you have something to add to / make better / pose a counterpoint to / etc., then distribute it to a bunch of people who would find it relevant and potentially want to share it. In this approach, you’re adding something to the general body of knowledge in the hope that your contributed insight is enough to make it a worthwhile share – especially from people who have large audiences themselves. Again, the goal is to get as many backlinks and as many eyeballs as possible (those goals do overlap) so the more people you reach out to the better.

The second approach is the “stroking one’s ego” approach. In this approach, your goal isn’t necessarily to improve upon good pieces of content, but rather to act as an aggregator. You take really good tidbits from the thinking of a number of different influencers, and repackage them into a single, easily digestible, and readily shareable piece of content, being sure to reference and link to the authors / posts whose thinking you aggregated. You then reach back out to those people and let them know that you published something which referenced them. People, being generally inclined towards things that make themselves seem important, will share your article which highlights their own thinking.

BioBM’s Skyscraper Marketing Tips

As with influencer marketing, you want to take care to do it correctly. If you don’t, you’ll not only waste your time and effort, but you’ll also get a reputation among the influencers in your market as a peddler of junk content. If that happens, skyscraper marketing or other forms of influencer marketing will be more difficult for you in the future. Just as poor quality content can reflect badly upon your brand, asking people to share poor quality content will erode your relationships with those influencers.

To not be “that guy,” here are some useful tips:

  • Don’t spam your network. Only send out good content and only send it to people who would find it genuinely relevant.
  • Don’t plagiarize copy … or ideas. If people realize they’ve heard it all before elsewhere, they probably won’t share it.
  • Note that “improved content” does not mean “longer content.” A lot of people have a habit of focusing on expanding upon an idea rather than improving upon it. Improvement is far more important than expansion. If you make something better or take a novel perspective on an idea, that’s far more worthy of sharing than simply adding more of the same.
  • “Improved content” also doesn’t mean that you need to improve on the idea itself. Communicating it more effectively – for instance, using illustration to more clearly demonstrate a complex point – can be just as valuable.
  • Always remember: your content behaves like a product and must be differentiated!
  • If you’re going to take an ego-driven approach, be sure you show that you have taken the time to fully understand and eloquently explain the idea, and give some praise to the original author without coming of as a flatterer.

So to finish the story…

Upon checking our social media dashboards this morning, I saw this tweet:

I’ve been published more than the average person, but that’s still enough to get my attention so I gave it a quick read through. I ended up not sharing it on our @BioBM twitter account (and I don’t use my personal @CHoytPhD twitter anymore) for a few reasons. Primarily, we have very high standards for what BioBM publishes through our channels. We generally require there to be some element of newness, and we didn’t find there to be any particularly fresh thinking. (Sorry, Joe! No offense intended.) Secondarily, it was a really obvious skyscraper attempt, especially since our idea which was shared wasn’t strongly relevant to the body of the article and was simply one of many listed in bullet point format towards the end. On the other hand, Joe did well not to plagiarize the ideas which he referenced, but rather offered a tidbit of them with a link to the source. That was nice of him. (Thanks, Joe!)

That said, it did engage a discussion on twitter and his post did end up being linked to on our blog, so I suppose Joe can claim victory after all. He’s also welcome to follow this shameless promotion for our “Marketing of Life Science Tools & Services” LinkedIn group and post it there as well. 2262 members and counting!

Just for fun, and because who doesn’t love architecture, here’s a few more images of skyscrapers. All images are courtesy of Unsplash, which in an amazing feat of generosity allows their beautiful, high-resolution images to be used for any purpose and without attribution. I find that so awesome that I’m giving them attribution anyway.


"Innovative companies deserve innovative marketing. If you want to leverage the next generation of marketing strategies to not only help you achieve success, but create genuine strategic advantage for your company, contact BioBM. It’s never too early or too late, but the sooner we get started the more of a head start you’ll have."

Personalization Can Backfire

Marketers are used to seeing a lot of data showing that improving personalization leads to improved demand generation. The more you tailor your message to the customer, the more relevant that message will be and the more likely the customer will choose your solution. Sounds reasonable, right?

In most cases personalization is great, but what those aforementioned studies and all the “10,000-foot view” data misses is that there are a subset of customers for whom personalization doesn’t help. There are times when personalization can actually hurt you.

When Personalization Backfires

Stressing the points which are most important to an individual works great … when that individual has sole responsibility for the purchasing decision. For large or complex purchases, however, that is often not the case. When different individuals involved in a purchasing decision have different priorities and are receiving different messages tailored to their individual needs, personalization can act as a catalyst for divergence within the group, leading different members to reinforce their own needs and prevent consensus-building.

Marketers are poor at addressing the problems in group purchasing. A CEB study of 5000 B2B purchasers found that the likelihood of any purchase being made decreases dramatically as the size of the group making the decision increases; from an 81% likelihood of purchase for an individual, to just 31% for a group of six.

For group purchases, marketers need to focus less on personalization and more on creating consensus.

Building Consensus for Group Purchases

Personalization reinforces each individual’s perspective. In order to more effectively sell to groups, marketers need to reinforce shared perspectives of the problem and the solution. Highlight areas of common agreement. Use common language. Develop learning experiences which are relevant to the entire group and can be shared among them.

Personalization focuses on convincing individuals that your solution is the best. In order to better build consensus, equip individuals with the tools and information they need to provide perspective about the problem to their group. While most marketers spend their time pushing their solution, the CEB found that the sticking point in most groups is agreeing upon the nature of the solution that should be sought. By providing individuals within the groups who may favor your solution with the ability to frame the nature of the problem to others in their group, you’ll help those who have a nascent desire to advocate for you advocates get past this sticking point and guide the group to be receptive of your type of solution. Having helped them clear that critical barrier, you’ll be better positioned for the fight against solely your direct competitors.

Winning a sale requires more than just understanding the individual. We’ve been trained to believe that personalization is universally good, but that doesn’t align with reality. For group decisions, ensure your marketing isn’t reinforcing the individual, but rather building consensus within the group. Only then can you be reliably successful at not only overcoming competing companies, but overcoming the greatest alternative of all: a decision not to purchase anything.

"Looking to improve how you communicate with your market? There are only so many minutes in the day and effective communications must first successfully fight for those minutes, then deliver a message that resonates. The power to captivate is what will bring you a greater share of attention, and you can only win the customers who are paying attention to you. BioBM is here to help you win – at every step. We ensure that you win market share through winning and maintaining another important share: share of attention. The days of marketing by interruption are fading away. The days of marketing by captivation have arrived. These days can be yours. Seize them."

The Four Key Types of Content

There are a lot of reasons why content can fail to fulfill its objectives. When content fails, it usually just feels like “stuff” – things that are churned out more for the sake of having content than to serve a specific purpose. The most common reason for failure is lack of a coherent content strategy. Even when a strategy exists, however, content often fails because its role in the customer decision journey isn’t clear. In order for content to be maximally effective, it’s critical to understand the decision journey, the four main types of content, and what role each type of content needs to have within the decision journey.

The Four Types of Content

All content can be binned in one (or more) of four general categories:

  1. Educational Content. Educational content provides helpful information to the audience. It is strictly customer-centric. It can build brand value and awareness by helping customers build useful knowledge and solve problems. It is best aligned to early stages of the buying journey when the need is nascent and the customer may not even be aware of their need. Educational content often is used to make the customer aware that a need exists. For instance, a brochure highlighting problems with an industry-standard method would be educational content.
  2. Validational Content. Validational content serves to verify a belief that the customers hold or a claim that the brand is making. Exceptional validational content does so while still maintaining the customer as the core focus, but all validational content also has a strong focus on the brand or its offering(s). This is most useful when the customers have an established need and you want to guide them towards your solution. For instance, a performance comparison of multiple offerings from different vendors would be considered validational content.
  3. Promotional Content. Promotional content is used to prompt customers who are ready or nearly ready to make a decision into action. It is the most solution-centric type of content, and it often doesn’t look or feel like content as many content marketers would think of it. For instance, an email offering a discount would be promotional content. Most ads we see on TV are promotional content.
  4. Emotional Content. Unlike all the other forms of content, emotional content doesn’t seek to influence the customers’ perceptions of need, but rather seeks to connect with customers on a less tangible, emotional level, although it doesn’t need to be overtly emotional per se. Emotional content is used outside of the context of a purchase to influence customers’ brand preferences, and therefore position your brand to have an advantage in customers’ future buying journeys.

Content doesn’t need to fall into only one of these categories. For instance, validational content is often used in conjunction with promotional content in order to both prove a point and attempt to prompt a purchase. A hybrid of emotional and promotional content may be used to try to induce an impulse buy. Educational content is often used with emotional content to position a brand as a thought leader. Just about any type of content can be used with any other. You could even have all four in one.

Mapping Content Types to the Buying Journey

A fairly simple buying journey model would be one that starts at the consideration of a need, continues through the evaluation of a number of options to fill the need, ends in a purchase, then continues to a post-purchase period where the solution is experienced, affinity with the brand (or against the brand) is formed, and advocacy (or antagonism) may take place. The cycle then begins again at some point when a further need is realized. (For a more detailed discussion of customer journeys, I recommend reading “Competing on Customer Journeys” in HBR.)

In this model, educational content would span from before consideration, where it may be used to catalyze realization of a need, through the early evaluation phase, where it helps shape the customer’s understanding and perception of the need and influences the criteria by which potential solutions will be evaluated. Validational content should be deployed from the late consideration phase through the evaluation phase in order to reinforce the brand’s proposed solution. Promotional content should be leveraged late in the evaluation phase up to the point of purchase in order to induce the customer to initiate a purchase.

Emotional content, unlike all the other types of content, is not reliant on a place within a buying journey and does not seek to directly influence customers’ purchasing behavior. Instead, it exists to shape the customers’ perceptions of the brand, thereby putting the brand at an advantage due to conscious or subconscious preferences / biases in the brand’s favor. It can be deployed at any time.

A basic buying journey with the four types of content mapped to it.

Content requires many things to be successful. It needs to be differentiated and segmented. It needs to be organized and customer-centric. It needs to avoid falling into a pit of skepticism. The most fundamental of requirements when creating content, however, is the need to serve a specific purpose that aligns with specific goals for influencing customers’ purchasing behavior.

To be even more effective in your content marketing, keep an inventory of your content, and include in that inventory which of the four types of content each piece falls into and which stage of the buying journey it attempts to influence. That will help reveal holes in your content marketing program and allow you to spend your efforts on the areas of greatest need that will provide the largest returns.

"88% of B2B companies utilize content marketing, but only 30% believe their content marketing program to be effective. We certainly understand that content marketing is a challenging and resource-intensive endeavor. That’s all the more reason to ensure your money and efforts are well spent.

BioBM has pioneered the next-generation of content marketing strategies in the life sciences, and our leading marketing thinking has been published by the American Marketing Association, Content Marketing Institute, and other prestigious associations. We don’t stop at “best practices,” and we go beyond simple content. We proactively identify new, unique ways of creating value for your audience then design superior customer experiences around those value opportunities. Provide meaningful value to your customers, and they’ll provide value to you. It’s a virtuous cycle. Start yours."

Increasing Customer Affinity

Affinity has a transformational value on brands.

Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have all moved beyond having a simple transactional relationship with their customers to one that creates intimacy and serves their needs in a more holistic manner. These companies are generous, they are unselfish, and their approach is well beyond one of asking for the next sale. Whereas most companies self-promote in order to obtain the customer’s next purchase, elite brands seek not only to create customer loyalty, but to be loyal to their customers.

The overwhelming majority of companies are only good at fostering transactional affiliations with customers. They ask for their business, the customer gives it to them, and that is largely the end of the relationship. Companies frequently try to obtain repeat business; those who do so well attract supporters – customers who have moved beyond individual transactions and consciously prefer your brand, buying repeatedly. Relatively few companies are effective at recruiting promoters, people who actively share their positive impression of your brand through advocacy to others. Those brands which have strong networks of promoters are often very successful, but there is a fourth level of customer affinity that not only drives even further degrees of loyalty, but also leverages customer assets to build brand value even further, creating a positive feedback loop for both the brand and customers: co-creation.

Co-creators actively add value to the brand by contributing to its offerings for other customers. They are so invested in the brand that they add to it themselves. This may be altruistic, but may also be to realize some kind of return, be it financial, recognition, or otherwise.

Increasing Affinity

Most companies pay careful attention to how loyal their customers are to them, measuring things like net promoter score and tracking sentiment on social media. They think that good customer service will win the loyalty of customers, and while good customer experiences may turn transactors into supporters and perhaps even the occasional promoter, good service is not enough to routinely transform customers’ affinity to the highest levels. In order to move up the affinity ladder, brands need to not only focus on how loyal their customers are, but how loyal the brand is to their customers. If a customer is anything more than a transactor, they are giving you more than money. Likewise, you need to be doing something more than selling products and services (in other words, creating transactions) to better foster that affinity. You need to actively add value to the lives of your customers outside of the transactional realm.

Building co-creation opportunities often, but not always, requires a degree of altruism. You must seek to provide opportunities for your target market which do not actually cost them anything.

Examples of Co-Creation

Many businesses are built entirely around co-creation. Yelp or any user-driven recommendation website are almost entirely based on co-creation. Facebook is driven by co-creation. Airbnb is a co-creative endeavor, relying on its hosts to build the success of their platform. Your business, however, does not need to be centered on a co-creation business model in order to leverage it for increased customer affinity.

Customer-centric resources are tools that any company can use to greatly heighten customer affinity. By helping customers solve problems outside the context of a buying journey, you will provide massively positive experiences that will increase affinity. While resources do not require a co-creation component, such a component may be integrated into them. Consider the Nike+ ecosystem, where users can share workouts, compare progress with friends, and help motivate each other. The GoPro Channel is another well-known co-creation resource, where GoPro leverages its own popularity to support its customers’ best creations.

Social Media, “Engagement” and the Affinity Failure

Many marketers consider themselves to have succeeded at forging relationships with customers if they have high “engagement” metrics or large social followings. These are not indicators of affinity and are often vanity metrics. A social follow is by no means an indication of support, and it certainly does not suggest that the follower will promote your brand. In the life sciences and most B2B industries, social media is largely a platform for the dissemination of content. It is a utilitarian tool. While the ability to foster personal relationships with members of your target audience certainly exists, social media is not a natural channel for brand-customer communication. If your goals are to increase your audience size and reach, seek new social followers. If your goals are to increase customer affinity, look for non-transactional ways to provide value to your audience.

As customers not only take greater control of their purchasing decision journeys but compress them as well, brand affinity becomes increasingly important. Those brands which are able to create heightened levels of customer affinity will have immense advantage in an accelerated journey which reduces the consideration and evaluation phases. Customers are increasingly making decisions based on established preferences. The brands with the greatest customer affinity will be the winners.

"Looking for ways to increase customer affinity? BioBM develops resources for life science brands that grow their audiences and enable them to dominate their brand space. If domination is on your brand’s agenda, then contact BioBM today."

If You Don’t Own Your Channels, You Don’t Own Your Audience

A very telling thing happened in October. YouTube, in preparation to release it’s paid subscription service, Red, told its top content creators that “any ‘partner’ creator who earns a cut of ad revenue but doesn’t agree to sign its revenue share deal for its new YouTube Red $9.99 ad-free subscription will have their videos hidden from public view on both the ad-supported and ad-free tiers.” (ref: TechCrunch). In other words, if content creators who are getting revenue from their YouTube videos don’t agree to Red, their channel will go dark. All those subscribers will mean nothing if they can’t access your content.

This should be something of a reality check for marketers. On YouTube or any third party social channel, your audience doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to the channel. Those Twitter followers? Twitter owns them. All those Facebook likes? They’re not your property, they’re Facebook’s. Any one of those channels can do anything they want with them at any time. Feel insecure? It is.

What if Facebook removed access to people who have liked your page unless you pay for engagement? There’s no reason they couldn’t. Or what if the social network that you’ve poured so many resources into in order to develop a large following were to fade away – perhaps people start abandoning Twitter en masse for Snapchat (or whatever comes after Snapchat)?

You don’t own your social media audiences. In many cases, you don’t even own the content you’ve shared on that social channel. You definitely don’t own your advertising audiences or any other audience which is rented. Any and all of these audiences can be taken away. If you’re looking to develop an attentive and loyal audience that’s both engaged and secure, what can you do?

Building an Owned Audience

Building an owned audience requires that you create a platform for audience growth which is under your full control. Any audience on a “rented” channel belongs to the channel and not to you.

Building an owned audience also requires that the channel you create offer sufficient value such that people want to engage with it and return to it. Getting someone to hit the “follow” button on a social platform is very non-committal. Getting someone to sign up for an entirely new platform is a higher bar. You need to ensure that you sufficiently understand and address genuine audience needs in order to for them to commit. Furthermore, unlike social media, you need to provide enough value that the audience will go back just for the value your owned platform provides; there won’t [necessarily] be many other people and brands drawing them back into it, giving them reasons to return and engage. While yours may be just one of 100 liked pages and 500 friends competing for space on a Facebook user’s feed, that may be enough to provide you with the opportunity to grab for their attention. There may be a lot of competition for that attention, but there are also many reasons for the users to continuously return to the channel; the burden of reeling the audience back in is widely distributed among their many connections and the platform itself. On an owned channel, you must make it entirely your responsibility to entice to engage and continue to reengage over time, but each time they do you own that attention. You write the rules.

That begs the question: What do you need to do to build an owned channel?

The form that the owned channel takes is irrelevant. The form should simply be a response to audience needs. It can be as simple as a blog or as complex as anything you or I could imagine. There are only three requirements:

  1. It has to provide genuine value to the target audience. That’s what is going to attract their attention. Understand what problems your customers are having and focus on helping to solve them. Your platform has to be primarily about your customers.
  2. The value has to be sustained over time. An audience that only pays attention once doesn’t do you much good. While the audience itself can sometimes be leveraged to add value to the platform, don’t plan on it happening. Expect that you’re going to have to be the one to continue to add value to the platform over time. If that seems like an unsustainable effort, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.
  3. It has to meaningfully connect the audience with your brand.

By creating a platform which enriches the lives of members of your target market, you’ll find yourself growing a willing, captive, and secure audience – on your terms.

"Future-proof your marketing and create a strategic advantage by having “owned” audiences that turn the tides of customer sentiment to your advantage. Scientists are slow to change their loyalties, but if you can consistently provide the best value – the best experiences – your brand will become the default selection above which others must prove their worth.

Own the incumbent advantage. Contact us."

Is Publishing the Holy Grail of Content Marketing?

There’s a lot of noise coming from some fairly reputable sources extolling the virtues of publishing as the next generation of content marketing (I’m sure you’ll be very familiar with this if you follow the Content Marketing Institute at all). For instance, let’s take a look at a recent article from the Harvard Business Review website – “Content Is Crap, and Other Rules for Marketers” – which makes some great points, but misses some equally if not more important points.

To begin, let’s summarize his 4 rules, which are all extremely valid points…

Rule 1 – Recognize that content is crap. This is best highlighted by the author: “We never call anything that’s good ‘content.’ Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, ‘Wow! What great content!’ Nobody listens to ‘content’ on their way to work in the morning. Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a ‘content creator’? If they did, I bet he would punch ‘em in the nose.” He goes on to state that marketers need to be more like publishers.

A bit of a side note before we move on. The author is appealing to emotion a bit and is forgetting that content is a somewhat technical term – no one says they drink “dihydrogen monoxide” either. What this is more illustrative of is the mentality of many content marketers. What’s important isn’t, for example, that the people who watch great movies don’t refer to it as “content” but that the producers, writers, directors, and actors who set out to make a great movie don’t refer to it as content. It’s the mentality of content – making “stuff” that begs for attention – which gets people stuck in a losing paradigm and it’s a paradigm that needs to be dropped.

Rule 2 – Hold attention, don’t just grab it. “Marketers need to build an ongoing relationship with consumers and that means holding attention, not just grabbing it. To get people to subscribe to a blog, YouTube channel, or social media feed, you need to offer more than a catchy slogan or a clever stunt. You need to offer real value, and offer it consistently.” The author argues that publishing solves this problem.

Rule 3 – Don’t over-optimize metrics. It’s too easy to confuse measurement with meaning. He uses the example of Buzzfeed, who no longer uses clickbait titles as they’ve realized that they optimize for pageviews, which are just clicks, but betray the reader’s trust. By under-promising and over-delivering, you create more engagement with the content and make it more likely that the reader will return to read another article later. It’s the long game vs. short game conundrum. You can make the numbers look good if you pretend not to care about your numbers a year from now.

Rule 4 – Understand that publishing is a product, not a campaign. In brief, the author makes the point that one of the keys to being successful in being more like a publisher is to treat it with more permanence and seriousness.

There are some great points here… Content is not enough. You can’t simply interrupt your way to success; you need a way to build an audience. Ensure your metrics are effectively measuring value creation. And publishing has serious merits, but the answer is bigger than publishing.

The Inherent Problems With Publishing

Yes, publishing is often superior to more basic forms of content marketing, but it’s not for everyone. Not every company has some amazing, inherently compelling story to tell, and not every company has the resources to continually deliver pieces of that story through carefully crafted content consistently over a long period of time. That’s a massive effort. Assuming publishing is a magic bullet ignores reality and ultimately falls victim to the same problems plaguing other iterations of content marketing: if it becomes well adopted, it’s very quickly going to become much more difficult to do effectively.

The audience’s attention is inherently limited, and while publishing tries to occupy more of that attention, it doesn’t solve the attention problem and it falls into the same trap as more “generic” forms of content marketing. It’s actually a natural response to the lack of supply of customer attention which follows basic economic principles: If the supply of something is limited and demand increases the result is an increasing cost. As more and more content competes for limited attention the “cost” of the customers’ attention increases, meaning you need higher quality content to obtain it. Treating content marketing more like publishing doesn’t change that fact, it simply throws more resources at the problem so higher quality content can be produced – a necessity to continue to compete for customers’ attention in an environment where it is in ever-increasing demand. It’s not like audiences couldn’t do things such as subscribe to blogs almost two decades ago, it’s simply that it takes a better content effort to grab and hold attention than it used to.

Should You Be a Publisher?

Publishing cannot be the answer for everyone. It is literally impossible for 100% of brands to be successful publishers because the audience does not have enough attention to go around. How can you tell if you should be a publisher? Answer these two questions:

  1. How interesting are you? Take a good honest look at your brand and figure out how interesting you are. Some have great stories to tell. Some do amazing things. Some would make highly impactful thought leaders. Others simply aren’t so captivating. If your brand simply isn’t all that interesting compared to others in your space, you might want to consider something else.
  2. Can you – and will you – sufficiently resource the effort? Putting out top-quality content on a regular basis is no easy job by itself, and publishing requires more than that. The amount of time and resources that will need to go into planning, editing, graphic design, etc., will be significantly greater. At the same time, publishing still won’t provide a short-term payoff. Do you have the resources and the necessary leadership buy-in to be a publisher?

The Real Focus

If you’re not in the upper echelon of brands with regards to your ability and willingness to be a publisher, all is not lost. After all, being a publisher is not the goal. The reason that taking on the role of publisher is being touted as superior to content marketing is because it’s more effective at delivering meaningful value to customers. That’s also the underlying reason why it better holds the audience’s attention. At the end of the day customers gravitate to value, and there’s a lot more ways to provide value than just being a publisher.

Shift your paradigm from thinking about content to developing actual resources that solve genuine customer problems. Ask yourself what problems customers are having that they might not pay for a solution to, but are readily solvable with a bit of time and effort. Analyze them, prioritize them, and solve the most critical ones that provide the best opportunity for long-term value creation and evolving the customer relationship beyond a transactional one.

Double down on customer experience. Make it easier, faster, and simpler for customers to obtain value from you. Look at some of the juggernauts of tech – Google, Facebook, Uber, Amazon – they didn’t get to where they are because of content marketing. Most of their content marketing efforts aren’t even on people’s radar. What they do is solve problems quickly and simply. You know what’s a great experience? When you can type a question and an answer appears, when you press a button and a cab simply shows up, or when you can instantly be connected to any of your friends. There’s are myriad examples out there, and while it may be easier to do in tech than in the life sciences, it’s certainly not impossible in any industry.

If you’re existing content marketing efforts are becoming less effective, one option is certainly to hunker down, take it more seriously, and spend the resources to become a highly effective publisher. But that’s expensive, difficult, and only delays the onset of many of the underlying problems plaguing content marketing. Publishing treats the symptoms, not the disease. Rid yourself of all paradigms but the one which relies on this one fundamental truth: customers will favor those brands which contribute the most value to their lives. Let that reality guide your actions and you’ll soon find your audiences flocking to you.

"Are you struggling to attract your target audience? Do you find you need to interrupt them to try to get their attention? Then it’s time to do something different. Shed all your old paradigms and focus on unique and differentiated ways to add genuine value to your audiences’ lives. Provide meaningful value to your customers, and they’ll provide value to you. It’s a virtuous cycle. Start yours."

Stop Thinking About Content

Content marketers in the life sciences have reached a critical point. The traditional paradigm of content marketing is becoming ineffective. Content marketers have endeavored to create, publish, share, and then repeat this cycle to the point where there is far too much noise. It is becoming ever more difficult to win the battle for attention. Quite simply, content marketing is no longer enough.

We need to shift from a simple content marketing paradigm to a resource marketing paradigm. We need to stop thinking about creating more stuff and start thinking about how to build things of utility that meaningfully help solve our audiences’ problems.

It’s not just the life sciences that are experiencing this, either. It’s everywhere. This is a pandemic problem across almost all industries. We have recently been honored to have our solution, as elaborated by BioBM’s Carlton Hoyt, recognized by the Content Marketing Institute. You can read about how to take your content marketing program beyond the traditional paradigm and start creating transformational value for your audience which will both captivate them and build genuine value for your brand in the CMI article “Stop Thinking Content, Start Thinking Resources

"Looking to take your content marketing to the next level? BioBM goes beyond simple content. We proactively identify new, unique ways of creating value for your audience then design superior customer experiences around those value opportunities. We design customer-centric resources which compel your audience to interact with your brand in a highly positive way, giving your company the influence and reputation you need to turn purchasing decisions in your favor. Provide meaningful value to your customers, and they’ll provide value to you. It’s a virtuous cycle. Start yours."

Remove Steps With Content

While we strongly advocate that many content marketers in the life sciences shift from a content paradigm to a resource paradigm, there are still ample roles for more traditional content to play. This is especially true in demand generation endeavors when content is being leveraged to fulfill a specific role in a buying journey. When using content to move prospects closer to making a sale, the most effective content removes steps from the customers’ buying journeys. It actually makes the journey shorter while influencing the customer in a way that favors your brand.

If you want to create content that moves your scientist-customers forward in their buying journeys, you need to know where you’re starting, where they’ll finish, and not try to take a larger step than your content is able. To create great content that can help shorten a buying journey and direct customers in your favor, follow these 4 planning steps before actually putting pen to paper.

1) Map the buying journey.

You can’t effectively influence customers to progress in their buying journeys unless you understand the nature and the steps within those buying journeys. There is no shortcut to this – you need to talk to the customers. When doing so, it’s important to get feedback from a broad range of customers. In addition to simply speaking with different demographics (for instance, customers in different market sectors or those with varying seniority), it’s important to speak with those whose buying journeys have ended differently. Talk to your own customers, those who have made purchases of alternate or similar solutions, those currently involved in a purchasing decision, and some who have exited a buying journey without making a purchase. It’s important to understand all of the paths these journeys took and the factors that led to their ultimate decision.

Remember: a buying journey is not a line. It is a roadmap, where there are multiple routes from the start to the destination, and you want to understand those various routes as much as possible. Mapping the buying journey is something that will be useful well beyond content planning, so it’s a good thing to do regardless. For instance, a map of the customers’ buying journey is invaluable when designing campaigns. It’s not a simple or fast process, but it’s well worth the effort.

2) Pick a step to remove.

Once you understand the “routes” the buying journey may take, you can decide which step you want to remove. To be broadly effective and achieve the best ROI, this should be a step that is on many of the routes and is not presently being addressed well. It should also not be too large of a step, as there is a practical limitation to how much of the buying journey you can bypass with content.

3) Determine why that step exists.

The step you’re trying to remove is there for a reason. The scientist-customer may be trying to understand something, or seeking a particular experience, or looking to verify a specific belief. Unless you know exactly what they’re trying to do, you can’t design content to bypass that step.

In many cases you may be able to use your own best judgment to understand why a step in the buying journey exists, and in others you may want to speak to the target market. The more effort you put into this process the more likely you’ll end up with a correct answer, but the effort needs to be proportional to the effort required to actually create the content. Otherwise, you’d be just as well off taking the “shotgun” approach, designing a few different pieces of content, and A/B testing.

However, to know how much effort you would need to design the content, step 3 needs to overlap with step 4…

4) Determine the best way to bypass the step.

Churning out white papers is only going to get you so far, and there are a lot of steps in the buying journey that can only be effectively skipped by richer content. If your audience seeks only information, there may be a wide variety of content formats you can choose from. If your audience requires an experience, you may be required to use rich media.

The only way to use content to skip a step in the buying journey is to provide the audience with exactly what they are looking for. You can’t take a shortcut and expect to be effective.

There are far too many companies who use their content marketing programs haphazardly, as blog post and white paper factories. Those are wasted efforts. When creating content to generate demand, understand the buying journey, focus on a particular step, then design content to fulfill the needs of that step and get scientists past it. Only then will your content program achieve its potential.

"As marketers’ usage of content marketing has surged in the life sciences, we’ve seen a very predictable trend: it’s become less effective. At BioBM, we go beyond simple content. We proactively identify new, unique ways of creating value for your audience then design superior customer experiences around those value opportunities. If you are looking to leverage compel your audiences or to build influence and reputation, don’t settle for a generic create-publish-share-repeat paradigm. Work with an agency that can help you achieve success through differentiated, value-creating customer experiences. Speak with BioBM, and we’ll show you how we can help."

Should You Be A Thought Leader?

Should you be a thought leader? Assess yourself by these three dimensions to find out.Being a “thought leader” has become cliché.

That’s what most brands and most content marketers aspire to be, however. They want to be visionaries; oracles of their respective fields. It seems like an attractive position to occupy, but is visionary, forward-looking content really what all content marketers should aspire for?

No. Quite frankly, not all companies’ positions justify thought leadership. So how can you tell if your company should be a thought leader?

Assess Your Brand on 3 Dimensions:

1) Nature of the Customer Relationship (Transactional vs. Collaborative) – This is the most important factor. Being an effective thought leader means that you need the market’s attention. If the attention that you have is fleeting, you likely don’t have time to position yourself as a thought leader. Transactional customer interactions are often brief, while collaborative interactions (where you act more as a partner to your customers) are far longer lasting and provide more attention. The same can often be said for the sales cycles for transactional vs. collaborative products and services. Note that transactional relationships may act more like collaborative ones if you have a high rate of repeat business and your products / services are of a high perceived value to the customer; it’s not just about how a single buying journey behaves.

Example: Contract research organizations have highly collaborative customer relationships and are well served by acting as thought leaders. It’s important that these companies demonstrate their knowledge. Companies selling general lab equipment are far more transactional and have less to gain from a thought leadership position.

2) Complexity of Your Products or Services – If your products / services are complex or technologically advanced, this provides a greater opportunity for thought leadership. Customers are more likely to want to take the time to understand the market, and you have more room to play the role of a visionary. To use an example we can all relate to: lots of people want to know about tomorrow’s smartphones. Few people are interested in tomorrow’s socks. You could make the same comparison between sequencers and old-school thermal cyclers.

3) Ambiguity Within Your Market – If the average customer knows very little about your market and / or the products / services within it, there is a greater opportunity to be a thought leader. Ambiguity generally leads to difficult purchasing decisions. Through thought leadership you can create clarity and understanding for your audience, and your audience will in turn reward you with its business.

What to Do If You’re Not a Thought Leader

If you’re not a thought leader, that doesn’t mean you should give up on content marketing. Thought leadership is only one approach to content marketing. Being one of the most popular approaches, there’s a lot of competition for the position of thought leader. Doing something else can actually be an easier way to achieve customer engagement (remember, your content is a product which must be differentiated as well). Some ideas include:

  • Be better at formatting information. You don’t have to be the first to say something if you can say it better than others. Take some of the best ideas you can find and package them into more appealing formats, such as videos, infographics, or interactive content.

 

  • Provide something other than knowledge. Not all content has to be about information. Share something else. Entertaining content is the default alternative, but get creative.

 

  • Go past content and develop resources for your scientist-customers that deliver greater value and go further in helping them solve their problems. Get outside the box of “content” as we know it and think more about what problems they have and how your brand can help solve them.

 

  • Be practical. Scientists may not want or expect you to be a thought leader, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need information. Offer simple, to-the-point content that helps them streamline their buying journey and reach a better outcome.

 

Don’t get caught into thinking you need to win some kind of information war to succeed at content marketing. While some brands may be best served by a thought leadership position, for many it’s easier and more productive to shoot for something else. There are certainly plenty of options.

"From creating customer engagement to building brand value to generating leads, content marketing is an extremely powerful tool in your marketing arsenal. It’s also one of the hardest to use effectively, and life science companies frequently assault their audiences with generic and ineffective content. There’s no reason to settle for mediocrity. With BioBM, you’ll go beyond simple content. We proactively identify new, unique ways of creating value for your audience then design superior customer experiences around those value opportunities. So contact BioBM today, and give your company the influence and reputation it needs to turn purchasing decisions in your favor."