Interview with Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions

We recently had the opportunity to catch-up with our good friend and B2B Marketing Strategist, Ardath Albee.  Ardath is CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc and has over 25 years of business management and marketing experience.  She specializes in helping companies with complex sales utilize eMarketing strategies to generate more and better sales opportunities.  In addition to being a frequent blogger and instructor, Ardath is also the author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.

You can follow Ardath on Twitter at @Ardath421

AG: Content marketing is a hot topic and like many other hot topics today definitions vary and everyone wants to jump in and give their own spin.  As a leader in this space, please define once and for all – what is content marketing?

Albee:  This subject is definitely getting a lot of play lately. I’m not sure there’s a once and for all answer because the practice of content marketing continues to evolve. This being said, I think this definition sums it up nicely:

Content marketing is the practice of publishing contagious content designed to be found by and influence a behavior of your target market(s) to create a positive business result.

The most important thing to note is that your success with content marketing is predicated by how well you know your target market(s) and/or personas.

AG: You speak a lot about story telling in your writing and presentations.  How important is it in a B2B demand generation strategy to incorporate story telling?

Albee:  I think storytelling is hugely important. Storytelling involves people in the content by helping them suspend disbelief long enough to visualize whatever it is that your story presents. It is also the way people learn and share.  Where storytelling makes the difference is when the stories are designed with your buyer or persona as the hero of the story working to solve a business problem.

In a story, the hero has a goal and must overcome obstacles and defeat his antagonist to complete the journey and achieve the goal.

In business, your buyer has a problem that needs to be solved (goal), obstacles such as detractors, lack of budget, lack of knowledge about the best approach, and more that must be reconciled to complete his “story” or buying experience.

The components for a problem-to-solution journey in a B2B complex sale may look something like this:

  • Your buyer has a goal to achieve (problem to solve).
  • There are obstacles in the way of attaining the goal.
  • The buyer must learn what he needs to know to achieve the goal.
  • He must convince others to agree with how he proposes to do that.
  • He must find and justify the resources he needs to complete the journey.
  • He must get past the moment when it looks like he won’t make it.
  • With your help, he completes the journey and successfully achieves the goal.

In a business story, the villain or antagonist of the story is the problem that needs to be solved. In most stories, there is a “mentor” character who helps to teach or guide the hero through the journey. That’s the role the vendor must play in the story. This is why there’s so much said about the value and helpfulness of the content we publish. It’s not about the product, but rather the solving of the problem. That’s the shift that storytelling can help companies make with their content marketing.

AG: I hear a lot of marketers speak about content marketing but alarmingly very few sales people.  How important are sales reps to a content marketing strategy?

Albee:  Sales reps are a very important component of content marketing. Because buyers are waiting longer to identify themselves, the part of the buying process that is evident to vendors is compressed. In fact, research by Sirius Decisions found that 70% of purchases are already at the RFP stage by the time vendors know about the opportunity.  This means that marketing must pick up the slack and nurture buyers farther across their buying experience—even if anonymously. If salespeople step into the relationship telling a different story than marketing has been telling, then momentum stalls and hesitation occurs.

The problem is that marketing is often not sharing the story they’re telling with salespeople. Or, salespeople haven’t bought into the story that marketing is telling. Either way, this needs to be fixed. In most of the projects I’m working on today, salespeople are involved from the start, helping marketing define personas and giving feedback as we develop content strategy and marketing programs. It makes a huge difference.

But the biggest reason that salespeople are so important to content marketing is that people buy from people. Content can do a lot to engage prospects and help them view a vendor as a credible and trusted resource that can help them solve their problem. But that relationship has to remain consistent once sales steps into the conversation. There needs to be a certain synergy to the lead management process from inquiry through purchase (and beyond). The truth is that buyers don’t care if they’re engaged with marketing or with sales – they care about what’s in it for them to be in that conversation at all. If salespeople step in and start telling a different story or deliver less value than prospects have come to expect, the deal can be derailed.

AG: In a recent blog post you wrote about the relationship between inbound marketing and content marketing.   How important is one to the other?

Albee:  I don’t think you can successfully do one without the other. You really need both. The distinction is more about semantics than anything else. For example, I use the term content marketing, but in every project I do the components of SEO, Social Media and Content are integral to its success – and that combination is usually now referred to as Inbound. Generating awareness and demand have been marketing goals forever. The processes may be shifting, but the end goals are the same.

AG: What are the top three things a company can do right now to jump start their content marketing strategy?

Albee: 1. Identify market segments, buyer personas, customer profiles – whatever you want to call them – and learn as much as you can about your buyers.

2. Brainstorm a list of all the questions each segment or persona will need to get answered as they explore and determine how to solve a specific problem.

3. Develop content that answers those questions.

Remember to put yourself in their shoes. Get your products out of the way and create content about what they’re interested in learning more about. Talk to salespeople and customers as much as you can to validate your assumptions. Make sure each content asset has a call to action (“Have a sales rep call me” doesn’t count.)