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Social Proof and Infrastructure Marketing

To quote Wikipedia, “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation… Social proof is a type of conformity. When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior.” (emphasis mine)

In one sense virtually all marketing, in any sector, is an attempt to leverage social proof—that is, most advertising makes some attempt to convince prospects that other people are doing it, so you should do it too. It’s why so many advertisers are quick to hand out ball caps, pens, and other gewgaws, and it’s why large companies will pay millions of dollars for stadium naming rights—the simple act of associating a brand with lots of people tends to make that brand desirable.

But in my view, firms selling infrastructure solutions should not use social proof techniques as a primary marketing strategy—I explain my reasons for this in my 2011 blog post, B2E Marketing – What Infrastructure Firms Should Be Doing  and in my white paper, Long Sales Cycles and Skeptical Customers are Good Things: Information Marketing in Infrastructure (free download) . But let’s recap three of those reasons here:

• Your prospects tend to have ‘engineering mindsets’. More than most buyers, those in the market for infrastructure solutions value educational and factual content, and tend to discount simple ‘exposure’ marketing, such as seeing a brand name on a baseball hat.

• Your prospects tend to make buying decisions in isolation—it’s a little unusual for, say, DPWs and paving contractors to be in large groups of peers, except for the one or two times a year they’re at a convention or trade show. This means that, even if they were moved by simple social proof marketing, there are relatively fewer opportunities to appeal to them this way.

• Once installed, infrastructure solutions tend to be invisible, compared to consumer products. For example, consider a novel trenchless repair technique—once it’s installed no one is likely to see it again, even though it’s working perfectly (or because it’s working perfectly). Companies that sell consumer solutions don’t have this problem; if someone is using their dish soap successfully, or drinking their cola product with pleasure, others are likely to notice it. So, infrastructure firms derive relatively little ‘social proof mojo’ when their solutions are used, even if that use is entirely successful.

How Do I Use Social Proof?

Even facing these challenges, infrastructure marketers can’t afford to ignore social proof—after all, the complex of forces we call social proof, or social influence, are probably the most powerful persuasion techniques available. So, how can you use social proof to sell infrastructure solutions?

The easiest, simplest answer is: case studies. Consider case studies in light of the three social proof challenges listed above:

• Case studies are factual, educational content—they teach your prospects about the advantages of your solution. But, they are also definite proof that other people are using your solution. And that’s the essence of social proof.

• When published—in trade journals, on your website, or in your own newsletter or email campaign—case studies bring the social proof to your prospects. Isolation is not a factor. Including additional testimonials with the case study is an important ‘force multiplier’ when publishing case studies, because it amplifies the social proof factor.

• Case studies make the invisible, visible. You can use photos of the installation process, charts and graphs, and other images to visually present your solutions working perfectly. And visual evidence is a key factor when using social proof as a persuasion technique.

Well obviously, I’m being a bit self-serving here; I’ve been producing effective, high-quality case studies, and other marketing content like white papers, since 2002. Want some social proof? Here are some clients and testimonials, and also, why not just google me? You’ll see that I’ve worked for dozens of infrastructure firms like yours, and published over a thousand case studies in journals like Public Works, Trenchless Technology, Cadalyst, Line//Shape//Space, CE News, The American Surveyor, Wastewater Digest, Oil & Gas, Concrete Construction and, well, lots more.

Please email or call today!

cheers,
Angus

Lululemon and Infrastructure Marketing

You wouldn’t think this New Yorker article about a maker of fancy women’s yoga clothing would have much to say to infrastructure marketers… but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I read it. The article tells the story of Lululemon which was once one of the hottest clothing brands in the world.

But Lululemon fell on hard times, and for a reason that really should be of interest to my clients—firms that sell manhole risers, trenchless sewer repair solutions, and high tech sewer nozzles… not to mention the world’s biggest maker of land surveying equipment.

Lululemon ran into trouble over a very basic issue—quality control. Some of their yoga pants were made in a way that left them totally transparent when stretched over the bums of women doing, well, yoga poses. But the real problem, and the point of the New Yorker story, is how quickly the quality control issues became extremely well known. Lululemon sales dropped like a bowling ball rolling off a table, and the company is still struggling a year later.

The message of the article, and my message for you, is that brands are dead. Pervasive advertising, sponsored webcasts, mass mailing… none of it matters; if things go badly, no amount of “brand building” will be able to outrun bad press. Google is just too good at returning relevant results, social media is just too effective at spreading bad news.

So what’s an infrastructure marketer to do? Forget brands… do content marketing instead. Assemble a good-sized collection of customer success stories, case studies, reports, white papers, and other educational content. Then, get that content online, in magazines and on your own website. And also, distribute it directly to your prospects, via email campaigns, newsletters, and mass mailings—infrastructure firms really need to be their own publishers now. (For more on this, see my free white paper)

By focusing on educational, informative content that prospective buyers will actually read and share, infrastructure firms can build, brick by brick, a dominant internet presence that attracts and convinces prospects, and expands market share. While doing so, they’re also building a defensive ‘wall’ that insulates against bad publicity—sure, a project or two might go south, but anyone who comes across difficult reports will at the same time learn about your company’s successes.

There’s a big upside, and no real downside, to expanding your suite of educational content. White papers and case studies are relatively cheap to prepare, and have long useful lives in your marketing campaigns. Long after quarter-page ads or banner ads are forgotten, your marketing content will turn up in Google searches and generate leads.

But there is a catch; it’s hard to assemble good content quickly. Which means you should start now, and keep at it steadily, so it starts working for you, and is in place in case of emergencies.

I consult for free on content marketing for infrastructure firms; I’ve been doing this since 2002, and have written for about 50 infrastructure firms of all sizes. Want some free advice? Just call or email.

And if anything here piques your interest, you’ll probably benefit from a read of my free white paper, Long Sales Cycles and Skeptical Customers are Good Things: Information Marketing in Infrastructure.

What Does Forbes Say About Video for Infrastructure Marketing?

Basically, Forbes and just about everyone else is saying now’s the time. If you haven’t produced video content for your B2B marketing, or have only produced one or two videos, you need to get in a higher gear; more high-level executives (read: purchasers) are viewing and sharing business videos than ever before, and they’re very likely to take action based on videos

From Video in the C-Suite: Executives Embrace the Non-Text Web, a report by Forbes Insights:

“Forbes Insights, in association with Google, surveyed more than 300 C-level and senior executives at large U.S. companies (more than $500 million in annual revenues) to learn more about how they are approaching Web video as a source of business-related information. The video portion of the survey follows up and expands on findings from 2009’s The Rise of the Digital C-Suite… In the nearly 18 months between the two surveys, video appears to have evolved from a novelty into a mainstream method for executives to receive business information.

 

Here are some key thoughts from the report (emphasis added):

• Video is now a critical information source for senior executives. More than 80% said they are watching more online video today than they were a year ago.

• 54% of executives said they share work-related videos with colleagues every week. And 59% said that if both video and text are available on a page, they prefer to watch the video.

• Work-related video can drive senior executives to take action. Overall, 65% have visited a vendor’s website after watching a video.

 

On content marketing in general—“content marketing” meaning marketing based on case studies, videos, white papers and other educational marketing content—a new report from Content Marketing Institute called,  B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America has uncovered some startling trends related to video in B2B marketing. It’s worth reading the whole thing yourself, but here are some highlights:

• In 2012, video use increased to 70% of companies doing B2B marketing, up from just 52% in 2011, the highest increase of any content category. For comparison, white papers were 2nd at 44%.

• The use of case studies appearing in print is by no means disappearing, but it is plateauing; there was no expansion in 2012 according to the report.

• In terms of B2B marketer’s confidence in particular marketing techniques, videos were judged “effective” by 58% of B2B marketers, a relatively high number. For comparison, in-person events (sales calls and live seminars) were rated effective by 67%, and social media was way down at 49%. My favorite content, case studies, rank well at 64%, and white papers are at 57%.

54% of responders said they’d be increasing their spending on content marketing. Sounds good to me! And also, the companies most likely to rate their marketing as “effective” were also the companies that spent the most, in terms of budget percentage, on content marketing.

• Content marketing in general is way up. “On average, B2B marketers are spending 33% of their marketing budgets on content marketing, which is up from 26% last year. 54% plan on increasing content marketing spending next year.”

• Interestingly, the biggest percentages of overall marketing budget devoted to content marketing are in micro (1-10 employees) and small (10-100) businesses, at 42% and 31%. Both figures are increases from 2011.

 

For more about how all this applies specifically to infrastructure firms, see my free white paper, Long Sales Cycles and Skeptical Customers are Good Things: Content Marketing in Infrastructure.

 

Some Conclusions

If you haven’t produced videos in connection with your infrastructure solutions, or have only made a half-hearted commitment to their use, now is the time to get serious. Videos are easy to distribute, are very effective for lead generation and, along with case studies and white papers, are also effective for nurturing prospects. And remember, many of your prospects, e.g. Directors of Public Works, have to convince committees before they make a purchase—videos are fantastic for that.

But only the right kind of videos. To be effective, videos must be short—the Forbes study shows that a majority of executives prefer three to five minute videos, while only nine percent prefer longer than five minutes, and 36% prefer videos that are one to three minutes in length—and they have to be educational, so they work as content, not fluff.

So, you need to produce short “video case studies” and “video white papers” that educate your prospects about your solution. Yes, they’re are a bit more expensive than conventional written materials, but videos are fast becoming the default marketing content for busy prospects. And, if they’re made well (see below), they have very long lifespans.

If you need help scripting or producing infrastructure videos, give me a call. I’ve been writing scripts for years, and I have recently partnered with Reelthing, an award-winning maker of feature length documentaries, to produce effective, high quality videos that sell your infrastructure solution. This partnership combines intimate infrastructure industry knowledge with superb filmmaking expertise—we’ll be making the best infrastructure videos available, and I’d like to make one for you! We can handle every aspect of production, from script to uploading, and provide a firm lump sum before shooting starts. Please call!

Ten Ways To Market With Case Studies

Case studies are a credible, versatile way to get your sales message across. Potential customers appreciate them as part of any marketing effort. Once created, you can use them for years, and they’re cost-effective compared to more ephemeral marketing efforts because they are so easy to leverage. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your case studies.

1) Use them as press releases. Case studies can quickly be adapted into press releases. Be sure to note in the release that a more detailed, expanded case study version is available. Editors might pick it up as a story.

2) Mail or email them to prospects and customers. This is a terrific way to keep in touch, raise awareness about a new product or service, and convert prospects into customers.

3) Give them to sales. Salespeople and business development reps love case studies. They use them in presentations, to illustrate key points and as ‘leave behinds’. Because they are real-life examples of your product in action, they’re often more convincing than sales brochures, and they’re better for closing.

4) Post them on your web site. Want to improve traffic to your site? Adding new, valuable content is a proven strategy. A case study certainly qualifies, and they can be SEO optimized very easily.

5) Use them as stories in your newsletter or ezine. Success stories based on real-world applications get the highest readership in company newsletters and ezines.

6) As a speaking topic. When an executive needs to give a talk at a meeting or conference, case studies make excellent presentations. The content can easily be converted into PowerPoint slides. The printed case study itself can be used as a handout.

7) In lead-generation programs. Case studies make terrific “free giveaways” in an ad, email, direct mailer and on a website. In direct marketing terms, case studies are ‘Information Premiums.’ They work!

8) As testimonials. Testimonials help make benefits believable. The quotes gleaned from happy customers for the case study can also be used—with permission, of course—in ads, brochures, websites and more.

9) As a trade show handout. Case studies are a great way to break through the clutter of flyers and brochures that permeate trade shows. Some clients even have case studies enlarged and printed for trade show posters!

10) As trade journal articles. The publications you advertise in are often open to editorial supplied by you, and case studies are the basis of great articles. Ask your ad reps about the editorial calendar, and if upcoming issues would work for an article about your product.

 

Need some help turning your great projects into great case studies? Give me a call—I’ve written hundreds of case studies for clients like Autodesk, Trimble Navigation, Leica Geosystems, AP/M Permaform, Berntsen International, and American Highway Products.

 

 

Using White Papers to Put Out Fires

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, published in 1989, made a big difference in my life. And of course I’m not the only one—15 million copies have been sold. For comparison, David Allen’s Getting Things Done (another classic) is still well under two million.

The habit that I have the hardest time applying is, in some ways, the simplest—put first things first. And I must not be the only one; of all the seven habits, this is the only one that got its own follow up book (First Things First was published in 1994). To make his point about priorities, Covey divided work (and life) tasks into four quadrants; here’s a version of the chart created by Sid Savara:

 

The idea is that it’s far too easy to focus on Quadrant 1 and 4 tasks that are urgent, important or not, and let tasks that are important but not urgent (Quadrant 2) slide. And that’s ironic, and a little tragic; if you’re always putting out fires, you’re more or less guaranteeing a continual supply of fires. Put another way, the best way to reduce the number of ‘emergencies’ in your work life is to systematically put systems in place that prevent problems from arising or solve them automatically. If you never put the systems in place, you’ll continue to have the emergencies.

For infrastructure executives who want to publicize and sell their solutions more effectively, it’s easy to identify urgent and important (Quadrant 1) tasks, such as countering bad publicity, solving the problems of major clients, getting ready for the next trade show, putting together PowerPoints for a big sales call, etc. etc. etc. And of course you have to stay on top of those.

But what are Quadrant 2 tasks? Now, full-disclosure-I’m-a-marketing-content-provider, but I think one important Quadrant 2 task for infrastructure executives is the creation and distribution of a full suite of educational marketing content like case studies and white papers. It may not be exciting to commission a white paper, and you certainly don’t need to do it today, but consider the good results that follow when you do get it done:

  • By publishing your content online—on your site and on blogs and online magazines—you begin to get better Google results, which lead to a stream of qualified, automatically generated leads.
  • By assembling educational content, you have material for free editorial content in the trade journals you use for advertising. This is a ‘force multiplier’ for your advertising dollar.
  • Case studies and white papers can be repurposed as handouts for tradeshows and panels, eBooks for online distribution, newsletters aimed at prospects, and free reports to be used as lead-generating ‘bait.’
  • You begin to position yourself as a ‘niche publisher’ precisely focused on the demographic interested in your solutions.
  • Your sales force will have a good supply of ‘leave behinds’ that are likely to be read and passed on—unlike many sales-oriented brochures, no matter how slick.
  • You have multiple ways to expand your prospect list for email and paper newsletters.

And I could go on; seriously, I can go on—call me sometime. The point is, soon after you get around to assembling your content marketing pieces, you’ll begin to feel less urgency around your marketing. You’ll use the content to create systems that do a lot of work for you.

The nice thing is, it’s a lot easier than you’re probably thinking. If you’re working with an experienced writer who knows infrastructure—like me!—a case study (for example) will be as easy as providing a good client’s contact information. In a week or so, you’ll have a case that’s ready to deploy. White papers require a bit more effort, and cost more, too, but they pay off in longevity—a good white paper will generate leads for years.

This is the time of the year when many of us are thinking about Quadrant 2 goals, often involving exercise, diet, or time with the family. At work, scheduling fifteen minutes for a phone call with me or another qualified infrastructure writer is a great way to do something important that makes your life easier.

Big Firm? You Need White Papers. Small Firm? YOU Need White Papers!

In the past few months, I’ve produced white papers for:

• A global technology consortium establishing thought leadership in an emerging area of precision measurement.

• A mid-sized U.S. firm introducing a new marking technology to the utility industry.

• A small sewer equipment firm differentiating their manhole riser from competing products.

• A trade association that needed to educate municipal sewer departments about the role of their trenchless solution in sewer maintenance programs.

And these are just a few of the widely differing clients that contact me. Different firms, different goals, and different white papers of course… but there is something they all have in common; they all have technical solutions they want to sell to technical people.

A company’s need for white papers isn’t determined by how big or small they are, or even by the kinds of solutions they sell. Rather, a company’s need for white papers is determined by its customers! If your firm is selling technology to the kinds of people that know technology, then you need more than brochures. You need case studies, user stories, graphs, charts, videos, and other educational content that makes your case with logic and facts, not sweet words.

Most of all, you need white papers.

As explained in my own white paper, Information Marketing in Infrastructure, technology buyers value white papers more than any other marketing content. Studies show that 71-percent of technology buyers read white papers “frequently.” 80-percent will register for a white paper (compared to just 38-percent who will register for a demo) and 57-percent will even pass the white paper on to other people in their companies!

How often do you think your brochures get passed on? How often do you think they end up in the round file?

The best way to sell technology solutions is to educate your customers. When your firm becomes a trusted source of useful information, buyers will naturally turn to you when they have problems. And white papers are the best available educational marketing content. They’re like mini-textbooks—textbooks that teach customers that they need your solution. By producing and distributing white papers a firm positions itself as expert, generates qualified leads, prevails in long sales cycles, expands into new markets, increases referrals… and the list goes on. All of these good results can be had at relatively low cost. In fact, given their usefulness and longevity, and the way they can be repackaged as needed, white papers are easily the most cost-effective form of marketing content.

When I work with a firm to produce relevant white papers, I always begin by learning about the firm’s customers—what are their needs and fears, what do they need to know before they buy. Then I learn everything I can about the subject of the white paper and the challenges it faces. By keeping the focus on the buyers, I can write truly useful white papers that will be cornerstone content for your marketing program; after all, truly useful content will be kept for reference and make sales for years, even if a sales rep never calls.

If you’re an infrastructure firm selling technical solutions to knowledgeable buyers, I’d like to write white papers and other content for you. I call it B2E, Business-to-Engineer Marketing, and I’m good at it. Let’s work together to educate your customers and make more sales!

B2E Marketing – What Infrastructure Firms Should Be Doing

Lots of people, whether they work in marketing or not, can tell you what the acronyms B2C and B2B mean, and a surprising number can also correctly identify B2G. Modern humans are a marketing savvy species, and are familiar with the terms and techniques used to persuade and coerce. I believe that those selling infrastructure solutions—especially solutions that are new or innovative—should think in terms of a new acronym; B2E, for Business-2-Engineer marketing. Here’s why:

Business-2-Consumer Marketing has little relevance for infrastructure marketers, because they’re rarely selling, say, laser scanning solutions to housewives. But ironically, the coercive, interruptive techniques of B2C marketing are so pervasive that marketing and communications executives in infrastructure firms may find themselves using B2C techniques unconsciously and automatically. They may, for example, rely too much on trade journal ads or on mass mailings with persuasive copy, but little factual content. For reasons discussed below, content-free ‘B2C-style’ advertising can not only be unproductive, it might actively help your competition.

Business-2-Business Marketing techniques are a better fit for infrastructure firms, but are still far from perfect. B2B marketers are often seeking extremely high volume, low margin sales and tend to emphasize cost and quality. This can obviously work well for some infrastructure products, but it doesn’t really apply to firms that are selling highly technical solutions, especially solutions that are relatively new. In these cases, infrastructure purchasers need to be convinced to try something new, and cost isn’t the first consideration; rather, they need to be convinced that the new solution is worth the risk (see my article, What Are Your Customers Afraid Of?).

Business-2-Government Marketing seems like it would be the best fit of all, since infrastructure firms are often selling to municipalities and government agencies. But much B2G expertise is based on negotiating lengthy government procurement procedures, where pre-qualified products are competing based mainly on price or on adherence to published specifications. Purchasers rarely have personal worries about the consequences of making a bad decision. And again, for those selling new solutions, these techniques are rarely relevant. Rather, you need to convince individuals within municipalities and big firms that your solution will save and/or make money if adopted; they need to feel—that is, worry—that the risks of not trying your new idea are greater than the risks of trying it out.

So, what kind of marketing does work?
Think about the people who actually give the go ahead on the purchase of new infrastructure solutions. They are often directors of public works at municipalities, supervisors at utility agencies, managers at large agencies, etc. Almost always, they are either actual engineers, work with engineers, or have an ‘engineer’s mindset’. Here are some things that characterize this kind of buyer:

They value factual, educational marketing material like white papers, case studies, charts, etc. In fact, studies of technology buyers show that they need to see a minimum of three to five pieces of factual content before authorizing purchases. And more is better; they will routinely read seven or more pieces of content, and they like the feeling of being well informed.

They will turn to Google for more information: a study of 3,000 technology buyers showed that nearly all buyers do online research when investigating a product, and more than half are sophisticated enough to use multi-word search phrases and operators. This is why low-content advertising techniques like magazine ads or brochure mailing can be counterproductive: if you pique a buyer’s interest in a solution they will turn to Google, and if your competitors have more relevant online content than you, they will get the sale. For this reason, infrastructure marketers need to get content online, and content should be effectively optimized for the search phrases your prospects are likely to use.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are not important to these buyers, at least not yet. This is based on my seven years experience working with and interviewing key figures in the infrastructure industry. And yes, this is a generalization with some important exceptions. But by and large, I see no indication that infrastructure firms should be making big investments in social media; engineers are not yet strongly interested. This is different from the bulk of B2B and B2C marketing, where such investments are justified. On the other hand, focused blogs can be very effective; see below.

As you can see, these prospects have enough unique characteristics to justify a unique, B2E, marketing approach. Those who think in terms of this audience’s unique characteristics are likely to do better in the infrastructure marketplace.

Getting Started
Here are two basic ideas to consider when crafting a B2E marketing plan:

Develop a lot of content and get it online. It really can be that simple. If your competitors aren’t actively competing for Google results, you may have the opportunity to get in first and ‘own’ important keywords and search phrases. If there is active competition, you’ll need to do more. You’ll need a lot of relevant content, you’ll have to pay attention to SEO, you may need to think about blogging or publishing online, and you might want to consider online ad campaigns. But the essence of what you’re trying to do is simple: develop a suite of useful relevant content and make sure it’s visible to search engines.

Think like a publisher. Typically, advertisers tend to think of themselves as making use of magazines, websites, newsletters and other publications in order to spread the word about their solutions and products. But in today’s media environment what, really, is the difference between advertisers and publishers? Consider what content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi has to say:

“The only difference is that a media company leverages content in order to sell paid content and sponsorships… and a non-media company does the same thing but not to get paid content or sponsorships—they do it to sell products and services.”

In other words, it’s possible to cut out the middle man and publish directly to your prospects. You can do this online of course, with blogs and e-newsletters. But paper is surprisingly effective, and your ‘publication’ can be as simple as a one-page newsletter or as elaborate as a self-published book. There are two keys to doing this right:

1) develop a specialized list of your ideal prospects
2) approach this list of prospects consistently with relevant content

If you do these two things, you will eventually develop a sales machine with a life of its own. Prospects will pass it to other ideal customers, and they’ll keep back issues around for reference. It can be tough sledding at first, but developing a targeted, in-house publication is one of the most secure investments you’ll ever make in marketing.

There’s more you can do of course, and I’d love to help you do it. Give me a call! I can take a look at your current situation, make content and strategy suggestions, and make your B2E marketing campaign profitable!

BE Inspired 2010

Well, maybe it’s Amsterdam (this year’s event location) but I am extremely high on the future of infrastructure after hearing some of the project presentations on the event’s first day. Brilliant people doing great things, treating the economy as just another constraint. Generative design, better bridges built with less mass, and now I’m listening to the man in charge of supplying Phoenix, AZ, with water, and using an automated network to do it efficiently.

Whenever I listen to infrastructure geeks who are really passionate about something, I end up feeling more optimistic re: the future of our species.

Seven Ways Newsletters Make Infrastructure Firms Money

Newsletters have been around for a while, they’re effective, and they’re easy to produce—see below. But many firms, even fairly big businesses with good customer lists, don’t publish newsletters and I’ve often wondered… why? Why not use a simple, inexpensive, low-pressure marketing technique that is nearly guaranteed to bring in new business, not to mention keeping existing customers loyal?

I finally realized that many businesses think of newsletters as a ‘nice extra’, a way to keep in touch with clients but not necessarily a way to bring in sales and/or new projects. But newsletters are definitely more than a nice way to keep in touch. In fact, they can easily turn out to be your most effective sales tool. Here are seven ways newsletters can make you money.

1) Law of Reciprocity: The law of reciprocity is one of the most studied principles in social science, but it certainly isn’t hard to understand. Basically, the law of reciprocity states that humans tend to return favors. If you do something for someone, they will be motivated to do something for you. It’s the reason you get free calendars and other gifts in holiday season, it’s why you get free product samples in the mail, it’s why writers like me send out useful free articles like this one. Marketing ploys like these are common because they work; in fact, sociologists tell us that a gift or a favor creates a sense of obligation, conscious or unconscious, that a recipient is eager to act on.

Giving someone a free newsletter is a perfectly honorable way to make the law of reciprocity act in your favor, if it contains information that is genuinely useful to the recipient. More on that below. Bottom line? Help out the readers of your newsletter, and they’re far more likely to return the favor by turning to you for a solution to their problems.

2) Educate and Build Trust: Unlike donut shops, infrastructure firms rarely benefit from impulse purchases. In most cases, before a product is purchased or a consultant is hired, the purchaser has done due diligence. If you are viewed as a trusted provider, your firm is likely to benefit. And one of the best ways to build trust with a newsletter is to educate your readers. You can do this in many ways: for example, you can include case studies that demonstrate a novel use of your solution—if the reader is dealing with a similar challenge, this alone might be enough to get him or her to pick up the phone. You might also include charts or graphs that can be kept as references, articles that compare types of products or services, or short ‘white papers’ that discuss the pros and cons of a technology you offer. If you actually teach the reader something they need to know, they’ll view your firm as an expert to turn to when they need help.

3) Show Off All You Do: Clients tend to pigeonhole vendors. That is, if they use you for flood plain analysis they may not think of you when they need soil testing, or if they buy manhole risers from you they may not even know you also sell catch basin risers. Your newsletter is a good way to let existing clients know all you do… and that’s a good way to get new business. After all, your clients already trust you to do good work, so why wouldn’t they turn to you for help with other projects?

For example, a case study (a brief article that describes a successful project or sale) may make the reader realize that your firm is a good choice for a challenge they’re facing. And that might get them to pick up the phone.

4) Discovering a Need: It’s perfectly possible that your clients have a need for your technology and don’t even know it. For example, they may be dealing with microbiologically-induced corrosion (MIC) in their sanitary sewers, and just assume that it’s a problem without a solution. If your sewer rehabilitation contracting service has just started offering a way to repair MIC-damaged structures, and they learn about it from your newsletter, you might be asked to submit a bid the next day.

The world is changing fast these days, and even experts can’t keep up with all the advances in their field. If your firm is offering a new solution or a new product, a newsletter is an effective way to get the word out.

5) Your Name on File: If your newsletter is genuinely useful—if your readers feel they are likely to learn something from every issue—then it is likely to be kept around, even filed. They’ll also pass it around internally, to others in their organization who may have a need for your service. And that’s a very good thing, because when the need arises not only will they know who to call, they’ll know how to call—after all, your contact information will be in their files, or on their desk, or on the break room table.

Think about it: business cards get lost, brochures get thrown away, but something useful like a newsletter hangs around for a while. It’s not a huge advantage, but it is a meaningful advantage. And on the day they decide to call someone, it can mean the difference between a call to you or a call to your competitors.

6) Justifying a Purchase: Many infrastructure solution purchasers, probably most infrastructure purchasers, have to justify their decisions to some third party, whether it’s a board of commissioners, a department head, or some other supervisor. And sometimes, the decision of what to purchase comes down to how easy a purchase is to justify. That’s where your newsletter comes in: if a purchaser has a ready source of case studies, graphs, and other supporting information for a particular solution, information that he can copy and pass around to whoever needs to be convinced, then he has a strong incentive to choose that solution over something else. After all, it’s easier!

If this is the only thing that moves your hypothetical purchaser to choose your company, then there’s something wrong with your solution. But let’s face it: sometimes there isn’t a clear differentiation (at least in your client’s mind) between you and the next guy, and making it a little bit easier to choose you can be the difference between choosing you… or the next guy.

7) More Referrals: Your existing, loyal, clients should be your best source of new  clients, and newsletters help with that. For one thing, they’re an occasional, gentle reminder of your existence and by the same token, they’re a reminder that they have friends and business associates who could also make use of your services. Newsletters should also remind your readers that you may offer services or products that that they don’t need… but maybe they know someone who does. And who knows? If they really like an article they might even send a copy along to someone who needs the information, or suggest that they subscribe themselves.

But the best way to get referrals by newsletter… is to have a referral policy, and publish it in every issue of your newsletter. The details of your policy are up to you, but at minimum it should materially reward both the referred and the referrer—after all, how much is a new client worth? And if your readers are reminded, monthly or quarterly, that there’s something in it for them when they refer a client… don’t you think they’ll be more likely to refer clients?

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One mistake that many infrastructure firms make with newsletters is to write about internal matters, like promotions or new offices. But here’s a newsflash: your clients don’t care about you, they care about themselves. They’ll only read your newsletter—and you’ll only develop new business—if it contains information that they find useful and interesting.

The good news is that newsletters don’t need to be lengthy to be effective, and they don’t need to be printed in color on glossy paper to get attention. They should look good, but even simple tri-folds, printed and labeled in house can get the job done.

They do, however, need to be written well. It makes no sense to spend money and time getting a message into the hands of your clients and prospects if the message doesn’t get the job done. Your newsletter content needs to clear, informative, and interesting, and the newsletter layout should be pleasing and organized. To do the job right, it may be a good to hire a writer and editor… maybe someone who has experience in infrastructure… someone who writes well, and who’s produced hundreds of magazine and newsletter articles… someone who’s reasonably priced… someone like me!

If you’d like to know more about newsletters and how they fit into your marketing program, please call me today.

cheers,
Angus

What Are Your Customers Afraid Of? Five Steps to a Content Marketing Plan

1) Who’s the buyer?

Infrastructure firms are often really, really good at designing products for end users. And that’s great, of course—without a product that end users love, you have nothing worth selling. But too often, infrastructure firms craft marketing plans that are focused on these same end users… and that’s not so good. The problem is, end users and buyers—the ones who will actually authorize purchasesare often entirely different people, and job titles, with entirely different concerns.

For example, if you’re selling a pipe bursting system, the end users are the pipeline crews that will actually be making it work in the field. They’re interested in the weight and durability of the equipment, the ease of training and set up, pulling power, etc.

But buyers of pipe bursting rigs are likely to be owners or vice-presidents of pipeline contractors, or directors of public works (DPWs) of medium to large cities. They’re concerned about factors like ROI, warranties, and required training, and they have bigger picture issues as well, such as whether their firm, or city, should be investing in pipe bursting at all—maybe they’re better off leasing as needed, or using some other technology entirely.

So, when you’re thinking about your marketing plan, the first step is to distinguish end users from buyers, and focus on buyers.

2) What are they afraid of?

It’s a cliché that people are motivated by fear, but of course it’s true. Your buyers, in most cases, are afraid of making a wrong choice. If they’re employees, purchasing on behalf of a firm or an agency, they’re afraid that their decision won’t work out and they’ll have to answer for the results. Or, if they’re owners, they’re afraid that they’ll lose money.

To return to our example, a DPW could really be sold on pipe bursting as a solution, but have reasonable concerns about buying equipment; perhaps he’d be better off subcontracting as needed. In this case, the DPW will not be moved by a brochure that proves your rig is faster than the competition… what he really wants to see is proof that his investment will pay off compared to subcontracting.

So, once you’ve identified your buyers, put yourself in their position and spend some time thinking about their fears.

3) What will ease their fears?

In most cases, your buyers are looking for solid, factual material that directly addresses their concerns. They don’t want to be ‘sold’, they want to be reassured that they’re making a decision that will pay off for them.

Therefore, marketing directors should consider preparing white papers, reports, case studies, and other factual, referenced content that addresses topics of interest to your buyers. In a real sense, this content will be competing with similar content produced by your competitors so it should be well written and there should be a lot of it. Studies show that buyers, on average, want to see at least five sources of information about a solution before purchasing.

Consider again the DPW looking into a pipe bursting rig. In his particular example, a case study that discussed the success of a city, like his, that purchased a rig would be highly motivating—it could easily be the deciding factor in his decision. If such a case study is available online, he’s likely to find it… wouldn’t it be nice to be the company who’s products were being used?

Preparing content is not a difficult proposition. Identify successful uses of your products for case studies, select topics for white papers, and work with a writer to prepare a suite of effective content.

So, figure out what your buyers will be looking for when they do research, and make sure that you have such material available.

4) Be your own publisher.

Rather than considering your firm as a customer of publishing outlets, like trade journals or e-newsletters, think of your firm as publisher in its own right. Your firm has a highly specialized audience (your buyers) and your task is to reach them with content that answers their questions and positions your products favorably.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t use, for example, trade journals as an outlet. But it does change the way you view media outlets; they’re not using you as a source of content, rather, you’re using them to distribute your content. For example, case studies can often appear as magazine articles.

But this also means that you don’t necessarily need other media outlets. Since buyers will be doing research online, with complex keyword phrases, you can publish your content online and expect it to be found.

There are various factors to consider—like SEO, AdWord campaigns, dedicated sites versus additions to your existing site, etc.—but in essence it’s simple: get your content online.

You can also publish directly to your prospects by creating your own newsletters and e-newsletters, by publishing books or mini-magazines, by conducting seminars, or by a dozen other methods. The point is, tools exist that allow you to reach your ideal buyers directly.

So, think of your firm as a niche publisher for an audience (your buyers) interested in the infrastructure solutions that you provide, and produce content aimed at that audience.

5) Follow up.

Since you are producing factual, lightly branded content of value to your target audience, you should have no hesitation about using that content as bait. Your content is valuable and you should get something for it. Usually, what you are after is leads. Several studies show that interested buyers are willing to register for relevant content. In other words, they will give you their names and emails.

The result is an extremely well qualified lead list; your registrants will have found you by doing research, and they have enough interest in your technology to register for, download, and read lengthy, referenced material. They will be good candidates for autoresponder email campaigns, phone calls, visits, and direct mail.

So, don’t waste your effort. Get leads in exchange for your content, and have a plan for follow up.

A bonus step: refocus and repeat. View the above five steps as a cycle. As you work these steps, you’ll learn more about your buyers, what content they’re looking for, what publishing methods work best, and how to follow up more effectively. Take what you learn, and work the five steps again… and you’ll keep getting better results and more sales.

My white paper, Long Sales Cycles and Skeptical Customers are Good Things, Information Marketing in Infrastructure, goes into more detail about content and publishing, and you can download it for free.

Bio

Angus W. Stocking

Angus W. Stocking, L.S., is a licensed land surveyor who now prepares information marketing content for the infrastructure industry.

Contact

Angus W. Stocking, L.S.
P.O. Box 872
Paonia CO 81428
270.363.0033 office
angusstocking@gmail.com

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