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By Beth Renaud
Marketing Manager/Lane Press

You’ve heard a lot about content marketing—the practice of producing helpful rather than promotional content for your target audience. But, have you ever considered applying this approach to your advertising sales efforts?

As told to a rapt audience at the recent Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, the folks at the American Chemical Society (ACS) did. According to Stephanie Holland, manager of advertising sales and marketing at ACS, they started with a simple, What if?: “What if we used content marketing with our advertisers?…”

The problems Stephanie and her team were trying to address and solve were, I dare say, typical. Their sales and marketing teams were operating in distinct silos and without the benefit and guidance of data. On the sales side, the in-house team sold primarily through relationships and networking. Combine that with an antiquated contact management system, and it was hard for anyone to know what was actually happening in the sales pipeline (nevermind with contacts that weren’t in the pipeline).

SprayAndPrayOver in the marketing silo, the rule of the day was “spray and pray.” Marketing would send all promotions to their entire list and hope something would hit the right person at the right time. What really happened is that ACS was bombarding their prospect list with content of limited value. Their prospects weren’t biting, and sales results reflected this.

Again … what if ACS applied content marketing to their ad sales efforts? Instead of sending promotional material to all their prospects all the time, what about sending helpful information to the right prospects at the right time? Here’s the answer: Running a content marketing program, complemented with marketing automation and better contact management, has increased ACS’s sales leads by 338% year-over-year, substantially shortened their sales cycles, and increased their close rate by 25%.

While ACS is a large association with many projects both in print (including weekly Chemical & Engineering News, aka C&EN) and online, the path they took to modernizing their advertising sales program has valuable takeaways for publishers of any size. Here are the steps they followed:

Step 1: Identify personas

The first rule in effective marketing is to know your audience. ACS looked at their pool of current and potential advertisers and divided them into buyer personas. Understanding the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of these groups helps ACS to decide what content to produce and how to tailor the messaging effectively to each group. For a start, see “How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business.”

Step 2: Develop a modern media kit

As part of modernizing their ad sales program, ACS wanted more than just an online PDF of their media kit. They wanted a dynamic resource that advertisers could turn to for the latest ACS-related information—and for new ideas. ACS wanted it to be bold, modern, interactive, and always-updateable, so they created a micro-website. In addition to attractive video, photography and graphics, the site provides ample opportunity for engagement (submit, request, contact, download, subscribe) and acts as a platform for their content marketing program.

Since the content gives prospective advertisers reason to come back, the microsite is holding steady with a 70%+ increase in traffic year-over-year and is responsible for 36% of leads generated so far in 2015.

Step 3: Create a content marketing program

NewSalesModel_ACSACS decided that instead of “spray & pray,” it made more sense to “educate & engage” their advertising prospects—that by providing marketing insights and resources for their advertising customers in the scientific community, ACS might provide value, stand out from their competitors, and most importantly, generate sales leads. ACS created a blog platform, C&EN Marketing Elements: Marketing Insights for the Scientific Community, to which they publish content at least once per week.

The focus of the content is helping advertisers to effectively engage with the ACS/C&EN audience of scientists, engineers, and R&D professionals. This means educating their advertisers on best practices—sometimes generic (“Staying Power: Trade Show Collateral That Sticks”) and sometimes specific to ACS/CE&N (“Smart Networking Tips for Your First [C&EN] Virtual Symposium”). And, it means helping their advertisers to understand what works when marketing to this particular audience segment (“Grabbing Scientists’ Attention—and Purchasing Power—With eNewsletter Ads” and “Rethinking Social Media for Scientists”).

ACS circulates their content in a monthly eNewsletter and promotes it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+). According to year-to-date data, 37% of ACS leads are attributed to their content marketing efforts.

While this publishing schedule may be aggressive for small publishers, here’s the bottom line: What do you know about your audience that, if shared with your advertisers, would help your advertisers be more successful? And, how can you share this information?

Step 4: Improve contact management

ACS had contact data for its prospective advertisers, but the lists were stale and not segmented to enable targeted communication. In the modernization of their sales strategy, ACS implemented Salesforce, a robust “customer relationship management” (CRM) tool. One benefit of a web-based tool like this is better visibility across the organization. At ACS, people from the previously silo’d departments can now access all contacts, reference their purchase history, and see where they stand in the sales pipeline. This is particularly transformative for the marketing folks, who can now see where contacts are in the sales process and target communications accordingly.

Data is a cohesive force for teams or individuals who have been working in silos. If your contact data is housed in a system that enables access to limited individuals or doesn’t offer segmenting functionality, it may be time to consider upgrading to a modern CRM tool.

Step 5: Implement marketing automation

The ideal execution of a content marketing strategy is, effectively, interactive. You identify a prospect and send him (or her) a piece of content that is appropriate for where he is in your buying cycle (i.e.: new prospect > send welcome email). The prospect opens that email, so you send another that includes content. This time, he clicks on two pieces of content. You can see what he read (maybe even how much of it he read), so then you send a pertinent, related piece. And, so on.

This is the essence of marketing automation. Sophisticated tools (ACS uses Eloqua) enable you to identify where a prospect is in the buying cycle and then serve that person a series of content items on an if/then-style schedule.

ACS has implemented marketing automation as an integral part of their ad sales strategy and believes it’s contributing to their faster close rate. According to Stephanie, prospects who have received content over time are more educated about ACS and their multiple offerings. As such, Stephanie notes, “These leads are much more qualified than they’ve been in the past, and we’re able to close deals much faster.”

In your advertising sales program, is there a place for content marketing? Would it help your process and rate of success if you engaged and educated your advertising prospects to help them become more knowledgeable about your organization, your audience, and even, modern marketing tactics?

What if?…


Related content:
Is Marketing the New Sales? And What About PR & Customer Service?

The Art of Automation: 5 Tips to Get You Started

Survey Says Improved B2B Sales/Marketing Alignment Will Boost Bottom Line

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