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Inside An Explosive Content Marketing White Paper Strategy

Explosive content marketing strategy - Curt Porritt
Curt Porritt

As Senior Vice President of Marketing for MasterControl, Curt Porritt leads the content marketing charge at his company. White papers have taken center stage at MasterControl, a B2B company that works with pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and related organizations on compliance issues.

It took some time, but Curt and his team of writers have put together a massive library of content that positions MasterControl as a standout in its industry. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, either — but it’s often a long road to success.

Curt sat down with the Content Marketing Institute to discuss his organization’s white-paper success and share how testing has helped drive content choices.

CMI: What’s the biggest problem that your content tries to solve?

Curt: In our industry, all of our target customers are highly regulated companies. They need to comply with nitpicky, detail-oriented FDA regulations and ISO regulations that are changing all the time. Most of our content focuses on helping them get more information about how to comply with those regulations more easily and in less time. They’re all quality managers trying to get their product through the minefield of FDA regulations, if you will.

How did you get buy-in internally to use content marketing? Did you have to justify yourself?

It hasn’t been easy, and yes, we did have to justify ourselves quite a bit. I had the unfortunate task of building a content marketing program in the midst of the down economy during 2008. Trying to convince leadership that it is going to work when nothing is working at the time was the challenge. They stuck with it, and eventually the numbers came. I can’t emphasize how important it is to track and measure and report on success. Everybody has their opinions on what should work, but what actually does work speaks volumes.

How do you guys measure your content’s impact?

We track and measure a lot of different things. Most of our data goes into our Salesforce database. We also use email, marketing automation, and web analytics tools. Then, we have some internal things that we built ourselves. All of that right now currently goes into a large spreadsheet, which is not ideal in my mind. We’re in the process of converting it into a dashboard-oriented system.

We track the different kinds of leads from where they come from, what types of people are coming into our system, how they found us, and the conversion rates of each one. Eventually, all this boils up and you can look at it and say, “Well, we’re growing every single year at a constant rate.” In our case, about 90 percent of our sales pipeline comes from our marketing efforts.

What content marketing tactics and strategies are you using?

The workhorse of our content marketing engine is the white paper. We do a lot of white papers and they’re very popular in our industry. Most of them are on topics that you and I would think are very boring, but to our target market they’re like catnip. They love hearing about regulations and how to do this or that better.

The most effective thing that we do in terms of lead quantity is the white paper. For lead quality, we developed a series of multimedia content, both in the form of customer videos as well as flash tours.

content marketing strategy - white papers

content marketing strategy, videos

We had to build our own viewer because most of the video tools out there don’t do what I think they should do. Our viewer allows people to see the video or multimedia flash tour right away without filling out any forms. Then, it offers them additional content in the form of white paper, data sheets, and so forth. They do have to fill out a form in order to view those.

It works extremely well. Somebody who finds us through a generic, industry-specific white paper will convert at about 2 percent into our sales pipeline. Somebody who watches one of our videos and downloads that same white paper will convert at about 10 percent. It’s a very significant difference.

Why do you think that is? What’s the difference between the customer who’s coming in one way vs. the other?

There are two types of prospects out there. One type knows what they want. They are actively searching for something. Those are pretty easy to move forward in the pipeline. Then, there are those that don’t know that they need something and are looking for general industry information.

For those who aren’t searching for something, rather than just reading a white paper on the top five ways to solve some quality problem, they actually view a video and hear people say, “MasterControl solved our problem here. You really ought to look at these guys.” I think it just encourages them to take that next step forward and fill out a form to learn more about us. Often we hear something like, “I’m not in the market right now, but it sounds interesting.” The bottom line is that I think most people today would rather watch something than read something.

We make sure that most of our videos are about three minutes long; that seems to be the threshold for people’s attention. If you go far beyond three minutes, we find it’s tougher for them to stay focused and listen to it, even if they’re interested. Anybody will watch a three-minute video.

What kind of infrastructure did you put in place to get started with your content marketing?

The biggest thing right off the bat was writers. I had to have people who would write and produce content. When I was first hired six years ago, I told my boss that I could use as many writers as he was willing to let me have. It’s taken a while to build up the repertoire of content that we’ve got. In addition to the internal writers, of which I have four or five right now, we’ve developed a newsletter internally that has gained a reputation in the industry over the years.

We actually have industry experts providing content for us now on a fairly regular basis — for articles, our newsletter, and white papers. We’re even starting to make videos now of industry experts. Once you get a reputation, the biggest problem with content marketing is it just takes a while to build a positive reputation over time. It’s a slow evolution, and sometimes your executives get a little impatient with that.

How do you distribute and promote your content?

Our biggest activity for promoting and distributing our content is search engines. About half of all of our leads come from either SEO efforts or pay-per-click. We originally started with pay-per-click because it’s easy and quick. We spent more money on it originally but over the years, by building up our SEO content, we eventually achieved more natural rankings than all of our top competitors combined. That’s a big one for us. It connects us to all those people who are searching for the things you want them to search for.

We also do a lot of email marketing — both newsletters and white papers over email. We have a rather large internal database. At one point, we rented emails to help build up or database. We don’t rent as many anymore because our database is pretty big now. We also do trade shows and disseminate things that way. We do speaking engagements, but most of it is electronic.

How do you zero in on what issues and what headlines are going to work for white papers?

A couple of ways. For one, we watch and see what works and what doesn’t work. We try different things, do testing and monitor that. Again, going back to the importance of measuring and reporting, we developed a series of topics that we know will work pretty much every time. Then you experiment with new ones, keep the ones that work and build on them. We do away with those that don’t work as well. We can tell with the tools how many people open, how many people click on things, how many people come through and become a lead.

We also have a customer advisory board made up of about a dozen of our key customers and we ask them, “What interests you? What do you like to hear? What do you like to see? What things are we doing that you think we ought to do more of? What things do you think we shouldn’t do more of?

But mostly it’s just going to be the metrics — what works and what doesn’t. You have to try things. You’ve got to go and be bold and try something new and see if it works. I always tell my employees and executives that their opinion doesn’t really matter and neither does mine. What really matters is to try something and see how it actually does. If it does well, it works. If it doesn’t do well, it didn’t work. Try something else. It’s pretty straightforward when you think about it.

What’s the next strategic move or big challenge that you’d like to overcome?

For us, it’s improving our conversion processes. I break marketing down into two major camps. You’ve got message creation. Then, you have what I call “access to customers,” or the way that we deliver the message to customers. We have plenty of message creation going on. What I would like to see us focus on more moving forward is implementing the dashboard system that I’ve talked about. That way, we can easily see what’s working and what’s not working at a moment’s notice and do more A/B testing to make sure we’re doing what we need to be doing.

I think it’s very easy for most companies (including us) to get so involved with creating the perfect message that sometimes you don’t look at how well that message is working or whether it’s doing for you what you want it to do. That’s the next level for us.

Where else do you see exciting examples of content marketing?

I think one of the misperceptions about content marketing is that it’s always focused on providing high quality information. Some of the most creative tactics I’ve seen are things in the B2C space where they’re just having fun. I look at some of the things that GEICO has done, for example. They do crazy stuff that I would never do in my market. But for them, with their branding efforts, they have apps you can download that have nothing to do with insurance. They basically say, “Based on our research, our target market would like this sort of thing. It’s just a fun way to get our name out there.” I think we’re going to see some really creative things as we continue down the path of mobile apps, videos, and other things we can do online.

Do you want to see how other brand marketers have incorporated content into their strategy? View our series of interviews with marketers at mid-to-large B2B and B2C brands.