Act-On Marketing Action Blog Act-On is a cost-effective marketing automation software platform with email marketing, lead nurturing, lead generation, lead scoring, webinar management, CRM integration, and social media prospecting and tracking tools. Fri, 29 Jul 2016 22:36:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From lead generation to inside sales; from SEO to marketing automation, and beyond: Smart speakers and lively conversations about today’s burning sales and marketing issues. Act-On Marketing Action Blog clean Act-On Marketing Action Blog (Act-On Marketing Action Blog) Copyright Act-On Software Inc. Hot Topics in Marketing & Sales Act-On Marketing Action Blog TV-G Beaverton, OR Weekly 7 SEO Tactics Most Marketers Ignore Fri, 29 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 You’d be surprised how few companies put effort into their SEO. That increases the competitive advantage you’ll gain with these 7 overlooked SEO tactics. ]]>

Search engine optimization has a reputation for being hard and brutally competitive. But is that really true?

Sure, there are millions of web pages competing for any given keyword, but how many companies have made a sustained, strategic effort to rank? How many companies have even done the basics of SEO?

Ends up, not so many. SEO is in some ways one of the most neglected parts of a content marketing program, or any online marketing program.

Don’t believe me? You only have to look at how much budget SEO gets. There are three different studies that support this:

This picture shows that investing in SEO is often overlooked, but doing so can have big benefits for your business. This post outlines 7 SEO tactics that you should do today.

So not only are there a lot of SEO tactics that most marketers ignore – most marketers are ignoring SEO entirely.

Given what good search engine optimization can do, this is downright depressing. Search engine traffic matters – it makes up 51% of visits to most sites, according to BrightEdge. And search engine traffic converts: “SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate,” according to Search Engine Journal.

We want to get you some of those goodies. So if you’ve been putting off your SEO work, or you’ve only done a little here and there, any one of these tactics can help. They’ll get you far more traffic to your site and give you a nice edge on your competition, too.

1. Write your title tags and meta descriptions as if they were ad copy.

You know what click-through rate is, right? And you know how important it is. That’s why we all obsess over the click-through rates of our emails, our pay per click ads, and our social media updates.

But what about the click-through rates of your pages in the search results? Are you doing anything to improve them? Because that’s the single easiest way to drastically improve your search engine traffic – without doing one smidge of other SEO work.

To find out what the click-through rates for your pages are, log into your Google Search Console account. Go to the “Search Traffic” > “Search Analytics” report. Select to view “Impressions”, “CTR” and “Pages”, as shown below:

This image shows you how to view your click through rates for pages in Google Search Console

That will show you the click-through rate for your pages. The next step is to click on the double arrow in the far right of each page’s row. This will bring you to a sub-report where you can analyze each page individually. You’ll be able to see which keywords the page is showing for and what the click-through rate of your page is for each of those keywords.

It’ll look a bit like this:

This image shows how you can view the keywords the page is showing for and what the click-through rate of your page is for each of those keywords in Google Search Console

To see what your competition for these keyword terms is, just click the little gray square right after the keyword. It’ll show you the search results for that term.

Compare what you see in the top search results to what’s in the title and meta description tag for your page. Pay particular attention to any paid ads. These are often split-tested relentlessly to get higher click-through rates, so you might want to borrow some words and phrases from those ads to use in your title and meta description tag.

One caveat for this technique: Don’t write title and description tags for your pages that don’t accurately reflect what’s on the page. And you may want to circle back to the content of your page and rewrite/update it so it better matches searchers’ intent.

Once you’ve rewritten the title tag and meta tag description,

  • Take screen shots of the Google Search Console reports and search results you used to make the changes.
  • Let the page accrue impressions and clicks for at least two weeks.
  • Go back and see how it’s performing.
  • Rinse and repeat for as long as you have patience for, to see how the page performs over time.

You can probably double or even triple your click-through rates over time with this technique, but it will take a couple of months to get results.

2. Use keywords and dashes in the file names of your images.

You have to use something for a file name for your images – so why not use a few keywords? Some sources say you’ll get even more results if you use dashes between the words in the file names, like this:


This one tactic isn’t going to catapult your page to the top of the SERPS (search engine results pages), but it gives a little lift. And if probably won’t take you more than two minutes per page to implement.

This infographic from Online Marketing Coach shows how Big Companies Fall Short with SEO & Content Marketing

Bonus: Take the time to write out keyword-rich descriptions for the Alt tags of your images, too. This is easy to do in WordPress or most other content management systems.

3. Beef up your pages that show up on pages 2-3 of the search results.

The Google Search Console also lets you see where pages tend to rank in the search results. Go to the Search Analytics report again and choose this setting to see that information.

This screenshot illustrates how you can view how your pages rank in search results.

Any pages with an average position of 9.5 to about 13 have been lingering near the top of page two in the search results. Very few people will see your pages there, as the vast majority of searchers don’t bother with results beyond page one.

But with just a little bit of SEO, you can nudge those page-two listings on to page one, and thus get far more traffic to them. Here are a few techniques for doing that:

  • Add links to these pages from some of the high-authority pages on your site
  • Update these pages – make them more valuable to your visitors
  • Apply the title tag and meta description tag trick mentioned in item #1 above

4. Write long form content.

Several studies have shown that “long form” content (more than 1,000 words) does better in the search results. In fact, pages with 2,000 words or more tend to dominate the top 10 search listings for any given keyword.

This graph illustrates how longer form content holds a higher position on Google.

Last year Moz and BuzzSumo discovered that

85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content.” 

While 85% of marketers are missing out, this can be an opportunity for you: Write more long form content. And, as corollary to this: spend more time creating it. According to a 2016 survey of bloggers from CoSchedule, only one in ten bloggers is spending more than five hours on each post.

This infographic from CoSchedule illustrates that only one in ten bloggers spends more than five hours on each blog post.

Does spending that much time on a blog post seem out of reach? Consider publishing less often, but with higher quality content. You may get better results.

5. Go beyond the Google Keyword Planner for keyword ideas.

While keywords work a little differently in SEO than they used to, they’re definitely not obsolete. And choosing the right ones can make all the difference in your SEO work.

We’ve recommended using “long tail” keywords in the past (they’re search terms made up of three or more words). But often, the trick is how to find them.

Google’s Keyword Planner is notorious for giving inaccurate search counts, especially for keywords with lower search volumes. It’s even worse at surfacing long tail keywords and related terms.

So what to do? Well, consider thinking outside the box, or in this context, outside the Keyword Planner. Here are several ways to find long tail keywords to optimize your content for:

  • Product reviews (including Amazon book reviews)
  • Forums and LinkedIn groups
  • Blog post comments
  • Reddit
  • Paid search tools like SEMRush, RavenTools, Moz and SpyFu
  • WordStream’s free keyword tool
  • WordTracker’s free keyword tool
  • UberSuggest (a free keyword tool)
  • Google Search Console’s list of keywords that your pages are appearing for
  • The “related terms” search at the bottom of each page of Google search results
  • Your site’s internal search records
  • Your competitors’ sites
  • Google Trends’ related searches
This is a screenshot of Google Trends
Google Trends’ related searches section will show you the top related searches for a term. It'll also show you which keywords are seeing a spike in searches.

6. Set up Rich Snippets – aka “Rich Answers”.

We wrote a post about how and why to set up Google’s new “rich answers” not so long ago. It’s still a very promising, but new, SEO tactic few websites are using.

This screenshot shows an example of Google's "Rich Answers"

Google’s also added some tools to help with rich answers and schema markup in Search Console. They appear to be serious about making schema setup easier for everyone.

7. Update old pages.

This is a major opportunity, and almost no one’s using it. Updating old pages – particularly old blog posts – can almost double the traffic those pages are generating now.

Several sites have published case studies on how they got this to work.

The results from those case studies are so good, you might want to take a break from publishing new content – just so you can go back and optimize a few choice pages.


It’s too bad so few marketers are practicing SEO. But it can be good news for you. Even a little bit of time and money invested can put you at the head of the pack – and maybe near the top of the search results.

So please: Don’t fall for the rumors that SEO is hard or impossibly competitive. Leave it to your competitors to keep believing that.

What do you think?

Have you used any of these SEO tactics and techniques? How did they work for you? Tell us about it in the comments.

Act-On eBook: How to Make Any Content SEO-Friendly

Content marketing has become an important piece of a modern digital marketing plan. Marketing teams are producing more content than ever, working closely with editorial teams, and pumping out blog posts – all to attract more potential buyers to their web properties. Download Act-On’s guide, How to Make Any Content SEO-Friendly, and we’ll show you how and where writers can play a role in SEO, and walk you through 3 steps to optimize your content for search engines.

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5 Powerful Techniques To Boost Your Content Marketing Thu, 28 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Is your content marketing program running out of gas? Ready for a recharge? Learn 5 techniques to refresh and reinvigorate your content.]]>

Every day, large and small businesses use content marketing to increase their conversions, leads and traffic.

Having a powerful content marketing strategy in place can mean all the difference in whether you’re seeing the full potential of your efforts through the amount of conversions you’re turning over. To really drive home heavy conversions, you need to branch out of your comfort zone a little and take your content strategy to that next level.

So how do you complete this grand task, you ask? This expert guide will give you inside tips on the best techniques to use to take your content marketing strategy to the next level.

Quantity Vs Quality – Quality Will Always Win

Writing content is easy, writing exceptional quality content is hard.

In order for your content marketing to really go to that next level, you need to ensure every piece is the highest quality you can create. As an example, many people pump out a lot of blog posts in a very short amount of time. The result is usually lower quality, less interesting – and much less likely to convert.

Quality takes time and consideration, but it’s the only game in town. Your content marketing strategy must emphasize the quality and standards necessary to really enrich the reader’s experience.

Don’t build content just because you can. Instead, implement a quality control process to ensure you maintain above average standards. Some tips in doing this include:

  • Know your audience, and create content they will find useful, interesting, and/or entertaining.
  • Write content based on research, facts, and supporting links in order to give your visitors accurate, trustworthy results.
  • Make sure all headlines are interesting, truthful, and engaging for your audience.
  • Create a content layout or template to use per each type of content.
    • A basic blog template could be a headline, introduction, point, point, point, conclusion.
    • A basic eBook could be a table of contents, introduction, point, image; point, image; chart; conclusion.

Keep the layout and template of each different type of content consistent throughout your production, so each piece works with the others to create a coherent, cohesive body of content that looks professional.

Let’s look at some specific techniques to help you achieve that quality your readers seek.

Techniques to Boost Your Content Efforts

1. Think outside the blog post box

Many businesses make the assumption that blogs are the major way to go when creating a solid content marketing plan. This simply isn’t true. To take your content marketing strategy to that next level, you need to come up with other content avenues to explore in order to push your marketing efforts further beyond your current market. This holds true even if you’re already going beyond just blog posts. Some content avenues to explore, if you haven’t already, include:

  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Case Studies
  • How-To Articles
  • Interviews
  • Podcasts
  • Memes
  • Guides
  • eBooks
  • Opinion Posts
  • Product Reviews
  • List Articles
  • Research/Original Data Papers

While not every one of these will suit all companies, it’s important to know which ones you can use to really push your content strategy. Incorporating even just one more of these content avenues into your marketing strategy will give you the opportunity to increase your audience base.

Remember those who watch videos don’t necessarily listen to podcasts, and those who read eBooks might not read opinion posts. Each one of these areas has its own audience base and by tapping into multiple content types, you can build a very powerful marketing strategy that reaches a wide range of potential buyers, to drive in successful results.

An easy way to begin: Look at your most popular blog posts. Can you scale that content? Could one be expanded into an eBook, could another become a quiz, could a third be delivered as a podcast or a webinar?

2. Be deliberate about look and feel

All your content should reflect your branding, consistently. Use colors, fonts, and your logo according to your brand guidelines.

  • Choose fonts carefully and use them consistently. You often see one font used for body copy and another for headlines, and this contrast can work well. But don’t use more than two fonts in any one piece (you can use different weights, though, of the same font). Be aware that unusual fonts may not render properly on everyone’s screens. Clarity and readability trump other concerns.
  • Use paragraphing and white space to your advantage. Readers don’t like long blocks of dense text. Create a nice balance of white space by paragraphing large blocks of text. When you can, use bullet points to break up large blocks of text and add meaning.
quality assurance

Taking your time writing and formatting your content goes a long way into whether or not your content will be noticed and whether your content marketing strategy is successful.

3. Use images

Add images to your content that offer high quality viewing with clear imagery. If you own an image – you took the photo or created the graphic, or paid someone to do it – that’s great, you own the copyright and there will be no issues. If you need to use images you don’t own, there are two good places to look:

  • Stock images come from sites that license royalty-free images, such as Stock Photo Secrets, Fotolia, ShutterStock and Pixabay. They have different business models; some require a membership and allow you to download up to X number of images; others ask you to pay by the image.
  • Free images can be found on some sites such as Creative Commons. Each artist can set their own rules for use of their images (such as you can or cannot make changes to an image). Check the owner’s rights notice to be sure, and follow the rules for attribution.

The biggest rule: Don’t use an image without knowing who owns it, or you may be committing a copyright violation. (This is why stock agencies are so useful; they take care of all that for you.)

Most important of all: Avoid using images which don’t complement the piece or tell part of the story. A piece of content is better plain than having the wrong images attached.

4. Don’t skip the editing process

Develop a house style guide so all your content creators use the same terms the same way, and the same spelling conventions. Share it with the agencies and freelancers you work with who create content for you. Consistency is important – and professional.

  • Check for spelling errors, word usage mistakes, and grammar inconsistencies. These kinds of errors are distracting to the reader, and fatal for your credibility.
  • Check for structure. Does the piece flow? Is it easy to read? Does the piece begin with something to intrigue the reader, progress through information/educations/entertainment, then conclude with a wrap or a good “button”? Is any important part of the story missing?
  • Check facts. Check links. Check any claims being made.

5. Encourage Guest Posting From Your Followers

Encouraging followers to help build your content through guest blog posting is a great way to find new and talented writers. It also provides you with another avenue to expand your content without you having to create it yourself. You still need to set a standard of quality to ensure your website ranking and authority stays intact. Remember almost everyone can write, but not everyone can write great content. To set a standard of quality for publishing you can implement guidelines that need to be met. Some things to consider when creating guidelines include:

  • Word Count – According to Buffer’s compiled research, the ideal length for a blog post is 1,600 words (with a seven-minute reading time). But your site, and your audience, are unique. Look at your most popular blog posts, and other content; how long are they? Your content also is an important factor. If you need more words to tell the story, use them. If the story is shorter … say 750 words, and the rest would be filler … go for the 750 words that will have value for your reader, and skip the filler.
  • Links – Usually a guest blogger hopes to have links back to their website, Twitter handle, LinkedIn profile, and so on. It’s up to you whether (and how much) of this to allow. Just be consistent with all your guest bloggers.
  • Promotional Content – Unless it really serves your readers, don’t accept over promotional content from a guest blogger. The more subtle linking to a proof point on their site, etc., might be acceptable if it falls within your guidelines.
  • Images – Decide whether you want the blogger to add the images or whether you want to do it. Remember the images need to be of good quality. Remember that if the blogger sends you images he or she licenses from a stock agency, those image licenses do not transfer over separate legal entities. You will need to license them yourself if you want to use them.
  • Duplicate Content – Duplicate content can earn you a Google penalty. Don’t accept content that has been published anyplace else. You can check a submission with if you’re concerned.
  • Topic – The guest blogger should let you know what they’d like to write about for your site. Feel free to ask for tweaks or make suggestions. Make sure the guest blogger knows that you will not accept a topic if it’s not a good fit for your audience.

Having these guidelines in place will help you to keep control over guest post submissions. Remember you don’t have to publish the content just because they’ve written it. Publishing the guest blog on your website comes down to whether you feel the writing is up to your business standards and whether you feel it’s a good match with the rest of the content on your business website.


Too many business plans get written, then abandoned; content plans are no different. While having a good content marketing plan is great, using that plan is better. Pushing your content marketing strategy to the next level relies heavily on whether you’re managing your current plan so well that you’re ready to branch out.

If you are ready, then implement whichever of these tips seem next in line for you, and you’ll be able to see more leads, visitors and conversions in a very short amount of time.

So: which technique are you going to implement first?

4 Steps to Content Plan
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3 Ways to Optimize Your Email Subject Lines Wed, 27 Jul 2016 10:00:43 +0000 Your email subject lines can win friends - or lose readers, sometimes forever. 3 tips for making your subject lines more compelling, more useful, and more productive.]]>

Your customers (and your potential customers) are consistently bombarded by email. The key to getting those customers to open, click and engage with your emails is to make it worth their while, beginning with optimizing your email subject lines.

According to a Radicati study:

  • In 2015, the number of emails sent and received per day was more than 205 billion.
  • The amount of consumer email continues to grow mainly due to its use for notifications (e.g. for online sales) rather than simply as an interpersonal communication tool.
  • In 2015, the number of business emails sent and received per user per day totals 122 emails. That is split between 34 sent and 88 received. Of those 88, 12 (almost 14%) are usually spam.

That’s a lot of noise and clutter in your customer’s inbox. That’s why it’s critically important your message sticks out from the rest – and doesn’t look like spam.

Examples of boring email subject lines

These email subject lines are selling much the same thing, in much the same way. Boring.

Why are email subject lines so important?

Because a high open rate usually leads to more engagement, which, in turn, can lead to new business or customer retention.

However, recipients need to willingly open your emails before then can take action – this is where the importance of subject lines comes in. You want to be able to convey your message without giving everything away, but you also want to be able to convince your recipients to spend time on your email and connect with your product / service offerings.

Three tips for success:

1. Keep your subject lines short – unless longer ones test better.

In 2015, Return Path analyzed 9,313,885 emails to discover which subject line length is most effective.

2015 Return Path study on email subject line length

In MarketingSherpa’s blog post about this, they quote Tom Sather, Senior Director of Research, Return Path: “… ‘average read rate’ is defined as ‘the percentage of email recipients who have marked your email as ‘Read’ in their email client [i.e. email reader] — typically thought of as more accurate than open rate, since read rate is not dependent on image downloads.’” The data says:

  • The most frequent length of characters is 41 to 50 characters. One reason this is considered a best practice is that many email readers and browsers cut off subject lines longer than this, and mobile devices are even more limiting.
  • But note that subject lines of 61 to 70 characters had a 17% average read rate, the highest of any length.

 Do you know your email recipients well enough to know how they read your emails? If you do, and if they’re reading email mostly on mobile devices, then double down on shorter subject lines. For further reading, here are 10 best practices for mobile-friendly emails.

So, the takeaway is: Shorter is usually better, but if you’ve got a longer subject line that you like, test it. Front-load the key words so you’re sure they get seen.

Every email send is unique, and your mileage may well vary.

One additional way to learn how to write compelling subject lines is to take a look at what NOT to do. Sounds like an Act-On blog post, right? It was. Read 8 terrible email subject lines 

2. Keep your subject lines on topic, and not misleading.

Remember that your subject line is setting expectations for the content of your email. Nobody likes bait-and-switch. You want to ensure that your subject lines get your message across succinctly, without misleading the recipient. If a recipient thinks a subject line is misleading, they could feel that they’ve been duped. This could get your email marked as spam by an angry reader (they could be a former customer, or could have just had a bad day). People sometimes make this mistake when they’re riffing on a current news topic or trying to be funny. Don’t sacrifice clarity for cleverness.

And don’t use RE: or FW: to make it look like the email is part of a string the recipient has been previously involved with.

3. Personalization can be key. 

In Q1 2015, Experian performed a custom analysis for MarketingSherpa based on Experian Marketing Services’ quarterly email benchmark analysis from client brands within the United States and Canada (which relies on clients that opt in to participate in this study). The results:

Q1 2015 Experian email personalization study
  • Across all industries, including a name in the subject line bumped open rates by almost 30%
  • Consumer products and services realized the greatest bump (almost 42%)
  • Business products and services realized a 13.3% gain, which is much less than consumer products, but is still a highly desirable outcome for B2B companies

The study points to even greater gains in transaction rates and revenue per email.

Geography: If it makes sense, localization is an aspect of personalization that works really well.

localization in the email subject line

In the email above, the recipient will realize instantly that the event is being held in her city, making it potentially more interesting … and making the email more worth opening.

Testing email subject lines

Using these tips can help get your emails opened, increase engagement, and get your message across to your target audience. But your business is unique, and so are your buyers. Your gut instincts may have been right on all last year, but things change, and you want to stay in front of changes. Learn about A/B testing.

Your checklist for email subject lines:

  1. Know your audience, and optimize your subject line for the mobile inbox first if that’s what they use
  2. Clear subject lines are the name of the game
  3. Be relevant
  4. Personalize if you can
  5. Localize if you can
  6. Consider using a number, such as “55 ways to get your emails opened.” Lists still work
  7. Test, test again, and optimize. Always be testing, and trust your results
  8. Check out what your competitors do. Don’t copy, but be aware, and test your own versions
  9. Make it actionable if possible.  People typically delete more emails than they open, so the more reason you give them to open yours, the better your rates should be

Set yourself up for success by crafting, testing, and adjusting subject line content based on audience reactions and calls to action that really drive your point home.

Want to be really, especially, wondrously, amazingly adept at subject lines?  Download our 12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines.

12 tips for amazingly effective email subject lines.png
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How to Get Subscribers for Your B2B Email Newsletter [And How Not To] Tue, 26 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 In real estate, what matters is location, location, location. For your email newsletters, it’s list, list, list. How to build a quality subscriber list.]]>

If you want a successful B2B email newsletter, it goes without saying that you’ll need subscribers. Plenty of subscribers. So in addition to our articles on B2B newsletter strategy and B2B newsletter content ideas, we wanted to give you a toolkit of tactics for how to get more subscribers.

However… before I dive too deeply into how to get subscribers, I’d like to talk a little bit about how not to get subscribers. There are three common traps people get tangled up in:

  • They attempt to buy subscribers – by buying an email list
  • They don’t tag new subscribers so they can evaluate their list-building tactics later
  • They send their email newsletter to people who didn’t expressly sign up for it

Three list-building mistakes to avoid

Each one of these mistakes can do serious damage to your list-building plans. Here’s how (and why) to avoid them:

1. Don’t buy subscribers

This may be hard to say no to. Building a list takes time – it’s so incredibly tempting to just go buy a list of 10,000 or even 100,000 subscribers. Especially because they’re so cheap – you can easily scoop up these sorts of lists for pennies per subscriber.

Trouble is, you’d be wasting every penny. Here’s why:

  • Most reputable email service providers will not allow you to mail to a purchased list.
    This is because of the extremely high rate of spam complaints from purchased lists. And as you probably, know, high spam complaints hurt deliverability. A company that enjoys high deliverability rates and strong trust with the major service providers will not risk its reputation by allowing its clients to mail to purchased lists. So even if you could get subscribers for pennies each, you wouldn’t be able to mail to them.
  • Purchased lists tend to perform poorly.
    That’s a nice way of saying it. Actually, purchased lists tend to perform so badly that if you calculated how much it cost you to get one action from a purchased list, then compared how much it cost to get that action from an in-house built list, you might discover the action from the purchased list costs five times more, or worse.I have seen purchased lists catastrophically tank twice in my career. It wasn’t pretty. One was a $20,000 travel catalog mailing to a purchased list (we got not one booked trip, and not even an inquiry from that investment) of 30,000 names.

The other was out of my own pocket, when I rented a list to sell a gift box to a list of 50,000 people who supposedly had bought similar gift-type products in the last six months. I got not one order … from all 50,000 email addresses.

So please, don’t blow your budget (and your precious time) on purchasing a list.

2. Don’t lump subscribers from your different list building tactics all together

This is about tracking where your subscribers come from, so you can assess the value of those subscribers from each different list source later.

For example – that Facebook contest you ran to build your email list? When you add those people to your database, include a tag that identifies the source (if your email service provider has this functionality) or treat them as a separate list. That way you can measure how engaged they are and how much business you’ve gotten from that list source.

This can be extremely valuable information later on. It’s particularly valuable when you’re just starting out. You’ll probably want to try at least 3-5 different list-building techniques all at once, and being able to track how these different subscriber sources perform over time can reveal valuable insights.

Often, getting a subscriber via one channel – say AdWords advertising – costs more than getting a subscriber through, say, Twitter advertising. But if those AdWords subscribers end up converting into dramatically better leads, then maybe they’re worth paying for.

This graphic lists the important goals in building an email newsletter list. The blog post identifies 10 tips for building lists, and 3 tips to avoid creating bad email newsletter lists.
Marketers are increasingly focused on getting quality subscribers – not just more subscribers. Tracking where your subscribers come from and how each subscriber acquisition channel performs can help you hone in on where the most valuable subscribers are coming from.

Want another reason to keep your subscriber sources separate? It gives you the option of sending them a customized Welcome email. It also gives you the option of customizing what content you send them.

3. Be careful about sending your email newsletter to people who haven’t specifically signed up for it.

This one’s a wee bit controversial … “controversial” for email marketing, at least. But there are people who don’t think it’s okay to add someone to an email newsletter list just because they downloaded a content asset, or signed up for something unrelated to the newsletter.

The proponents of this view say “Hey – I didn’t sign up for your newsletter. I gave you my information because I had to in order to get that whitepaper.” They certainly have a point, but it does throw a wrench in many B2B lead nurturing programs. Take note, too, that B2Cers have almost the exact same problem, when people who have placed an order are automatically put on a newsletter list.

Fortunately, the solution to this is simple. Add a checkbox near the end of the form, with some copy that says something like, “Please send me your newsletters, too.” Leave the box unchecked, and send the newsletters only to people who actively opt in (i.e., they check the box). (That opt-in process – as opposed to opt-out – is a legal requirement in Canada and Europe, by the way.)

This image depicts a standard webinar sign up form
This is a standard webinar sign up form. If you completed it, you’d almost certainly be added to the company’s email list. Most people expect that, but it’s nice to add a checkbox that specifically asks people if they want to sign up for your newsletter, too.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, adding that checkbox will significantly reduce how many subscribers you’ll get. But you will end up with a higher-quality list, as the recipients will expect your newsletter, And you’ll have done your part to further distance email marketing from spamming.

Here’s an alternative to that check box: When people give you their email address for webinar signups or anything else, send them an email message pitching your newsletter. Or include a pitch to sign up for your newsletter in the confirmation email for the initial action.

Now that we’ve got all the “don’ts” out of the way, here are some of the most effective ways to get subscribers for your email newsletter.

Ten proven ways to get subscribers for your B2B email newsletter

1. Have a description of your newsletter that makes it sound like it’s worth reading.

A great description will improve all your other list-building tactics. Get it right, and your opt-in rates could double.

Here’s the bottom line on why this is so important: It’s not 1999 anymore. We’re all drowning in email. We don’t want more of it. If you’re going to get people to sign up for your newsletter, you’ve got to make it worth their attention. Saying something like “Stay up to date with company news” is probably not enough.

Image used with permission from Victor Hung, of
Image used with permission from Victor Hung, of

2. Make your newsletter worth reading.

I mean no offense. But all content still needs to pass the “if you didn’t work in your company, would you read this?” test. Even if you happen to be in a “boring industry” do your best to expand your content’s scope enough for it to be interesting – at least to people in your niche. You don’t have to bring Cirque du Soleil magnetism to your content, but do the best you can.

Remember: You’re going to spend a lot of time creating and promoting your newsletter. You’ll spend even more time getting subscribers. Wouldn’t you feel better about all that time invested if the product you were creating and promoting was actually good?

Want to know a secret trick to make your newsletter worth reading? Include some content in it that’s not available anywhere else. The Content Marketing Institute does a good job of this in their newsletters. They include a short essay once a week – only about 500-600 words long. It’s usually just a restatement of what they’ve talked about in their podcast (way to re-use content!) but sometimes it’s a stand-alone piece. Either way, every single time, it’s worth reading.

3. Use landing pages.

According to the marketers who contributed to Ascend2’s latest Email List Strategy Survey, landing pages are the most effective list-building tactic. They’re also one of the easiest to execute.

This graph depicts Ascend2’s latest Email List Strategy Survey where landing pages are shown as the most effective list-building tactic

Why do landing pages work so well? They focus attention. If you send someone to your site’s homepage, they’ll have over a dozen options for what to do. Not so if you send them to a landing page. There, they’ve got only one thing to do: Sign up.

It’s a good idea to create a separate landing page for every distinct traffic source you’ve got. So, for instance:

  • A landing page for people coming from your Facebook page
  • A landing page for people coming from a specific ad you’re running on a third party site
  • A landing page for anyone who gets a forwarded email and decides to sign up
  • A landing page for a guest blog post

You get the idea. While all those landing pages can be a challenge to manage, they will result in more email subscribers. A tailored page reminds the visitor why they came there, and it’s more personal.

4. Add an opt-in form to the footer of every page on your website.

Don’t make people hunt for where to sign up for your newsletter. Add a sign-up form to every page on your site. This is especially easy if you add the form to the footer area. Space in the header area is highly competitive real estate. Footers are usually much easier to add another element to, and they’ll still get decent visibility. In my own tests, I found that adding a footer increased email opt-ins by about 20%.

This image shows how the footer of Orbit Media’s website has plenty of room to ask visitors to sign up for their email newsletter. Note how they mention how many subscribers they have, and how they’ve kept the opt-in form super-simple.
The footer of Orbit Media’s website has plenty of room to ask visitors to sign up for their email newsletter. Note how they mention how many subscribers they have, and how they’ve kept the opt-in form super-simple.

5. Add an opt-in form to the navigation column on your blog.

Just like we’ve done on this page (a little up and on the left). This isn’t a complicated tactic. It’s based on the idea that there should always be an opt-in form somewhere nearby, wherever your site visitor is.

6. Add opt-in forms to the close of every blog post – unless you’ve got a lead gen offer there that’s better.

The area right below the close of a blog post is valuable real estate. The people who see it have usually just finished reading – they’ve proved they care about what you’re saying. They’re probably hungry for more, open to a suggestion for something else to do.

Don’t let them down. Either offer a related lead generation offer to “gated content” or ask them to sign up for your email list.

7. Pre-announce your newsletters on social media – with a link to sign up.

Having a large social media following is great. Converting those followers into email subscribers is even better.

You can do this by promoting gated content, of course, but one of the simplest ways is to just announce your newsletter a day or so before you publish it. This works especially well when there’s content in your newsletter that’s not available anywhere else.

This image shows how you can use social media as a tactic for gaining new subscribers
Sure, you can advertise to get subscribers on Twitter. Or you can just ask for them. Notice how this tweet is specifically for someone who just followed them. I wonder what the conversion rate on a subscriber invite like this is…

8. Ask for sign ups at conferences and other events.

Fishbowls can still work for this, but they look a little dodgy (and a lot old-school). Handwritten signup sheets can work, too – though you’ll lose some subscribers due to bad handwriting. One of the slickest options is to use a tablet with an app designed to capture email addresses and other information. They work well, but don’t let your tablets wander off.

9. Consider a pop-up.

I know, I know: You hate pop-ups. They’re annoying and you’re worried you’ll alienate your visitors with them. I hear you. But pop-ups work … oh my goodness, they work. A successful pop-up can double your opt-ins. Seriously.

And they don’t have to be so annoying. Here are a few ways to practice proper pop-up etiquette:

  • Delay the pop-up so it shows after someone has been on your site for at least 60 seconds.
  • Don’t show the pop-up on every page the visitor sees – set it to show no more than once a week.
  • Make sure the pop-up is mobile-friendly.
  • Consider having multiple pop-ups, each based on what kind of content the visitor is viewing. Relevant offers always come off as less annoying.
This image shows an example of using pop-ups for new subscribers

10. Have everybody in your company include a call to action to sign up for the newsletter in their email signature file.

Email signature files can be powerful little marketing devices. And while this tactic won’t get you thousands of subscribers, the people who sign up through this channel are often more engaged. (No surprise; they know you).

One tip: Send people to a landing page specifically designed for email signature opt-ins.

Bonus list-building tip.

Add a sign up link to your email newsletters, too. That way if they get forwarded, the recipient can sign up easily. Like this:



More and more marketers are getting savvy about building their email newsletter lists – they don’t just want as many subscribers as possible, they want quality subscribers. This is a good thing for several reasons, but it does mean you’ll want to be more careful about how you build your list. And that, in turn, may mean your list grows more slowly.

Just keep testing and tracking where your quality subscribers come from, and you’ll do fine. Better to have a list of 1,000 super-responsive subscribers than a list of 5,000 people who seldom ever open your newsletter.

Back to you

Are you using any of these list building tactics? Are there any others I haven’t mentioned here? If you’ve got a tip, it’d be great to hear from you in the comments.

Amazingly Effective Email Guide

Ready to move past increasing email subscriptions and learn new techniques to optimize your email results? Check out Act-On’s eBook, The Amazingly Effective Email Guide, and we will give you five tips for more successful – and more profitable – email campaigns, including how to increase engagement with responsive and mobile-friendly design, ideas for effective trigger email messages, and more!

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How Your SMB Company Can Adopt ABM Tactics Mon, 25 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Not a $30 million company yet? You really need to focus your resources on your most profitable customers. Learn the account-based marketing tactics you can adopt today.]]>

Account-based marketing continues to lure in marketers with the ever-seductive dance of engagement. But some of us feel like ABM wallflowers, lanky with mismatched clothing, shuffling our two left feet closest to the exit while the cool kids show off on the dance floor.

We want to be just like them. But, we’re afraid we won’t fit in.

We keep hearing that ABM is recommended for mid-sized companies and above, or rising brands with high lead volume. They have the wherewithal and bountiful resources to invest in account-based marketing, or they’re drowning in so many leads that they have to channel their energy wisely by targeting key accounts.

What if you’re neither of those things? You’re a smaller business, and by George, you would love nothing more than to have the aforementioned “drowning in leads” conundrum! But you’re not even swimming in leads – just wading. Does that mean you can’t apply ABM methods to your current marketing strategy?

No, it doesn’t. That would be business size-ism now, wouldn’t it?

This graph reflects the results of a study with Demand Metric and Demand Base which shows the ABM Adoption status by company size.

ABM has been around much longer than the past two years, when it suddenly became the next big thing (even though it’s really an old thing).

Kissmetrics boldy declared that ABM can be traced back to the burgeoning era of advertising in the 1960s. Think, Mad Men – when they courted big accounts, sparing no expense from sunup to sundown.

Today dinner and cocktails have been replaced with “person-centric” marketing tailored to specific personas, deployed in strategic channels. But, what exactly does that mean?

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sangram Vajre from Terminus a couple of months ago, and I asked him to share his definition of ABM. He had such a refreshingly simple explanation:

“I think about ABM as laser-focused B2B marketing. If you break everything down, it’s really all about accounts. The last decade we’ve been focusing on one lead or one contact, and now we’re putting the ‘B’ back in B2B to influence decision makers.”
Sangram Vajre

You don’t need to be one of the big guys with an enviable budget to integrate ABM into your marketing strategy. You just need to be laser-focused on accounts that matter to your company. You need to work smarter than you have been.

So, here is a breakdown of how you can use account-based marketing, no matter what size your company is.

Build a Die-Hard ABM Strategy

Rule #1 in any campaign is to know the goal. What are you hoping to achieve with ABM?

Engagement. Of course you want that! We all do. But, before you go skipping off, take the time to create tangible metrics – such as how many opportunities you need to create for sales so they can advance the sales process.

Get your team together at the same table, at the same time, to map out the objectives, so you all know your mission without fail.

Laser Focus on Your Ideal Accounts

In typical lead gen fashion, often we get hung up on net-new prospects being our targets. But established partners and existing customers are accounts that are absolutely worthy of your time.

Prioritize your accounts, then take what you know about targeting your audience to the next level by really getting in there. Performing in-depth research and an analysis of the market and historical data is an integral part of any ABM account planning process.

Rally Your Team for ABM Success

Besides the beautiful promise of engagement, ABM brings another gem … sales and marketing alignment. ABM doesn’t work without it, so there’s no time to dilly-dally with silos, rogue behavior, or­­­­­ finger-pointing.

Assign roles and timelines to cover everything, from initial account planning to the follow-up game plan. Marketing needs to come to terms with the fact that sales is the primary focus, and sales should be more involved with content strategy.

Mastermind Content That Speaks to Your Accounts

ABM content needs to be customized for the account you’re going after. It’s not the cheeky and colorful infographic you’re throwing out there to entertain and (fingers crossed) attract a bunch of leads.

That isn’t to say you can’t recycle content you have already. Now is a good time to do a content audit to assess your library and see what you can tailor for your specific accounts. You can probably find a number of pieces that you can revise for different personas, or parse into products for different channels.

A single high-level eBook can become a webinar, a webinar can become a SlideShare, a SlideShare can become a podcast. Each can be a blog post and a half-dozen social posts. If you’ve done the research and you know which of your contacts prefers which channel, you can slant each piece to the right consumer.

Don’t count out old-school tactics. Direct mail is an amazing way to get something visual into the hands of your selected accounts and stand out with something they can hold and feel. (And these days it can be counted as a less-mainstream tactic.)

Otherwise, whether you choose to create an eBook, infographic, webinar, or video, the basic rule of content still rings true – provide value.

Meanwhile …Be Friendly on Social Media

While you’re getting all of your ducks in a row with your account planning and content creation, you can use the ABM approach on social media well before launching your campaign. In fact, being social with your key accounts can be its own thing.

For example, create a list on Twitter of your target accounts and begin to add value through content and conversation. Think of it as a casual introduction to say “Hey, I’m a human” and a nod of approval when you share and engage with their content.

As you build relationships, think of ways you can warm the account up a bit through content collaboration. By featuring them on a guest blog or interview, or teaming up to create a webinar that benefits both your audiences, a partnership happens organically without the defensive wall going up.

Create a Cohesive Experience with Integrated Campaigns

Take what you know about personas and amplify it, because in ABM, every tactic should be all about them. Use a variety of messages, channels, and offers for each account you’re targeting – and reach your audience on all the channels they leverage, whether that’s email or social media or pager (kidding).

Which channels will be most effective for your accounts? As always, it’s the million-dollar question. As always, A/B testing is a fine option.

Outbound email and direct mail can work side by side as a drip campaign to your targeted list. Display advertising and paid social advertising can be operating in the background to warm up your accounts and really bring your message home. Your next event can be a wonderful orchestration, with a greater chance for engagement, if you apply a multi-channel mindset through account-based marketing.

Decide your tactics in the strategy phase, then test and revise. You’ll learn what works best when you assess your campaigns.

Account-based marketing (ABM) can be implemented by any-sized company; it just requires a laser-focused strategy, as illustrated by this quote from Sangram Vajre of Terminus.

Measure Your ABM Success and Proceed

Take a look at which channels worked best during A/B testing. And “best” in ABM terms means evaluating engagement and influence for your target accounts.

Most importantly, you have to ask yourself if these ABM activities are improving sales outcomes. Salespeople and C-level execs don’t give a hoot about opens and clicks. Account-based marketing is rooted in legitimate business metrics, how engagement affects pipeline and revenue. How many opportunities is account-based marketing generating? What percentage of deals close? Is deal size going up? Is customer lifetime value going up? How is the length of the sales cycle being affected?

Live and learn from your ABM experience. What is it going to take to make your next campaign even stronger? Are you targeting the correct accounts? When you learn more about what your accounts want, you can fine tune your strategy to solidify relationships.

At the end of the day, smaller businesses need to be more strategic with how they’re spending their time and resources, because those are precious commodities – the most valuable things you have. And if your highest-value customers can be best won through account-based marketing, then yes – you should adopt it, at least for well-chosen segments of your sales list.

With closed sales being the Holy Grail of marketing, and authentic engagement being the path that leads to sales, that’s the end goal of any campaign, right? We’re not just doing things and blowing budgets for the heck of it.

By incorporating account-based marketing tactics into our strategy, we have the opportunity to focus our energy where it matters. The days of throwing content out to see what sticks are over.

It’s not about how many leads we can get anymore; it’s about getting the right ones – becoming acquainted with a range of contacts inside an account, building relationships with decision makers, and creating lasting partnerships that benefit both sides.

Are you a small business using ABM? We’d love to hear how it’s going!

How to Profit from Account-Based Marketing

Account-based marketing has captured the attention of the marketing industry for good reason. According to ITSMA, 84% of B2B marketers say that ABM delivers a higher ROI than any other approach. By leveraging the five key principles of ABM in this eBook, How to Profit from Account-Based Marketing, you’ll be able to deploy a successful ABM strategy that produces real and repeatable success – with technology you probably already have.

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Rethink Marketing Automation – for the CASL-Compliant Marketer Fri, 22 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Marketing to Canadians? There are some great ways to grow your bottom line with marketing automation – that don’t infringe on CASL regulations.]]>

If you’re a marketer in Canada or you market to Canada, then you’re more than likely familiar with the rules and regulations of Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL). As a refresher:

  • CASL is a set of regulations that prohibit you from sending commercial electronic messages to those who have not opted to receive them.
  • A commercial electronic message (CEM) is an electronic communication (e.g., text messages, emails), sent to an electronic address (e.g., an email address, a mobile phone number). It does, in the main, encourage the recipient to engage in commercial activity. An example would be an advertising message, or an email with a coupon.
  • If you are sending a CEM to an electronic address, then you need to comply with three requirements. You need to: (1) obtain consent, (2) provide your identification information, and (3) provide an unsubscribe mechanism.

Caveat: This is not legal advice. If you have questions about what you need to do to comply with CASL, seek qualified legal counsel.

How does CASL affect marketers?

CASL is a law that was passed to help cut down spam messages sent and received, but it does pose a certain challenge for marketers trying to get their message to prospects. In compliance with the new law, many Canadian marketers are being forced to rethink their digital marketing strategy.

If you have a large list of people who have already opted in to receive your email communications, then that’s great! However, the majority of organizations are still in the process of enticing prospects to fill out a form and proactively subscribe to commercial email communications.

Even with these new regulations, marketing automation remains a key tool for successful digital marketing. While many people think first of email marketing when they think about marketing automation, the reality is that email is just one small portion of its capabilities it has in store. Marketing automation functionality goes well beyond email, and can be leveraged throughout the entire customer lifecycle, from building brand awareness, to driving demand, to expanding customer relationships.

Check out these proven ways to leverage marketing automation beyond traditional demand generation email marketing.

This image outlines key points on how marketing automation can help your business without violating Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL).

Build Brand Awareness

Creating a strong brand is essential to the discovery stage of the buyer’s journey, and for keeping a company top of mind for customers. Use marketing automation to maintain consistency across the brand, optimize your content for search rankings, and to get the most from live and virtual events.

  • Influencer relations – Score the actions of press, analysts, and bloggers so you can see who your most engaged and interested influencers Be aware of the pages they visit on your site, what they’re interested in, and the emails (pitches, press releases, events) that they’re engaging with. You can use this intelligence to prioritize who you pitch and what your talk track is.
  • Press release attribution and corporate communications – Create trackable URLs for press releases to tie PR activity back to the lead-to-revenue process. You’ll be able to look at multi-touch attribution and how press releases contribute to a sale. You can also use marketing automation to create and execute internal newsletters, emails, etc. (and track employee engagement).
  • If you’re actively recruiting top talent (you always should be!) use marketing automation to identify and nurture prospective employees.
  • Brand identity management – Make sure your brand is consistent across all teams and channels. Control your visuals, including brand look and feel, logo usage, and header/footers with marketing automation. Additionally, you can create approved templates and distribute them in your media library for other marketing and sales departments to use.
  • Event management – Get the most out of your events. Know who to invite, and manage all communication, before and after the event, with more precision and less effort. You can create an automated workflow (save the date, official invite, seats are limited, registration responder and reminders) to make it easy. Then re-use and refine the workflow for the next event.

Drive Demand

Move beyond building your brand, and drive people to your business. Marketing automation can help create, track, and analyze how your customers interact with your company, giving you insights into how to effectively engage with them. Marketing automation also provides a variety of ways for you to collect email addresses from your prospects. From there you can email interested prospects, without violating CASL or other SPAM laws.

  • Attract potential customers – You can schedule social promotions of your pages, content, and forms using marketing automation, run AdWords programs targeted at look-alike traffic, and add website visitor alerts so your sales team knows when a prospect is on your site.
  • Convert website visitors to sales leads – Use lead capture forms in your marketing automation platform to turn website traffic into actionable leads for your sales team. You can also use marketing automation to test landing page copy, headlines, and calls to action to see what works best and drives the most leads for your company. Integrate with a CRM so that as soon as a leads qualify or take some action that indicates sales-readiness they flow to your sales team for follow up.
  • Prioritize and nurture leads – Implement a lead scoring system within your marketing automation system that ranks prospects based on their engagement with your brand, and on profile characteristics, that way the sales team can follow up with the hottest leads first. Lower scoring leads can stay in an automated lead nurturing program full of relevant education content and resources until they’re ready to be passed to sales.
  • Enable better conversations – By integrating your marketing automation with CRM you’re able to give your sales team a detailed history of each lead including their website activity, email clicks, media downloads, video views, and more. With this insight, sales can understand the pain points and interests of each prospect, and have the most relevant conversation.
  • Support your sales team. Your best potential customers will opt in and become leads. Create email templates so your salespeople can have approved, on-brand messaging to send to leads.

Expand Customer Relationships

Once you’ve converted your lead to a customer, use email and other automated communications to keep relationships healthy (a business relationship is considered explicit consent within CASL laws). After all, retaining and expanding customer relationships is your most important source of continued, reliable revenue.

  • New customer onboarding and education – Refine your onboarding to the most effective process, and automate it with 30-, 60-, and 90-day onboarding drip programs. Use newsletters and new feature announcements to keep your customers in the loop, help them expand their use of your products, and let them know their satisfaction matters.
  • Customer retention: usage & surveys – Help your customers become power users by hosting webinars to introduce new features or new ways of using existing ones. You can automate all communications before and after the webinar. It’s also a great idea to set up triggered communications based on product or feature use (or non-use). You can deploy surveys and invite your customers to analyze the results.
  • Upsell and cross-sell – Leverage marketing automation, CRM, and ERP data to understand when a buyer is ready for upsell. You can look at pages visited, datasheets downloaded, renewal information and payment history and tie it to engagement data to understand when to reach out for an upsell or cross-sell.
  • Advocacy and loyalty – Apply a score to customer behavior and engagement to identify who your advocates and most loyal customers are. You can do this by applying a score to webinar attendance, event registration, emails opened, product usage, referrals given, user-groups joined, etc. The higher the lead score, the more likely the customer is willing to be an advocate for your brand!

Email is an important part of an overall digital marketing strategy, but don’t forget that it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Digital marketing, it its entirety, is about making sure your brand is easily found, establishing trust with your customers and prospects, and delivering high quality educational content and resources. Marketing automation allows you to easily build assets, streamline your marketing processes, and tie shared goals and measurements of success together throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

eBook: Rethink Marketing Automation

Top-performing marketing leaders understand the need to allocate their time and resources across the entire spectrum of marketing, acknowledging that an effective marketing strategy goes well beyond just driving demand for sales. Download Act-On’s eBook, Rethink Marketing [Automation], to see how you can leverage marketing automation to build brand equity, drive demand, and expand customer relationships. 

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Long-Form Content vs. Short-Form: Which Gets the Results You Want? Thu, 21 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Long-form content outperforms short-form, but your reader has the attention span of a goldfish. Learn how to create content that holds the reader's attention.]]>

A 2015 Microsoft study reported the average person’s attention span had shrunk to eight seconds – “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish,” trumpeted Time. Some marketers responded by thinking, “the attention span of readers is shrinking – therefore, so should the length of our content.”

Yet recent findings show that not only do people read long-form blog posts, they also actually prefer them. But this type of content is time-consuming and costly to produce, so is it really worth it?

Long-Form Content … Why It Works

Internet marketing company WordStream made the switch in 2012 to long-form blog posts. After studying the results, the company found the average time spent on the blog tripled from one minute, 33 seconds to four minutes, 35 seconds.

In addition to holding reader attention longer, lengthier posts get higher social engagement. In fact, Moz and BuzzSumo analyzed over one million articles (in 2015) and found that content over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content. Despite this, there is 16 times more blog posts, articles and other content with less than 1,000 words.

Marketers often wonder about the optimal word count when creating long-form posts. How long is long enough? An extensive study conducted by found that the optimal length is about 1,600 words, which takes seven minutes to read. After this period of time, attention falls off. In addition, there are several more steps you can take to boost the performance of every piece of content that you write.

High-Performing Long-Form Content

Transforming your content strategy to one that includes long-form content has the potential to seriously impact your ROI. But there’s one caveat: You must do it right to succeed. So where should you start? Here are four examples of success to inspire your efforts.

1. Buffer: Boosts Shares Through Hard Facts and Research

Buffer created a popular blog post called “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.” This article argues that creativity isn’t a “born trait” but rather one that anybody can develop. Then it dives into the research and science of creativity (and eventually gets to the question it poses in the headline).

This article performed excellently, capturing 1.6k shares and 80 comments. But why? First, it has a great, relatable question in the headline (scoring a respectable 64 on the CoSchedule headline analyzer). Then it backs up the angle with 1,800 words of research, hard facts, and interesting content.

As this screen capture image of a Buffer blog post suggests, writing long-form content can actually increase viewer engagement on your website.

Key takeaway: Infuse your blog posts with detailed research and hard facts to engender trust, drive engagement, and increase the likelihood of social shares.

2. Smart Blogger: Drive Engagement through Storytelling

Jon Marrow, former Associate Editor of Copyblogger and CEO of Smart Blogger, is a skilled storyteller. This post, which tops 1,800 words, uses storytelling to keep readers engaged until the very last word. He ties the story back to the business, but it’s very subtle. This post performed very well and captured 493 comments.

This screenshot of Problogger shows how storytelling can be used to engage your readers until the very last word.

Key takeaway: Long-form posts can perform well, but engagement is what makes them work. Keep readers engaged through storytelling, because there’s a scientific element to why it works: storytelling engages multiple different parts of the brain, depending on the story. For example, if you include details about food, the sensory cortex of the brain lights up. In any case, it’s a more immersive, engaging experience.

3. TopRank Marketing: Use Lists

Make long copy skimmable by using a list format. With this format, readers know what they’re getting from the start. Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing published a “Master List of Social Media Marketing Management Tools.” This post clocks 1,600-plus words and breaks up those words with graphics for optimal engagement.

This image shows an example of how you can utilize lists to make longer form content skimmable.

Key takeaway: Leverage lists and resource blog posts to provide useful tools to your audience. Graphics move your audience through the post quickly and promote engagement. Keep the content evergreen by updating and rereleasing the post annually.

4. Intel: Piggyback on Trending Topics

Intel published a post titled “8 Intel Engineers Breaking the Mold,” which quickly grew to become the most shared piece of content on the company’s website. The blog was tied into the company’s #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign, which was a recruitment effort aimed at breaking industry stereotypes.

The 1,000+ word post features eight Intel engineers who share job titles, traits, and advice for anybody who doesn’t fit the engineering cookie-cutter mold.

This picture is an example of piggybacking off of trending topics where Intel published a post titled "8 Intel Engineers are Breaking the Mold"

Key takeaway: Piggyback on trending issues to create content that drives interest and resonates with your target audience. Caveat: Your connection to the issue must be real and authentic, and you cannot trivialize or disrespect an issue. Examples of what not to do.

More Tips for Maximum Results

  1. Engage readers at every turn. Long-form content is much harder to create than short “goldfish” posts. Ask questions, include cliffhangers, and use storytelling to keep readers engaged throughout the post.
  2. Use graphics generously. Large blocks of content make posts intimidating to read, no matter how well-written. Some experts say paragraphs should be no longer than 5 lines, so break them up and have decent spacing between paragraphs. White space is your friend.

Make posts more approachable by using lots of graphics to support your content. You’ll reap the benefits, with visual content being 40x more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content.

  1. Infuse the post with credibility. Well-researched articles not only keep readers engaged but also increase the likelihood of sharing.
  2. Make it easy to skim. Even if all 1,500+ of your words are excellently crafted, the truth is that 80 percent of your words won’t be read (no matter how great the content). Here are a couple of tips for making your long-form posts more skimmable:
  • Use lists. Not only are lists easy to skim, but blog posts that include lists also perform better. Here are some ideas for creating high- performing list articles (sometimes called “listicles”).
  • Use block quotes. If you quote people in your blog post, pull out these quotes for visual appeal. For example, the Buffer “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower” article above did so here:
This image shows how block quotes can be used to add visual appeal to long-form content.
  1. Invest time in your headline. David Ogilvy famously said that “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Lead with a strong benefit and make your audience want to read more. To learn which types of headlines work best with your target audience, do a split test on some posts. (Do use the same URL for both.)

  1. Use high-performing words for maximum results. When writing your headline, use words that are proven to yield excellent performance. For example, headlines that begin with a number (a numeral, actually) perform 45 percent better than those that don’t. Headlines with the word “template” also perform well.
  1. Get the timing right. Once you create excellent long-form blog content, it’s important that it get shares. Here are a few things to consider about timing:
  • The highest percentage of users read blogs in the morning.
  • The average blog post gets the most traffic at 11 a.m., ET.
  • The average blog gets the most inbound links on Monday and Thursday.

Use the above as a general guide, then start testing to see what works best for your specific audience.

Short-form content has its place

Still, you can point to Seth Godin as an example of someone who’s been very successful with short (sometimes very short) content.

Seth Godin proves that short-form content does have its place

He is, however, Seth Godin. He made his name with 18 books and several companies before he became famous (the second or third time around) for writing really short posts.

For you, the two questions that matter are:

  • What does my specific unique audience want? Test a variety of lengths over time. Maybe your company personality is cheeky and you do funny 500-word posts that your subscribers love. Don’t change that just for the sake of making longer content.
  • How many words will do this topic justice? Don’t write long just to write long. If 1,000 words give you a quality post, don’t add 500 filler words. Is there more to say? An opposite viewpoint to explore? (And this is one reason long form content is often harder to do; it usually requires a longer thought process too, and more editing.)

And if you’re uncertain, experiment and test.

Capturing Optimal Results

Even if you’ve been writing long-form posts for a while, you can always tweak your approach for better results. Try different strategies and see which resonate most with your target audience.

But overall, the key to creating long-form posts is to keep your reader engaged and delighted with the content, so not only will they come back to read more, but they will also share it. As a result, you’ll greatly expand your audience and your brand’s reach.

Have you had more success writing long-form or short-form content? Please share your results.

The Perfect Recipe for Creating Killer Marketing Content

Whether it’s long-form or short-form content, it’s indisputable that content is now a crucial piece of a modern marketer’s digital strategy. So how do you cook up really great marketing content that will get your prospects to love your brand and want your product? Download Act-On’s free eBook, The Perfect Recipe for Creating Killer Marketing Content to learn how. 

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6 Success Factors for Adopting Marketing Automation Wed, 20 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Your success or failure with your new marketing platform depends on how ready your team is for marketing automation. Here are 6 factors for adopting marketing automation right. ]]>

Are you getting ready to implement marketing automation? Congratulations! Marketing automation is not rocket science, but it does take strategy, planning, and preparation to make it work well and meet your company’s expectations.

As the Professional Services partner manager and marketing strategist at Act-On, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies that implemented marketing automation. I’ve seen companies that made the transition easily, and others who struggled. I can tell you, the ones who have the smoothest implementation and earliest success with marketing automation generally start as simply as possible, and most of them do these six things to get ready to implement marketing automation.

Six readiness factors for implementing marketing automation

#1: Get your website in order

Your website should be:

  • Current
  • Updated with interesting, SEO-optimized content (text and images) at least monthly
  • Built on a usable, agile, platform you can expand and grow on
  • Easy to navigate, user-friendly
  • Quick to load
  • Well-branded
  • SEO-optimized on the back end as well as on the page

In addition, you should have attractive, downloadable content (such as eBooks, infographics, videos, etc.) on your site, and lead capture forms, including a Contact Us form so people have an easy, direct way to get in contact with you.

#2: Have a messaging strategy and good content

Marketing automation requires quality content, and plenty of it. If you don’t have content, give yourself a budget for content strategy and content creation and build this library while you get started with marketing automation. It’s almost impossible to overstate how important content will be to your success. Remember: One great piece of content can act as a pillar that builds your brand. One bad piece of content wastes resources and slows brand momentum.

One reason why it’s worth the trouble to build that one great piece of content is that you can re-use and scale content from foundational content pillars to build a comprehensive library. One good eBook, for example, could become a webinar, a podcast, four blog posts, and two infographics. You could advertise it on third-party websites, link to it on social media, and send it out in an email newsletter. You can adjust the messaging on various pieces so they are tuned to buyers at different stages of the buyer’s journey. This gives you an entire program that’s consistent across channels.

As you build content, have in mind which pieces you will gate – that is, which ones you will ask people to fill out a form to access. These pieces should be strong enough, and compelling enough that the people you attract to your website will be happy to give you their contact information in trade for access.

Your marketing program needs these basics to plan your strategies and create your content:

A solid messaging strategy

  • Know your value proposition and what problem your product or service solves.
  • Understand your audience, their personas, and their needs, from their point of view. This informs your message, so you can build content that speaks to your audience.
  • Understand the best-fit companies for your product or service. This tells you who to say it to, so you can build targeted audience segments and prioritize how you invest in each.
  • Have consistent messaging for every persona at every stage. Here’s an example, so you can see what I mean:
    • The early stage buyer may be just realizing they have a problem or a need; help them define the issue with general, big-picture content: “How X Affects Your Business”
    • The mid-stage buyer may be scoping the extent of the problem, and beginning to explore solutions: “Three Ways to Solve the Problem of X”
    • The late-stage buyer is getting ready to pick a specific vendor and make a decision: “How Our Company Solves Your Problem with X”

Know your audience so you can tailor your content to:

  • Each funnel stage: top, middle, bottom; or as we say at Act-On – attract, capture, nurture, convert, and expand
  • Each different persona (e.g., influencer, decision maker, user of the product/service)
  • Each different channel (e.g., social for inbound, email for outbound)

Develop content on topics such as thought leadership in your industry, problem analysis, how-tos, trends, research, etc., in formats such as newsletters, articles, infographics, listicles (as articles or infographics), white papers, eBooks, case studies, blogs, webcasts, webinars, advertorials, etc.

Need help? Act-On’s eBook “4 Steps to Develop a Content Plan” has three easy-to-work-with templates that make it simple to develop the content you’ll need. The companion 5-minute video shows you how it works.

#3: Prepare your list

List management is critical to the success of your automated marketing campaigns. Here are some tips on what you need to get started right.

You must have a large list

The definition of “large” varies by business size, industry, and sales cycle. For a small business with a long sales cycle, this might mean 3,000 to 10,000 names. A similarly sized small business with a short sales cycle might define a large list as 25,000. A large company with a relatively short sales cycle could have millions of names.

List hygiene is essential for keeping your sender reputation sparkling from the start

  • Cleanse your list of spam traps, duplicates, non-deliverables, etc.
  • Validate email addresses on your list

Segment your list by factors such as

  • Engaged and unengaged (do they click through your emails?)
  • Geography
  • Common needs or pains
  • Position in the sales funnel (new to your list? Or almost ready to buy?)

Keep in mind that it’s critical to keep adding fresh names to your list. Even a very clean list will degrade, as much as 25% per year according to some sources. This means you should have an ongoing program of lead generation to build your list. You can leverage marketing automation to capture new leads with your lead generation programs, while you’re building your list. In this case, you simply need patience.

Learn more about growing your email marketing list in this free eBook.

#4: Prepare your lead generation strategy

What have you been doing until now to generate net new leads or nurture existing customers? If you have an established process, automate that first, then move to new campaigns.

If you don’t have an established process, here is the goal: You want to continuously drive traffic to your sales funnel. This will build your list and give your sales team fresh leads.

Adopting marketing automation will be easier and more successful by following the six tips outlined in this blog article.

Here’s where your content comes into play. Use content to attract new leads, and then use more of it – gated, this time, so they fill out a form to get it – to find out who these people are, and get their permission to market to them. Then use more content to guide them through the sales process. You can automate most of these steps, so you can manage a larger number of leads than when you were marketing manually.

Lead gen is both an art and a science. Here are some things to consider. This list assumes you’ve done the homework in #2, and you know what your messaging is and who your buyers are.

  • Set your budget and prioritize efforts by highest long-term return
  • Have multi-channel lead gen programs to drive net new customers and to retain existing customers. Then, when you set up your automated workflow, have multi-step programs to drive customers in those segments through the buy cycle. These could be drip programs (a series of emails, sent at a specific cadence) or nurture programs (a type of drip program in which the lead is progressively educated on a specific solution)
  • Review the content you created in Step 2. Which pieces can you use in your multi-step programs? In what order?
  • Determine which digital channels you will use to reach leads: email, social, pay-per-click, digital ads, webinars, online reviews. Most marketers use multiple channels and test to see which campaigns and which channels work best
  • Determine which broadcast and other traditional channels should be part of your marketing mix: print, outdoor, direct, radio, TV, events, referrals

Tip: Typically, your existing customers offer the highest potential for generating revenue – at the lowest cost. Leverage them for repeat buying; market to them for upsells; and help them become your ambassadors and advocates as referrals and for testimonials.

Although this group is the most profitable on your list, most companies don’t dedicate nearly enough focus or resources to retaining customers or expanding marketing programs to customers. This is a particularly smart place to gain competitive advantage with marketing automation.

If you’d like to learn more about lead generation strategy, I recommend this eBook: Turn Your Website Into a Lead Generation Machine.

#5: Set appropriate expectations

Deploying marketing automation will not make leads fall like rain. It’s a fabulous tool, but – it is just a tool, incomplete without a workflow to automate and content to deploy.

Many factors influence success in marketing automation, among them a large contact list, a clear understanding of your target audience, engaging messaging that motivates that audience, quality content, captivating subject lines, and strong calls to action, all mapped to your long-term strategy for reaching long-term goals.

Experienced marketing automation users can often jump right in with Act-On and be sending out emails within days. Basic CRM connections can be set up quickly as well. Most marketers who have not been hands-on with marketing automation will take longer to get familiar with the platform. Set up the basics first (such as user profiles, email templates, your media library, etc.) and then begin by creating simple program workflows. It won’t take long – probably a few weeks – to work through the platform’s capabilities and figure out which features will deliver the most value for your unique business. If this is your first entry into using marketing automation, monitor results and adjust subject lines, offers, design and calls to action as necessary. Give it time to mature.

Let execs know what to expect

One of the top roadblocks to success we have learned is lack of leadership buy-in and lack of patience to allow your strategies and the system to work for you. If you’re a team of one, and you don’t have at least 10 hours a week to dedicate to marketing automation (this includes email marketing), get help. Act-On Professional Services can help you get started, and create a plan of action you can follow, as well as content you can use. You can enlist assistance as-needed. This may be a discussion point at your executive planning meetings.

#6: Use outside resources strategically

Although most marketing automation platforms try to be as user friendly as possible, all will require a certain level of expertise to execute. Retaining outside resources may be the most efficient path to getting started, then implementing and building well-designed and architected automated marketing campaigns, which your own team can run and maintain.

Many very successful companies utilize this approach because it is extremely cost effective. The powerful advantage of having ability to outsource for help is – you can pull the right levers when you need them. Whether it’s the need for content creation – like infographics, eBooks, white papers, case studies – or getting your account and automated workflows set up FOR YOU, so all you have to do is populate them – there are experts who can help.

As noted in this Forbes story: “At much less than the cost of one full-time executive, you get an entire team of experts, and can expect cheaper ad costs and software costs.” Pick an agency with experience in your vertical, and you could find yourself learning valuable lessons and avoiding newbie mistakes.

Act-On has a Professional Services division dedicated to finding the right agency partner for your business needs or utilizing our internal team to get you started, or for on-going marketing services to ensure your long term success. As a partner manager, I work at the intersection of agencies and our shared clients who use marketing automation. The power of leveraging these experts has been proven to me time and again – especially to help prepare companies for marketing automation, and get started on the right foot.

In conclusion…

Marketing automation is sometimes sold as a turn-key solution. That’s only true if you’ve already had experience with marketing technology, and you’ve already marshaled your resources (programs, content, personas, etc.). For most of us, it’s a slower process with repeated learning experiences as we grasp new ways of doing things. These six keys are a solid path to follow so you approach automated marketing with a practical understanding of its requirements, and you can set realistic expectations. It’s like learning anything new; before very long, you’ll be inspired, things will begin to flow – and looking back, it will seem easy.

Marketing Automation Quick Start Guide

Getting started with marketing automation may seem complicated, but with a little preparation, you’ll see results right away. In fact, 44% of companies achieve a positive ROI within only six months – with a whopping 28% average overall return. Act-On’s Marketing Automation Quick Start Guide will give you a 6-step strategy to prepare your organization for adopting marketing automation and help you accelerate your return on investment.

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Don’t Bore People: 10 Ideas for B2B Newsletter Content Tue, 19 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Don’t waste your time creating a newsletter nobody wants to read. Here are 10 ideas to help you create useful, compelling newsletter content, plus two bonus tips.]]>

What’s the first thing you think when you hear “B2B newsletter”? If you’re like most people, it’s boredom. Let’s face it, email newsletters don’t exactly have a rep for being riveting entertainment. Neither does most B2B marketing. Pair the two, and some of us can already feel our eyes glazing over.

It’s time to change that. B2B newsletters definitely don’t have to be dull – at least for their core, intended audiences. They can have valuable information, genuine personality, and even be downright remarkable.

In order to give you a few ideas for how to make your newsletters worth reading, I’ve rounded up 10 ideas for B2B newsletter content. You don’t have to stick with just these, of course, and by the time you’ve read through this list, I hope you’ll have even more inspiration.

1. Social media content

This one’s so easy. And you’ve already got the content. Just grab whichever post or tweet did best on your social media accounts this week, and put it in your newsletter. (Want extra credit? Include a prompt to follow your company on that social media channel.)

Or try a contest. B2C companies do this all the time, but B2B companies tend to hold back, maybe because a photo contest feels too personal. So change that. Three Deep Marketing turned a baby photo contest into a clever recruiting promotion.

Don’t be afraid to get personal in your B2B newsletters, as this picture shows an employee baby picture. The article outlines 10 ideas for better content for your B2B newsletters.

2. The most recent post from your blog.

Okay, not the most creative suggestion, but blogs take a lot of work to maintain, so when you publish a new post, the best promotion you can do for it is including it in your email newsletter. And yet … quite a few of us are still not doing this on a regular basis.

This new blog post announcement from Alexa is nice and simple, but it covers all the bases. Note the embedded, pre-formatted tweet in the postscript. If I could add just one thing to this email, it might be to add “Or forward it to a friend” right after the embedded tweet.

Here is an example of including a new blog post in an email newsletter.

3. Staff profiles.

These are especially good if you include customer-facing staff, like customer service or sales. And don’t just give a corporate profile of them – include a bit about their lives (‘cause that’s what people are most interested in). For example:

  • Did someone get just an advanced degree? That’s definitely newsletter content.
  • Did someone have a baby? Welcome the new kid!
  • Did someone just achieve an interesting goal, like running a marathon or winning a barbecue competition?
  • Is someone contributing to a local cause or non-profit? Is anyone a Big Sister or a Big Brother?
  • Does anyone have an interesting hobby? Growing roses? Mushrooms? Raising award-winning koi?

You get the idea. Every one of your employees has something interesting about them. It’s the sort of thing you might never know until you go out for a beer with them, but it’s there. Finding those things out is great content for your newsletter – both so your clients and prospects get to know you better, and so other employees get to learn about each other.

Want an example? The analytics company has added a nice article about their employees to one of their recent newsletters. You don’t really need a full article – just a good photo of one of your employees doing something interesting outside of work is enough. It works because it’s interesting – people love to read about other people. But it also humanizes your company, which can make people more receptive to your messages.

Here is an example of including an article about one of their employees in their newsletter.

4. Industry profiles.

These are similar to staff profiles, but maybe just a wee bit more formal. They’re a great way to applaud work or ethics in your industry. They’re also great for getting more exposure for your newsletter.

How? Well, it works just like influencer marketing. If you do a profile of someone in your industry, and they’re noteworthy enough (and the profile is interesting enough) they might mention it to their company, or to their audience online. That’s a great, free promo for your newsletter.

5. Customer profiles and case studies.

If you can make your customers into heroes, you’ll make yourself look good too.

  • Do a customer profile. You could spotlight people who use a particular product or live in a particular location, or people who have a particular non-standard use for your product.
  • If you have customer training or customer appreciation events, take pictures and use them in the newsletter.
  • Run a contest for best or most creative or most … something … use of your product or service. Promote the contest in your newsletter, then run the winners.
  • If a customer wins an award or gets great press or does something notable, mention it.
  • Do an excerpt of a case study in your newsletter, and link to the rest of the study where it’s posted on your site.

6. Curated content.

Curated newsletters are becoming a bigger thing all the time. They’re also a fantastic way to beef up interesting content for your newsletter.

Here’s how the social media app Buffer handles their curation. At the close of each newsletter, they’ve got a “What We’re Reading” section. It’s just two links – not a lot of effort required here.

This is an example for how you can use curated content in newsletters.

Notice anything else interesting here? There’s a cool forwarding prompt: That highlighted sentence asking if the reader knows anyone else who might like this email. Then there’s an elegant email frequency control right below it. It’s just one line asking if the reader would prefer weekly instead of daily emails.

7. The best of the month.

This might not work for every business, but with a little creativity, it will work for most. Just pick something related to your business (directly related), then make a roundup list of the best examples you’ve come across in the last month. Or find just one or two examples, and include the best in your weekly emails.

Here’s how the email marketing agency AlchemyWorx does it. They “select six of the best emails from last month,” add some commentary, and then publish the round-up as a blog post. It also makes for interesting and engaging newsletter content. (Oh – and you can get more attention for these sorts of emails if you notify everyone who made the “best list.” Often, they’ll share it with their audiences, or sign up for future editions.

AlchemyWorx_The Best of the Month

8. Question of the week.

Ever heard of Marcus Sheridan? He’s the guy who launched our current round of content marketing by using content marketing to turn a swimming pool business, River Pools, around at the peak of the recession. (Read the case study.)

How’d he do it? Marcus answered questions. Every night, on his blog, Marcus picked a question he’d gotten over the years and answered it with as much detail and utility as he could muster. Over time it turned his business around.

You can make this principle work for your newsletter, too. Sales or customer service are usually the best sources for the most common questions. Then just add a section to your newsletter with the question and a two- or three- paragraph answer. If the answer is longer, include the first two paragraphs in your newsletter, then continue the rest of it on your site.

9. Quizzes, polls and surveys.

These tend to get great engagement, and they’re especially effective if you don’t show the results until someone has participated in the quiz, poll or survey. We have a strong interest in seeing how we compare to others, so withholding the results until someone has completed the poll is a great way to boost engagement.

The answers to these polls can also help your company, even if it’s for minor things. Just don’t make the polls too self-serving, or always business focused. They’re entertainment for your readers, so keep things light.

BrightLocal polls its readers to find out which industry blogs they like the most.
BrightLocal polls its readers to find out which industry blogs they like the most.

10. Company news.

Surprised? I held this one back, to be last on the list, for a reason. It’s because most company newsletters include nothing but company news. And that’s part of why people think most company newsletters are boring. It’s because … (forgive me) … they don’t really care.

Don’t get me wrong. Your subscribers aren’t bad people. They aren’t especially self-obsessed. They’re just human. They care about what matters to them … and not so much about anything else. Especially if it comes across as self-centered.

We’ve got an acronym for this in marketing. It’s called WIIFM – “what’s in it for me”. Your subscribers are always listening to WIIFM. If you can’t broadcast on that channel, they probably aren’t willing to listen.

Bonus: Add old content that did particularly well.

Whether it’s an old article, a photo everybody loved, the results of a poll or anything else, it is okay to sprinkle in some “oldie but goodie” content here and there. Let’s face it: Many of your subscribers probably missed it the first time around, so re-publishing it just means they get to see it for the first time.

Bonus-bonus: for customers only

Everything we’ve talked about could be interesting for either prospects or customers. If you’ve got a customer-only newsletter, then you can offer some things that might not be right for prospects:

  • New release information that affects the product or service they pay you for
  • Webinars or other training events that explore specific product usage
  • Promotion of any customer-only events you might do
  • Invitations to take a product survey


It’s time to think way outside the box for B2B newsletters – to smash through the status quo and be as weird and geeky and enthusiastic as you can be. Don’t fear offending people (though I don’t recommend you deliberately try) – fear making people yawn. Boring newsletters don’t get read … and that’s a big missed opportunity.

12 tips for amazingly effective email subject lines

Another way to make sure you aren’t boring your audience is to leverage interesting subject lines that will get your emails opened. Subject lines can be one of the most important elements of your email program. It’s your first (and maybe your last) impression on your recipients. It’s what determines your email response and engagement. Download Act-On’s eBook, 12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines, to learn how to create amazingly effective subject lines that will get your email opened.

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From Scratch: Four (Free) List Building Strategies Mon, 18 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Modern marketing turns on having a good list. Four free, time-based, proven agency strategies for list building (which can work for companies, too).]]>

There’s nothing that can burst the bubble of getting a new client (or getting a new job) faster than the realization that your client has no real prospect list to work with. Even if you know going in, and have pitched the notion of building a prospect list … the pressure to perform is intense from the minute you start.

Most marketers and agencies have more ideas than budgets, so we’re going to explore seven strategies to build a great prospect list that take a varied approach: four strategies require time, and three strategies require money. In this post, we’ll cover the first four. (Stay tuned for the final three, coming soon.)

First things first: Nail the basics

All seven list-building strategies require the same foundational elements:

  1. A clear understanding of your client’s buyer personas
  2. An in-depth review of the brand’s content strategy and tactics
  3. Any possible information contained in the company’s existing contact data
  4. Your own mastery of the basic principles of digital marketing

Go no further until you’ve developed mastery of those four foundational elements. Pop back here when you’re ready, and we’ll look at the seven strategies over the course of two posts.

Four Time-centric List Building Strategies

Welcome back! Let’s explore the four time-centric strategies based on your current budget and staff resources.

Few clients or organizations will be able to jump in and test every one of these strategies, but I recommend you understand them all so you can place your client or organization along a marketing sophistication curve (you’ll know how sophisticated they are from the state of their foundations) and engage quickly from your place of maturity, strength, and opportunity.

More time-centric strategies include the following:

  • Email capture on your web properties
  • Social media engagement
  • In-store capture (for retailers /brick and mortar businesses)
  • Influencer and partner engagement

Strategy 1: Capture Email to Build a Prospect List

People guard their email addresses, so if you can get an email address in exchange for educational or entertaining content, treat it respectfully.

I’m finding that capturing email is becoming almost ridiculously misused. If you spend much time online at all, especially reading blogs, you’re likely to be bombarded with requests for your email. In a post over on Buffer enticingly called How to Grow a Massive Email List, author Kevin Lee succinctly equates email list development to this formula:

Amazing blog content + crystal clear calls-to-action = massive email list

And in interviews with highly successful bloggers, every one recommended popups, menus, popovers, sliders and “Multiple CTAs: Give readers infinity+1 opportunities to subscribe.”

According to Experian, the top-tested area for email capture is in the menu bar. But we’re seeing a lot of testing in action for email capture, including:

  • Site header
  • Blog bylines
  • Any sidebar
  • Inside blog content
  • Footer of the content
  • Popup/popover – on entrance and on exit
  • In your blog author’s bio

Popular tools for capturing email addresses are from SumoMe and HelloBar.

In its 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, MarketingSherpa notes that 77% of marketers called website registration effective in building quality lists. So make sure to get email into all account registration, online and offline event registrations, and ecommerce forms on your site.

In order to keep from being irritating, please follow best practices:

  • Make sure the incentive for registering is clear and truly relevant to your target audience
  • Clearly list the benefits of registering for your email program
  • Describe how often they’ll get email from you if they give you their information
  • Try to collect geographic and demographic information so you can deliver relevant content
  • Your call to action is prominently displayed

Finally, it’s best to offer some social proof to encourage email sign-ups. We see many marketers leverage the size of their subscriber list to indicate satisfaction, with offers like: “Join more than 70,000 professionals…”

Keep in mind that helping is the new selling. So help your prospects with great content before you ask or expect anything from them, and you’ll be more successful in capturing email addresses and growing your list.

Strategy 2: Harness Social Media Engagement

The role of social media engagement in list building is three-fold:

  • Search engines are constantly looking at social signals for engagement and authority, which can build your credibility and help you land on the top of search results, help drive traffic to your site or stores.
  • Social channels are gateways to your products and services – through evangelism (by others), awareness (from your excellent posts) and in showing thought leadership (sharing great information)
  • Social channels showcase your approach to customer service and support (whether you like it or not).

What works in social one month can change quickly, whether at the whim of engineers changing their social platform’s algorithms or because of the natural swarming of (and abandonment by) people in social channels.

When possible, meet regularly with representatives from your social channels directly. Find out what’s new. Get their recommendations. And test them. If you can’t have direct conversations, check out some great social media bloggers, and try out their advice.

In order to build social engagement, the first rule you must follow / teach your client is the 6:3:1 Social Rule.

For every 10 social posts:

  • Six should be educational or entertaining – adding value about your market – but not written by you
  • Three should be educational or entertaining and written by you
  • One can be promotional – an offer of some sort

The second most important rule is this: You must be authentic to your brand values in social, but playing it safe rarely drives engagement.

So (and this takes work) convince your client (or your leadership team) to go out on a limb occasionally and do something in social that’s a little radical.

  • Be funny
  • Be disruptive
  • Be contrarian
  • Be generous

Test the limits of your voice. See what works for your brand. But be noticeable in some significant way.

And importantly, be responsive.

According to Search Engine Watch, 70% of Twitter users expect some sort of response from brands they reach out to, and 53% want a response in less than an hour. That speedy response expectation jumps to 72% when they’re complaining.

Your prospects can see your customer service and support in action when you respond to complaints in the channel in which it’s made. So make a big splash with your service. Respond respectfully, quickly, and in the social channel.

Being responsive can also build your list if you ask for more engagement as you’re having conversations. Try replying to every mention you get, and try to start a conversation with folks interacting with your content. As you’re conversing, drop in an offer to sign up for your email list, sending over a direct link to get them started. Mention a benefit or two; something exclusive would be nice. You might be amazed at the results.

Want success in your lead generation and email marketing efforts? This article (part one of two) outlines four free tips for list building.

Strategy 3: Build Influence with Influencers

Influencers, whether they’re journalists, analysts or bloggers, can drive sales. Demand Gen Report’s 2014 Content Preferences Survey revealed that 72% of survey respondents were influenced by industry peers while making B2B purchase decisions. And influencers come in many shapes and sizes.

Adidas regularly leverages local, social influencers to boost event awareness, participation and engagement in very unique ways. And their influencer network isn’t filled solely with athletes. They look for local artists, musicians, and stylish influencers who embody the Adidas brand, have unique personalities and strong styles, who are creative on social media, and who have a substantial following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms.

Influencers can take your message to the market in ways your own team can’t imagine, because of the scale and engagement of their followers and trust in their personal brands.

But finding who is truly influential in your space can be challenging. Three tools to finding your influencer market take very different approaches, and each tool requires an enlightened strategist to review results and recommend highly targeted influencers.

  • BuzzSumo can look at influencers through the lens of “what content performs best” for any topic
  • Little Bird finds influencers based on their internal connections with other influencers on any subject (the more niche, the better)
  • And for measuring and driving social influence for interactions with television shows or music groups, Tellagence is a strong platform

Once you’ve found your influencers, follow them. Engage with them on their blogs, and in their social channels. Impress them with your knowledge, charisma, and fabulous content. Make it smart for them to share your stuff. Watch your list of followers and advocates grow. And – most importantly – watch your lead pool grow.

Strategy 4: Boost In-Store Engagement

For the past four years, there’s been an Annual Major Purchase Study conducted. The Fourth Annual report, sponsored by Synchronicity, illuminated “how important the in-store experience can be in influencing shopper behavior.”

Most large purchase research starts online, and generally ends with an in-store purchase for things like sports equipment, jewelry, musical instruments and equipment, furniture, and appliances.

60% of shoppers surveyed checked social media, and 40% checked online reviews before making their decision to purchase. Importantly, though, 64% of shoppers who conducted both online and in-store research at some point in their journey said in-store research had a greater influence on their purchase decision.

If your clients (or you) have physical stores, offer their visitors a chance to sign up for digital offers – in the client’s newsletter, coupons, special events – in order to build the list. Make sure store associates not only offer cards at the appropriate moment, but ask whether prospects would like to receive information about products or services (or events) electronically.

Most importantly, store associates should be well informed about product and service offers, the local competitive environment, and opportunities for upsells. If you’re an agency, you might recommend your client employ secret shoppers to truly identify opportunities for improved engagement.

Ensuring your visitors have a seamless and positive “omni-channel” experience consistently across all touch points – web, mobile, social and in-person – will build confidence, credibility, trust and ultimately, sales for your clients and their clients.

In our next post on list building strategies, we’ll look at pay-to-play models of list building strategies:

  • Paid Media (Google AdWords, LinkedIn Sponsored Content, banner ads, etc.)
  • Events and Trade Shows
  • Look-Alike Platforms and Tools
  • Lead List Purchases

Stay tuned!

Ready to get started on step 1 – developing a clear understanding of your client’s buyer personas? Download Act-On’s Free Toolkit: Creating Buyer Personas to gain a clear methodology for creating and using buyer personas. 

Buyer persona toolkit
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8 Killer Tips for More, Better, Earned Media Fri, 15 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Earned media is digital word of mouth. You can’t buy it, but you can arrange circumstances to favor it. We'll show you 5 examples and 8 tips for more attention and sharing.]]>

Buzzword alert: Earned media is the attention and coverage your brand gets that fulfills two requirements: 1) you didn’t pay for it (that’s “paid media”), and 2) you didn’t do it yourself on your own branded web/social properties (that’s “owned media”). It might be the result of your deliberate promotional strategy, such as when you send out a press release and then get a story in a newspaper or magazine. Some people think of earned media as digital word of mouth: hard to get, impossible to buy.

For some marketers, even those with an earned media strategy, getting this digital ink seems like a lucky break. Some hit it big; others achieve average results or simply strike out. Developing a winning earned media strategy, however, is no more a game of luck than learning to play the piano. It takes diligent work, study, patience, and persistence. And the results are worth it.

Seventy-seven percent of people are more likely to purchase a product when they hear about it from a friend. In addition, 92 percent say they trust earned media, while only half trust paid ads. That trust goes a long way to helping convert tire-kickers into buyers, so earned media is very valuable. But how can you transform an average-performing earned media strategy into one that exceeds expectations? It starts by having a deeper understanding what earned media is – and what it is not.

Earned Media: What does it include?

The word “media” itself has many meanings; the main one that comes into play for this discussion is “a means of communication that reaches the general public.” It’s a channel (such as social media, broadcast TV, the Huffington Post). The “earned” means you did something to earn attention.

Remember that if you pay for something, it’s not earned media. It’s “paid media.” For example, LinkedIn’s sponsored updates and promoted tweets are both examples of paid media.

“Owned media” includes any space or channel that you control, such as your website and your social media channels. You can manage these to publish and disseminate your content, such as blog posts, case studies, white papers, newsletters, or other pieces of content that you created. But when other people share those assets on spaces or channels you don’t control, they become earned media.

Earned media does include any dissemination that you aren’t paying for or that is created by a third party. For example, when a customer tweets “Best software ever!” about your solution – that tweet is earned media. When a customer comments “Terrible customer service” on Yelp about your company – that is earned media. And when a top influencer includes your company in a roundup blog that features the top 10 apps of the year – that too, is earned media. Now that we understand what earned media looks like, let’s take a look at some companies that are getting some amazing results.

Companies Rocking Earned Media … and How

Some companies are creating earned media strategies that are generating amazing levels of engagement, revenue and lead generation. Here are a few strategies to inspire your next campaign.

1. The Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” Campaign

Two years ago, Coca-Cola decided to do something different. The company launched its “Share a Coke” campaign and printed people’s names on bottles and cans. This personalization campaign has been hugely successful, reversing a decade-long decline in Coke consumption and boosting its soft drink sales by 2 percent.

A great way to build your brand is through earned media, as Coke did when it printed people’s names on bottles and cans as shown in this picture. This article outlines 8 tips for more, better, earned media.

The campaign gave people an opportunity to express themselves through a bottle of Coke, and to share the experience with somebody else. Coca-Cola also received lots of media attention through this campaign, with coverage from major publications, including Ad Week and The Wall Street Journal. They’ve refreshed the campaign (pun intended, sorry) by moving on to printing labels with song lyrics that are meaningful to people, like “Lean on me.”

This image shows Tyreese Gibson's social media post about his partnership with Coke for the Share a Coke campaign.

Key takeaway: Allow consumers to see themselves, or something else that feels very personal, in your product to generate more earned media.

2. Dove: The Truth about Beauty

Dove uncovered a startling statistic about how women view themselves. It found that only 4 percent of women worldwide consider themselves to be beautiful. (And that’s up from 2% in 2004.) Dove leveraged this information to launch campaigns that encourage women to view themselves more positively and also partnered with nonprofits to multiply their efforts. But perhaps most interesting (and widely shared) was their “Real Beauty Sketches.”

This three-minute video showcases an FBI-trained sketch artist drawing women – first based on their own descriptions, then based on the description of a stranger. The difference between sketches is shocking and further supports Dove’s findings about how women view themselves.

The screenshot of this Dove Real Beauty campaign video shows an FBI-trained sketch artist drawing women.

The video also clearly resonates with the company’s target audience, as it generated massive amounts of earned media with more than 114 million total views, making it among the most viral ad videos of all time. In addition, it was uploaded in 25 different languages and viewed in over 110 countries. People were so inspired, they wanted to share it with their friends.

Key takeaway: Create content so meaningful and good that people can’t wait to share it with their friends.

3. SalesForce: What is Cloud Computing?

SalesForce took a different approach to earned media by answering a simple (but widely asked question): What is Cloud Computing?

Salesforce created a video to answer a very simple but widely asked question: What is Cloud Computing?

The company was on to something because the three-minute explanation has earned over 1.8 million views and 3,706 likes with 570 comments.

Key takeaway: Don’t assume your audience has the time to be as sophisticated as you are in your own niche. Don’t overlook the basic and simple when pulling together your earned media strategy.

4. MarketingProfs: Blog Post

Last year, MarketingProfs wrote the article “Six Crucial Attributes of a Successful Business Blog.” The article addresses how a successful business blog fits into content marketing strategies, the attributes a business blog needs to succeed, and how to measure that success. The blog clearly resonated with the target audience, because it captured 4,712 views and over 1,400 social shares.

MarketingProfs wrote a blog, "Six Crucial Attributes of a Successful Business Blog"

At the end of the post, they include a call to action that leads to a gated resource, “Check out the Business Blogging Secrets Revealed eBook for additional data and findings …”

Here is an example of MarketingProfs using a CTA at the end of one of their blog posts.

This is a great example of how you can use earned media (in this case, lots of social shares) to piggyback lead generation.

Key takeaway: Tie your earned media strategies into lead generation for maximum impact.

5. Target: User-Generated Videos

Target created videos containing student reactions to the news that they were accepted to college. Viewers are given a front-row seat to the anticipation, excitement and joy that students feel in that moment. One of many in the series, the video below earned 16,000 views and was shared widely through social media.

This is one of the videos target creating featuring students reactions to being accepted to college.

But the videos also had a deeper purpose. They drew attention to Target’s pledge to education, rejuvenating perception of the company’s altruism. At the time of this campaign, Target committed to doubling its $500 million in donations to K-12 education causes in the coming years. They reached that goal; by the end of August, 2015, the company had given over a billion dollars.

Key takeaway: Tie earned media strategies to user-generated content to multiply sharing and coverage.

A Few More Tips

In addition to those strategies, here are a few more tips to help with getting more from your earned media campaigns:

  1. Create content worth sharing. All the examples listed above have one thing in common: The content was really great. People want to share content that is entertaining and inspiring or that they think others will benefit from. Third-party publications, such as Ad Week and The Wall Street Journal in the Coke example, also want to write about it.
  2. Use influencer marketing. Capture more earned media by identifying powerful influencers in your niche. For example, in the Target video above, you could feature a well-known influencer interviewing students after getting news of their college acceptance. Influencers will likely share the content, greatly expanding your reach. Find your best influencers.
  3. Publish earned media on owned media platforms. For example, if you’re featured in the “Best Apps of the Year” roundup on a popular blog, post excerpts of the article (with permission) on your blog to get more mileage from those mentions.

Earned media is slow and steady; it’s the tortoise in a race full of hares. Cultivation takes time, yet by using the examples above to inspire your efforts, you can create more effective campaigns that win your audience’s attention and motivate sharing. But the key is to test different strategies and measure what resonates best with your target audience.

Are you getting results from earned media? If so, please leave a comment and tell us how you did it.

10 Tips Engaging Social Content
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How Developing a Sales Team is Like Professional Football Thu, 14 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Act-On’s Luke Smith was a pro football player before he got into sales. In a conversation with McKenzie Ingram, he discusses how football and sales teams are alike.]]>
luke smith

McKenzie Ingram, one of Act-On’s marketing journalists, sat down with Luke Smith, Act-On Regional Sales Director & Area Leader in the Portland office, to discuss his experience leading a sales team at one of the fastest growing companies in America.

Luke has climbed the ranks within Act-On and is recognized as a leader in SaaS sales. And, in another life, he was actually a successful college and professional football player for the Idaho Vandals and the Houston Texans. Now that he’s hung up his cleats and left professional football behind, Luke shares with us what it means to be successful on and off the field, and how the two careers aren’t so very different.

MCKENZIE: What’s the biggest difference you see between successful salespeople and ones that struggle?

LUKE: Sales folks are measured by their weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly contribution. Sales is a timed event much like a football game, except there are no timeouts, no ties, and no overtime.  Time ticks down relentlessly every minute, and we cannot get these minutes back.  If I can eliminate 25% of wasted time, I’ve all of a sudden just added 25% of production to a day, a week, a quarter. And that’s a lot.

That is the expectation I set with my sales team. Successful reps must make sure that every single day that they are working, they appreciate the value of the remaining time, or the lack of time, in order to make sure tasks are being prioritized and placing top ranking revenue-generating activities above all else. The successful sales people accept this; the unsuccessful ones do not.

MCKENZIE: It sounds like time, or lack of it, is a huge hurdle for salespeople. How do you combat that?

LUKE: When it comes to prospecting habits, what I see is that salespeople, across every industry, are having a hard time getting focused and pointed in the right direction. There’s a lot of wasted time with calling the wrong person, with accomplishing the wrong task, with not navigating your strategic deals correctly, with not taking control of the sales cycle, and eliminating time in between meetings.

If you were to take a look at those numbers at the end of a quarter and calculate how much wasted time there was doing non-revenue generating activities; or calling the wrong people that will never contribute to the desired result, that would be pretty disgusting from a sales standpoint.

So the real question is: how can you reduce the risk of not hitting your number by eliminating the wasted time that every single salesperson is faced with on a daily basis?

MCKENZIE:  So what’s the answer to that question? How do you eliminate it?

LUKE: What it comes down to is you’re looking to call the right company, to call the right person within that company, and to call that person at the right time. Those are the three things that make for a good prospecting call. But how do you know what that right company, person, or time is?

The downfall for a lot of sales people is either they’re calling the right company, but the wrong person at the wrong time; calling the wrong company, but the right person at the right time; or any combination of those things.

When every salesperson comes into the office in the morning and logs onto their computer, here’s what is on their mind: “There are people that are buying right now in my territory. There are people that are buying my product without my knowledge. They’re signing a contract for a type of technology that I’m selling, and I’m not involved in that conversation. How can I make sure that I am involved in every one of those conversations?”

You’re looking to call the right company; to call the right person within that company; and to call that person at the right time.

MCKENZIE: Who does that apply to? SDRs (Sales Development Representatives), Account Executives, or RSMs (Regional Sales Managers)?

LUKE: It applies to everyone in an SDR, sales rep, or sales leadership position. And ultimately, it applies to your Sales VP, your Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), and your CEO. It’s a numbers game. You need to be able to ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of connections for the day. But a connection is worthless if it’s a connection to the wrong person.

That’s why you’re seeing a lot of revenue leaders seek technology that helps point sales in the right direction. Otherwise, people just call out of the database a lot of time. They’ll call out of a list. They’ll be cold calling. And they’ll be lucky to get one person that day who would even listen to what they’re saying, let alone book a meeting.

MCKENZIE: As your team’s “coach,” how do you help them be productive and successful?

LUKE: It starts by ensuring my team understands that merely showing up to work will not deliver them to the promised land of commissions, quota achievement, recognition, career advancement, and money.  Anyone can show up. Showing up is a task, like brushing your teeth in the morning.  Anyone can do it.  Now, anyone can walk through the door in the morning and back out in the evening. But if there is a separation of top producers vs. bottom performers, then there must be a magical combination of effort and skill that top performers have.  That magic typically consists of a high sense of urgency, prioritization toward revenue-generating tasks, 100% coachability, and violent execution of strategy without hesitation or procrastination.  When members of my team exhibit these qualities or traits, I know they will get a higher return on their time investment than others who don’t.

So in an athletic event you have your competition; you have your performance; you have your individual goals; and you have your team goals. Individual goals roll up to your team goal. You have to be able to unify as a team to be able to accomplish your overall goal, which is winning the game.

That’s the same way a sales team is constructed. You have your coach, your players, and your individual and team goals.  Add strategy, coachability, sense of urgency, and violent execution of critical tasks without hesitation or procrastination and we have ourselves a team focused on winning the game against a prepared and relentless competitor.  When the last second ticks down to zero and the sales quarter is over, there are winners (those that achieve their quota) and losers (those who do not).

There’s always a winner and a loser.

MCKENZIE: What are the “winners” doing that the “losers” aren’t, or vice versa?

LUKE: The people that prevail are the ones that put in the time, put in the effort, and make sure they focus their effort on prioritizing and making sure the calls they make are worthwhile. So the question becomes, how do you decipher what’s a worthwhile call and what’s not a worthwhile call?

Then you have your strong performers and you have your weak performers. Who’s doing it right? How are they able to make sure the effort they’re putting in is yielding better results than their colleague who’s putting in the same amount of time, and perhaps the same amount of effort, but is not getting very good results.

Successful people are always pointing the finger at themselves. Unsuccessful people are always blaming outside influences for why they’re not successful. That’s one of the key differences I see in successful and unsuccessful people.

Successful people are always pointing the finger at themselves. Unsuccessful people are always blaming outside influences for why they’re not successful.

There are no resources my team has or doesn’t have that other sales teams have or don’t have. Given everyone is on an equal playing field, as far as resources, then coaching comes into play. I analyzed the traits of our top performers, and there are three traits that set the top people apart. My job is to strengthen, or coach, those traits in all our team members.

MCKENZIE: What are those three traits?


Trait #1: Acknowledging You Don’t Know It All, But You Want To Try

One is that no matter what level of mastery you achieve, the best people are always seeking improvement. Top performers, regardless of their job or industry, are always leveraging resources, and opening their brain. The most successful people are the people that don’t think that they know it all.

My current top performer is at my desk constantly. We’re collaborating on different things. He understands that he doesn’t know it all and never will. But he also understands he’s good, and wants to be better.

The most successful people are the people that don’t think that they know it all.

Trait #2: You Have Control Over Your Effort, And You’re Giving It Your All

The next thing is giving 100% effort. One thing we have complete control over is our effort. Everyone’s going to walk in the door in the morning, and everyone’s going to walk out of the door at night. If we’re going to put in a similar amount of time, then what are the things you have direct control over to make sure you’re putting yourself in the best position to succeed?

There are a lot of things that you can’t control. You can’t control what your prospects are going to do; what they end up buying; whether they’re going to lie or tell you the truth; whether or not they’re going to buy when they said they’re going to buy; or whether or not they’re going to introduce you to that VP as they said they would. All those things you don’t have control over.

But you can control your effort. You can control the amount of calls you’re making. You can control the number of WebEx meetings you’re having. You can control the amount of new business opportunities you’re adding to the pipeline. You can control your learning process and seek ways to get better.

The one thing that we have complete control over is our effort

Trait #3: Consistency is Everything

The third thing is consistency. Anyone can produce and have those types of successful metrics for one quarter. But it takes a true all-star to stay disciplined to consistency, to the metrics, to the coaching, and to prioritizing their day-to-day focus on revenue generating activities.

So those are the three things. If people bring those things, all the other stuff comes with them.

It takes a true all-star to stay disciplined to consistency

MCKENZIE: In sales, you could have the best numbers of your career this month, but on the first day of next month, it doesn’t matter. It all just starts over. What’s your take on keeping people motivated and prepared for this?

LUKE: You have got to be on your game at all times in sales, especially with these fast growing companies. It’s exactly like professional athletics. In professional football, it doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or if you’re Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. You’re only as good as your last pass, tackle, reception, or block. Even the stars understand there are people gunning for their job, and that they could lose it on a daily basis. If they have even one bad practice, or they take the foot off the gas just a little bit, it could be career-ending.

If people don’t understand that this is also true in sales, that you think you have this long-term career and can hang your hat on the things you’ve already done, then that’s when you’re in for a surprise. You have to erase the past. To paraphrase retired NFL linebacker Ray Lewis, we are newer people now than we were five minutes ago. Whether you’re growing or you’re dying, that’s your choice.

MCKENZIE: As a leader and a coach, how do you handle being a role model for your team?

LUKE: If I start saying I’m going to come in at nine instead of seven, that I’m going to start leaving at four instead of staying until six, if I start taking my foot off the gas even just a little bit, I will be replaced too. And I know that. And I welcome that. That’s something that gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s a challenge. It’s something that makes the victory sweeter.

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Mining Un-engaged Prospects using a Multivariate A/B Approach Wed, 13 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 You might think your unengaged email recipients should click the same subject line that your engaged recipients do. You might be wrong. Read all about how you can mine unengaged prospects with multivariate A/B testing. ]]>

What are your testing strategies for getting your unopened, unengaged marketing emails opened?

Control testing your subject line and content with multivariate A/B testing, prior to a major deployment, is necessary on many levels. It’s part of that tactical advantage you want to give a campaign prior to fully committing the remainder of your targeted delivery.

Before you seek that upper hand, consider what kind of data you’re targeting, exactly. A/B testing to a group of engaged openers (or people who’ve been historically known to participate in your calls to action) is inherently easier than testing to those who have yet to open an email.

Your engaged users have already established a reputable connection with your sending domain. It’s also likely that their associated click traffic or other downstream data aggregation, after converting has been entered into a basic CRM profile (you’re aggregating recipient interest profiles into a CRM database, right?).

So with that in mind, and for the purpose of this post, I wanted to focus on the prospects with sometimes big potential. I’m talking about the non-open prospect emails in your email universe.

Don’t ignore your unengaged email prospects

This is not meant as a go-to resource that’s able to solve everyone’s prospecting issues. Instead, it is intended to highlight the slipshod approach that is oftentimes associated with unengaged email prospects, and to make a few recommendations on how to get those recipients to open up for the first time. Hopefully, this post can help serve up some variable adjustments to your multivariate A/B testing methods (or inspire you to begin testing), and help get you a better return on those unengaged assets.

Don’t get tunnel vision on your subject lines

Throughout the years I have attempted delivery to billions of non-open email prospects. I recommend a healthy testing phase prior to delivering to them. I’m always curious why clients regularly shoot this approach down.

The typical attitude is, “Well, if the subject line and content is good enough to get a response from the regularly engaged, then it should be good enough for the unengaged, too.”

Such an approach always makes me smile (while shaking my head, of course). And even when I finally convince someone to commit to an A/B test on their unengaged prospects, they tend to reject the multivariate approach, choosing only a strict A/B test, on only the subject line.

Many senders, quite frankly, disregard how their email’s content may hurt prospecting efforts and instead believe the subject line is the sole reason why a user chooses to open the email or not. Most of the time, marketers will just look at the open rates a couple of hours after sampling, as bad as they may be, and decide “Yep, that one beat out the other. Let’s use that one.” What they really should also be considering is how their HTML content and segments tested are affecting their inbox placements.

This is a picture of a list of tips to help get unengaged emails opened by your sales and marketing prospects.

When testing your subject line

In many ways, yes, I agree that an enticing subject line can make or break your open rate; however, so too can inbox visibility. Your subject line is irrelevant if your emails aren’t hitting the inbox. Aside from this, if you’re going to A/B test the subject line only, then my best recommendations to anyone prospecting non-open emails are to:

  • Propose a question in the subject line. Try it on the next A/B test. Send out one test sample with a subject line that makes a statement, and one with a subject line that asks a question. In almost every scenario the test with the question wins because you’re engaging the recipient by encouraging dialog. Use a single question mark.
  • Personalize with localization. Merging the user’s name into the subject line doesn’t carry the impact you may think. Try merging their city, county or state name, instead.
  • Don’t start a subject line with Fwd: or RE:. This strategy is known as deceptive familiarity, and the idea that it helps get a foot in the door on open rates has been proven false time and time again. Sending emails that include such verbiage implies deception, and so ISPs think of them negatively and will feed your email to the spam folder more readily than if you did not use these signifiers. Also, people don’t like being deceived. This behavior heightens the likelihood for increased churn through spam complaints and unsubscribes.

Still, no matter what you do, some unengaged prospects will continue to be unengaged. No matter how many times you send to them, they will not open. Others might simply need to see your message land in their inbox. Once that happens they will sometimes open regardless of the subject line. When they do finally open and click, that engagement is recorded with the recipients ISP. Both your sending domain and the recipient’s email provider will then be able to connect these dots. This “digital hand-shake” will greatly increase your chance for an inbox placement on the next send, many times over.

Other variables to test

Try changing up some other variables in the form of slightly different versions of HTML content. This may give you an edge on hitting the inbox. A couple great ideas to help you create these multivariate test samples in your HTML content would include:

  • Adjusting the text/image ratio of the HTML content. Try letting the text weigh more heavily and relying on fewer images in one of the test samples. Nothing kills more than when a client wants to send a single-image infographic email (one image, containing all the text, with no stand-alone text) to recipients who’ve never opened. It’s very likely that literally every single one of those users will have their images disabled at this stage of engagement. If the only text in the email is an unsubscribe link, then that is all the recipients will see upon opening. Knowing that some non-openers will have their images show as disabled upon first opening (most will), then try putting some persuasive text in the content alongside your info-graphic in order to offer an incentive to enabling the images.
  • Defuse any potential for strong language that would normally be distributed to your regular openers or activists. Save that stronger rhetoric for the landing pages or maybe plant it inside an image so the filters can’t read it. The sophistication on some algorithms that major filters and ISPs are using now a days can be very touchy with regards to the tone of your email text.
  • Create a segment based on historical delivery success to the non-open files, and use segmentation as part of your multivariate environment. After all, if the non-open users are stale, they will have very low potential for actually being delivered successfully. Then worrying about subject lines and HTML content is the least of your concerns.

This last is an old trick that I’ve been using for years. The point is to segment and test to the non-open prospects based on who received their last 3/3, 2/3 or 1/3 emails. It’s also really interesting to analyze the data after this testing. This would likely involve tabling the data and creating a process for tracking the delivery attempts.

On this note, you may also consider permanently purging from your list anyone who hasn’t been successfully delivered to over the last year or so. If they haven’t received an email after a year’s worth of targeting, then they are probably doing more harm than good. Letting them hang out on your list and bounce on every single send is going to trash your deliverability rates. Depending on your email marketing goals and your sales cycle, you may want to shorten that time table for purging to six or eight months and/or suppressing after some number of soft bounces.

Lastly, give your test samples a little more time to marinate:

After the test samples have gone out, you may want to let the results trickle in for more time than usual before finalizing your strategy. Instead of waiting a few hours, come back the next morning and then evaluate the core metrics. Some recipients will not open the first couple hours after receiving, so give them more time to open.

Final thoughts:

Who’s helping you run the multivariate A/B tests and deploy your email campaigns? Are you staffed totally in-house, or do you contract with an advertiser who controls the distribution of your emails based on the content you give them?

Either scenario can be both a blessing and a curse. The outcome is totally bent around the capability and experience of the team pulling the trigger and managing your account’s marketing strategy.

If your team is totally in-house, then the onus is on you to formulate creative solutions for the A/B testing. This means keeping an open mind and testing new approaches to multivariate A/B deployment, like those mentioned above. A curious mind will serve you well when prospecting to a non-opens list. So will some research, education and application of what you’ve learned through trial and error.

If you’re going to take anything away from this post, it should be due diligence. Formulating a test solution that works for you is incredibly important, but can sometimes require an out-of-the box frame of mind. Creating a thoughtful and patient approach to multivariate A/B testing is a challenge, but will definitely help when you’re mining out those non-open prospects in an effort to harvest more conversions.

eBook: The ABCs of A/B Testing

Ready to start launching some A/B tests of your own but don’t know where to start? Download Act-On’s eBook, The ABCs of A/B Testing, to learn the basics about A/B testing so you can uncover the perfect combination of factors that will boost your email engagement.

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5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Newsletter Tue, 12 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Thinking about starting a B2B newsletter? 5 questions to help you determine what it will take, and whether – or not – it’s really a good idea.]]>

Thinking about a B2B newsletter launch? That’s great, but it raises a lot of questions. Usually, the first one to come up is whether this could a profitable project, or will it end up just being a time sink? Will it give you a fresh channel to communicate with your audience, or will you just alienate them with what they perceive as spam?

Making a move into any new content marketing channel is a big commitment. It deserves some deep thought. The good news is that many have gone before you – there are plenty of B2B newsletters around. This isn’t like jumping into a brand new social media platform.

In some ways, that predictability is almost a drawback with B2B newsletters. Let’s face it – they’ve got a rep for being boring, and many deserve it. But despite that rumor, most of the B2Bers who publish a newsletter have good things to say about them. As you can see in the CMI/MarketingProfs charts below, 81% of B2Bers currently have a newsletter already. 60% of them say they’re effective.

Companies have rated their B2B newsletters as an effective marketing tool. This post offers five questions to ask before starting your newsletter.

A 60% success rate may not be wild success, but newsletters are ranked higher than even blogs or infographics in terms of their effectiveness. That suggests they’re worth a try.

Before you try them, though, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself some hard questions. While newsletters can work, they also require quite a few resources to get them right. You’ll need the content, the design, and the marketing, of course. Then there are deliverability issues, getting subscribers, and proving at least some results. And it’s not like you don’t have other things to do.

To help you move forward with confidence – or to backburner this until you’re ready – consider these five questions. Answering them now could set you up for better results later on.

1. Are you willing to go light on the sales pitches?

Let’s start with the hardest issue: Publishing what you want to talk about versus publishing what your audience is actually interested in.

This is the core conflict of content marketing – and the secret for how to not be boring. If you want people to care about your newsletter, it’s going to have to be interesting and useful to them. That means you can’t oversell. You can’t squeeze much more than 10%–20% of promotional and sales content into your newsletter without it getting boring.

Email newsletters, as you know, are a form of content marketing – not a form of advertising. And while B2B newsletters can include mentions of sales and promotions, never do the hard sell. Avoid even the soft sell, as much as you can.

I realize it’s hard to balance this advice with the need to get results. But using your email newsletter like an advertising channel isn’t going to work. Most people (unless they’re in advertising) don’t voluntarily seek out advertising. They don’t want to read about press releases, product launches, or employee promotions – unless it benefits them.

But content that helps them do their jobs, and makes them look smart if they share it? They’ll read that.

So make your newsletter like that. Leave the advertising and promotion for the trade magazines, where someone might actually look for it.

2. What content are you going to put into this newsletter?

Now that you understand how little space you’ll get for company promotional content, what else do you have to publish?

How much educational content can you produce? How easy or hard that is depends on your industry and your niche. There may be only so many things that can be said about phone systems, or printer cartridges, or corporate taxes – at least things people really want to read.

Fortunately, there are ways around this.

  • Keep your newsletters short
    Newsletters are not magazines. They don’t need ten pieces of content to be effective. Better to have just one piece of content that’s really well done, interesting and useful than five content pieces that make even us marketers say “ho hum.”
  • Use content from your social media channels
    It is absolutely fair play to include your social media activity in your emails. The two channels should be friends.
  • Curate here and there
    “Content curation” means sharing third party content with your audience. But don’t just grab a few articles to fill space. Well-curated content includes your commentary, too. And the content your share must be exceptional – as Morra Aarons-Mele writes in The Harvard Business Review, “Most of us don’t want more content – we want less, but better.” That’s what curation offers. And it can make up as much as 30% of your newsletter content. It’ll even get you leads.

Of course, all of this content should go into a mobile-friendly email design. It should be in different formats, too – a little video, audio, and visual content always adds some interest.

Consider adding exclusive content, too. That gives your readers a real incentive to sign up in the first place. Here’s how The Content Marketing Institute adds their exclusive content. Once a week they publish a short (not this short – the image has been cropped to fit this screen) essay about their industry that’s not available anywhere else.

This is an example of how The Content Marketing Institute adds their exclusive content.

3. How often are you going to send it?

Just the simple matter of frequency can have massive consequences that affect what results you’ll get, and how much work it takes to get those results.

If you’re launching a newsletter, I would warn you off daily emails. First, they’re a huge time commitment. Second, it takes a really great newsletter to have daily frequency and not wear out the subscribers.

So what’s ideal? Once a week is reasonably safe. One a month is okay, too … but you might risk being forgotten by your subscribers. Once a month emails are infrequent enough that they often just get ignored (unless your content is so good that people notice and are happy when the newsletter arrives).

Test frequency

But really the best way … is two ways: to test, and to give people options.

Testing your emails’ frequency is going to take time. To do it, marketers typically split their list randomly into two groups, then mail to one group with Frequency A (let’s call it once a week), and to the other group at Frequency B (say, every two weeks). They’ll continue with that for at least a month, possibly two months.

Then they’ll compare the results. You get the best answers if you look beyond metrics like opens. You might even look beyond click-through rate, perhaps to how much businesses was generated from the two lists over that time, or how the overall engagement levels of each of the two groups compared.

The other approach is to just let people choose. You can do this by sending an email asking people to pick their preferred frequency, or you can offer them choices right as they opt in. You can also start asking them in every email you send. Usually this is done somewhere in the footer, like Buffer has done below:


4. To segment or not to segment?

“Segmenting a newsletter” means you’ll have two or more versions of it. This has some major benefits, including that you’ll be able to deliver more relevant content to your subscribers. That usually results in higher engagement rates, and most likely, higher sales.

It also means more work. Almost double the work, at least for the email production people. I once watched an executive decide to publish six versions of a newsletter, then be disappointed when their staff no longer had time for other projects. Granted, those six email versions did get more clicks – and sales – but the lift wasn’t worth all the additional work.

Of course, with the right automation system it is possible to create dynamic content in email newsletters. It works roughly like this:

  • When a piece of content is created, it gets tagged with whichever audience or topic it’s suited to
  • Then when the weekly email is being set up, the email’s producer gets to pick from a list of fresh content for each version of the newsletter
  • In the most sophisticated systems, she’ll even be able to see which pieces of content have performed best in terms of shares or leads

That’s a great tool if you’ve got it … but most small businesses don’t. They’re reliant on an already-busy marketer to assemble the newsletter each week.

Now, despite all the warnings I just gave you about this, segmenting can definitely be worthwhile. Especially if you keep it simple. At launch, commit to no more than two versions of the same newsletter. Maybe one for prospects and one for clients. Or if your business has two distinct audiences, create newsletters for them. Like buyers and sellers for a commercial real estate business. Or employers and workers for a staffing agency.

If there is no clear benefit to creating two versions of your newsletter, don’t do it.

5. How will you measure success?

This is one of those questions that has no right answer. I think most of us would love to just say “we measure success from direct sales.” But it’s rarely that easy. Which is why most companies don’t measure the success of their newsletters that way. Instead, they’ll spread the success factors around.

Top-level metrics might include:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • How many new subscribers they get each month
  • Direct sales from the limited promotional content they put into the newsletters

That’s a fine start, but usually marketers will want to dig a little deeper into measurements like:

  • Net new growth (the number of new subscribers minus how many people opted out)
  • List growth rate (the number of net new subscribers divided by the number of subscribers at the beginning of the measurement period, expressed as a percentage)
  • Leads generated (how many people click-through on an email link, but then ended up downloading a content asset, or used a calculator or other interactive tool)
  • The value of the leads generated
  • The close rate of the leads generated

If you’ve got a sophisticated CRM in place, you’ll be able to track each individual prospect’s path through your emails, through their downloads and ultimately through their interaction with sales. This can be extremely powerful information, but don’t use it to a point that things get creepy or invasive. Some of us don’t like to be harassed with five emails and three phone calls just because we downloaded an eBook.

Remember that all these measurements have two fundamental discovery goals:

If a metric doesn’t answer either of those questions, or can’t be part of the answer for those questions, it may not be worth tracking.

If you are segmenting your list, consider tracking each segment separately.

Key takeaways

Many marketers get good results from their B2B newsletters – but not all of them. How you answer these five questions will tell you a lot about which camp you’ll end up in (the marketers with the effective newsletters, or the marketers with a problem):

  • Are you willing to go light on the sales pitches?
  • What content are you going to put into this newsletter?
  • How often are you going to send it?
  • Will you segment your list?
  • How will you measure success?

Back to you

What do you think of your company’s newsletter? Which questions do you wish you asked yourself before you launched it? Leave a comment to tell us what you think.

How To Prioritize Your Leads

Ready to start testing segmentation for your newsletters but you don’t know where to start? Download Act-On’s eBook, How to Prioritize Your Leads by Segmenting & Scoring Your Audience, to learn the three layers of segmentation and best practices for lead scoring. 

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Advanced Retargeting: Nurturing Your Audience Across Digital Channels Mon, 11 Jul 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Retargeting is a key tactic for account-based marketing success. Read this use case illustrating how to use personas, content, and retargeting together for a successful ABM strategy.]]>

The SaaS marketing world is humming in 2016 to the tune of offering your business something – anything – related to account-based marketing (ABM). It’s the summer hit equivalent of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

One of my favorite offerings has been to use retargeting advertising to engage with the employees from a specific account as they surf the web. Yes, retargeting ads can be annoying. But they are also effective. And when as much as 75 percent of the buying process happens before a contact ever reaches out to you, it is critical to be looking for proactive ways to win hearts and minds by building the brand through any number of tactics, including retargeting.

But just as ABM is a new concept that is really 20+ years in the making, an effective retargeting campaign for ABM relies on some old-school marketing.

Let’s review what you’ll want to consider as you launch your next retargeting campaign for ABM, and how they all the pieces fit together.

Ideal account profile

Who is your ideal account?

Just as you begin any marketing initiative by determining your ideal customer profile and buyer persona, the same applies to building out your ideal account profile.

Look at the accounts you have now or that are in your pipeline. What ones do you want to emulate? Do you understand the business drivers for that prospective account, on both an industry and company level?

Next you want to focus on understanding goals, behaviors, language, processes, systems, and more. As you build out your ideal account profile and next move to creating personas, you will want to consider that you’ll need personas for the decision maker, the influencer, and the stakeholders.

As CMO Kevin Bobowski points out in the video below, in the example of targeting the Act-On account, we would build out personas for him (the decision maker), for his directors and senior directors of the various marketing teams (the influencers), and then a persona for folks like me that will be working every day in the product being sold (the hands-on users). The end result is that there can be hundreds or more different touchpoints into an account throughout the different stages (brand, demand, expand), all of which calls for a coordinated approach.

Content audit

As your ideal account and account buyer personas take shape, be aware that you should have an audit that addresses each stage of the buyer’s journey for each persona. Audit the content you already have and identify the gaps. For instance, you may want to produce an eBook for users, a short demo video for the influencers, and a ROI case study for the decision makers. As this content gets identified and fleshed out, you can plan how to use it in your ABM retargeting campaign.

Lead nurturing

Let’s define it.

“Lead nurturing is an automated program that encourages prospects to interact with your brand,” said Linda West, director of marketing at Act-On Software.

According to Gleanster Research, 30 percent to 50 percent of the leads that marketers get are qualified, but are not yet ready to buy.

“Just because they’re not ready to buy does not mean they will never buy,” West said. “It means that it’s your job as a marketer to really stay top of mind with the person and really develop the relationship with that person, warm them up over time, so that when they are ready to buy, they choose you.”

She said the goal with lead nurturing is to provide that top of mind outreach through a series of emails and other communications, but not explicitly sell to the prospect, so that over time you’re building trust with them.

“You don’t want to turn them off by sending this ‘BUY NOW’ email message when you know they’re not ready to buy, when they’re not quite there yet, and when they barely know your brand,” West said. “They just won’t bite, especially if you’re in the B2B space or if you have a product with a really big price tag on it, and you have a much longer sales cycle.”

She said you can nurture a prospect across different channels, using the intelligence you’ve gathered from your marketing automation platform and your lead nurturing environment. Companies that excel at this, West said, generate 50 percent more sales ready leads at 33 percent lower cost, according to Forrester Research.

The messaging you send via your nurture program is going to be influenced by your prospect’s profile, behavior, and engagement on your website. Your nurture program is going to direct your account personas along the buyer’s journey.

The content you’ll serve could include blog posts, tweets videos, and just about anything that will help them better understand the problem they’re experiencing as their respective pain points. This can be best-practice content, inspirational content, or funny, suitable-for-the-workplace content. In later stages of the buying cycle, you’ll validate their interests and offer more specific solution/product information such as case studies, testimonials, analyst reports, and so forth.

Just as you did during your content audit, you want to map out where along the funnel you will be sending your nurture campaign messaging. Recognize that no one makes decisions on your timeline; they make decisions on their own timelines.

So as you develop an email nurturing automated program, you’ll use branching logic to say if someone interacts with this email, then serve them with this message. If they don’t interact, they get a different message. Map out the scenarios in which they interact with everything, and the scenarios if they interact with nothing.

You’ll now be ready to integrate that with your retargeting campaigns, expanding those nurturing messages via retargeting to the same personas in your lead nurturing email campaign.

“For every individual email message we have in the nurture campaign, we also have an ad that follows them around the web wherever they are, it’s a retargeting ad, that complements that message and gives them that same feeling,” West said.


Rodrigo Fuentes, co-founder and CEO of, suggests looking at how the loop can be closed via retargeting by looking at a hypothetical example: Carl, the CIO of Acme Construction Company (decision maker), has been tasked with buying construction management software for a new project Acme is starting. Carl delegates this assignment down the chain, and it eventually ends up on the desk of Anne, an engineering project manager.

Anne starts the buying process via a Bing internet search for “construction management software.” During her initial research, she comes across HCSS, a construction software company. HCSS, our hero in this example, was also on a list of prospective firms that Carl had passed down to her.

Anne visits HCSS’s website, exploring pages that give a high-level overview of various problems that construction companies have. She finds a landing page for a white paper that gives an in-depth analysis of the specific problem Acme has, and gives particulars of the benefits of HCSS’s construction management solution.

Anne downloads this whitepaper, saves it to her desktop, and then moves on to another project. You see, as mentioned earlier, Acme is a qualified buyer, but isn’t yet ready to buy. For Acme, it will be a 4–6 month buying process, and Anne has moved on to address more immediate deadlines.

But by downloading the white paper, Anne has been entered into HCSS’s CRM via its marketing automation platform. Carl is already in the system, filed under the Acme account profile. With the addition of Anne, HCSS is beginning to develop an account profile.

Based on her initial behavior, HCSS is going to put Anne in its lead nurturing program, sending her an email with content related to her interest and behavior on the HCSS website (gleaned from the marketing automation platform).

Additionally, HCSS is going to also serve Anne retargeting ads that support the nurture program. Those retargeting ads will be displayed on various third-party platforms, such as internet news sites.

The first retargeted ad offers an eBook on construction safety programs (based on her behavior on the HCSS website). A second, then third retargeting ad offering content focusing on the top of the funnel is sent out every seven days.

If Anne engages with this content, then next month HCSS will send her another batch of retargeting ads (and emails) that offer her middle of funnel content. Then, based on Anne’s engagement with the middle of funnel content, HCSS will send her bottom-of-funnel nurturing content.

Additionally, based on Anne’s behavior, HCSS will serve Carl retargeting ads that offers top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and later bottom-of-funnel content targeted to his persona as a decision maker.

Over the course of four to five months, HCSS will have been nurturing both the influencer and decision makers at Acme about their software solution. They will have also been generating brand awareness with Anne and Carl as the two traveled around the rest of the web via retargeting ads, including ads that featured Acme’s logo in them.

“It’s really important to understand that in this postmodern marketing world that we live in, people are becoming a lot more marketing savvy,” Fuentes said. “You really have to get creative and understand how to nurture audiences across digital channels. And I think that’s really where intelligent retargeting and intelligent email nurture marketing can be extremely valuable.”

Ready to expand your knowledge about how to extend your nurturing across digital channels? Join Linda West, Director of Marketing at Act-On Software and Rodrigo Fuentes, Co-Founder and CEO of ListenLoop, as they deep dive into the topic and show you how you you can generate more sales ready leads, by extending your lead nurturing efforts through retargeting.

Nurturing Your Audience Across Digital Channels
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