The MECE framework — what it is and how to use it

See more in the follow-up How to present a recommendation.

To change the behavior of an organization, you must address both the technical problems and the way people engage with those problems. The people problem is the hard one.  Still, you usually have to solve the technical problems too. The secret is not to get bogged down in the technical bit.

The MECE framework is one way to solve seemingly intractable technical problems. It allows you to spend less time on the technical side, and focus your energy helping other people change and grow.

I’ll give you an outline of the approach, and follow up with links to useful resources. If you have questions to ask or experiences to share, I want to hear from you!


How the spreadsheet looks.

What is MECE?

Have you ever seen (or delivered) a 60-page technical report? How much did the client do (or even read) as a result? Consultants write these documents to prove their competence. They trap themselves by not defining the problem well enough. If the scope of the problem is unclear, when do you stop solving?

Big problems can be complicated, or they can be complex. Complicated problems are challenging, but solvable if you find the right approach. Technical problems are usually complicated. Complex issues have too many variables to understand. They resist formulaic approaches. The way a client team manages their problems is complex.

If you look at a technical problem and feel paralyzed, you recognize how complicated it is. The right way to solve a complicated problem is to impose structure on it. Breaking that problem down into several smaller problems makes it easier to solve.

MECE is a framework for breaking down big problems. It stands for Mutually Exclusive, Comprehensively Exhaustive. Here’s what that means:

  • Mutually exclusive. All the subproblems we identify are different, and they don’t overlap.

  • Comprehensively exhaustive. The subproblems cover all possibilities.

MECE gives you confidence that you’ve inspected every angle without wasting effort.

Questions or assertions

Check out both sheets of the example document to follow along.

There are two ways to structure a MECE analysis. You can think in terms of questions that you want to answer, or assertions that you want to check.

As an illustration, consider the Technical SEO Audit Checklist for Human Beings. The technical problem is whether the way a website was built is keeping users from discovering its content. We could frame this in two ways:

  • Question. “Are there technical reasons that users can’t discover our content?”

  • Assertion. “There are technical reasons that users can’t discover our content.”

Though these are similar, they split in different directions. For the question format, you try to generate all possible sub-questions that you should ask to answer the big question. For the assertion format, you produce all of the sub-assertions that would be necessary to prove your big assertion.

Breaking down the problem

Let’s use MECE to break down a technical problem. We want to understand the technical challenge quickly, confidently, and in a replicable way. These are the three steps to follow:

  1. Familiarize yourself with available data.

  2. Form a hypothesis about what to do.

  3. Validate the solution.

We’re going to use both the question and assertion approach. We’ll start by using the question approach to expand the horizon of our analysis. Then, when we think we have the right answer, we’ll use the assertion approach to support our conclusion.

First, familiarize yourself with available data

Check out the first page of the example Sheet to follow along.

Imagine a client has come to you saying, “I just need to increase my organic traffic.” For Distilled, that’s a common scenario — and a difficult demand to fulfill! Where do you start with an open-ended problem like that? Applying MECE will give us some direction.

Let’s give it a try, starting from the top. More organic traffic is the goal. What are all the possible ways you could achieve that goal? Remember, the list must be mutually exclusive, and comprehensively exhaustive. These are the top-level possibilities I came up with:

Need more organic traffic

  • Could we get more organic traffic if we add more content to the site?

  • Could we get more organic traffic if we improve existing content?

  • Could we get more organic traffic if we increase the perceived authority of our content?

MECE is recursive. You break the big problem into subproblems, and then you also break down each subproblem in turn. This continues until you can identify a physical action to solve the subproblems. Here’s a visual representation of the process:

For example, we could increase traffic to the site by adding more content that targets high-volume search terms. That’s a more focused problem than “increase organic traffic”. But it’s still a bit paralyzing. So let’s break the problem down further:

How can we increase traffic by adding content?

  • Maybe create more content targeting competitive head terms?

  • Maybe create lots of content targeting long-tail terms?

We’re getting warmer, but we’re not quite there. Let’s do one more try, focusing on the possibility of adding long-tail content:

How can we increase traffic with long-tail content?

  • Could we automate content creation with proprietary client data?

  • Can we design a content calendar the client could use to produce targeted content?

The process stops here because the problems are specific enough to generate the next physical actions. We could break the points down further, but that wouldn’t change the actions we’d take to research them.

This process is fully fleshed out in the spreadsheet. In the end, we come up with things like “Are there head terms in markets we aren’t considering?” These are all answerable questions. They will drive action.

In fact, we wind up with the same actions we have for most projects. We need to do a technical audit. We need to brainstorm campaign ideas. The difference is that we now know exactly why we’re doing these things — and how much we need to invest in finding an answer.

Next, form a hypothesis

In the first step, you exposed all possible approaches to answering the big question. By doing that research, you’ll have formed an opinion about what the answer is. If not, collecting everything in one place should bring out some contenders.

Now it’s time to form a hypothesis based on your research and professional intuition. For instance, looking at the example spreadsheet, I start to suspect that creating long-tail content will be the best way for the client to increase their organic visibility.

That’s my informed opinion — I might be wrong. The hypothesis doesn’t have to turn out correct. That’s why you need to validate it.

Finally, validate your recommendations

Check out the second page of the example Sheet to follow along.

Validating is when we turn from the question approach to the assertion approach. This step is often skipped when tackling complicated problems without a formal process. It’s natural to form an opinion about what to do while you’re researching. It may even seem obvious that you have the right answer, and you might!

Imagine going to the client at this point with your opinion. You’d say, “I did a bunch of research and it pointed toward this recommendation.” While that’s better than going to the client with a massive audit, there’s still room for the client to doubt. It’s time to shift focus.

In step one, we analyzed every relevant facet of the “get more traffic” problem. Now we’ve got a hypothesis. We need to inspect this hypothesis from all angles. Let’s look at our example hypothesis, and what we need to show in support of it:

We should invest in creating content for long-tail keywords

  • Improving rankings of existing content isn’t practical.

  • We can capture new long-tail traffic.

  • Capturing long-tail traffic has a positive ROI.

As with the first step, we continue this process until each question could have a concrete answer. Check out the spreadsheet for inspiration.

We’re taking it from “the evidence points in this direction” to “we’ve looked at this from all relevant angles, and are confident we can support it”. This is the most important supporting evidence to present.

A little thinking goes a long way

David Allen says in GTD, “You have to think about your stuff more than you realize, but not as much as you’re afraid you might.” That’s as true for big technical problems as it is for your own to-do system.

The art is breaking down the big problem into a set of sub-problems. That isn’t easy — but it’s more effective than trying to do a bunch of audits and hoping they’ll coalesce into meaningful insight.

Once you’ve mastered MECE, the three-step outline is simple:

  1. Expose possibilities

  2. Choose the most promising

  3. Validate the chosen possibility

This process will efficiently arrive at a reasonable solution. Solving the complicated technical problem gives you more opportunity to collaborate with the client on complex people problems.


Engaging with these ideas

Here are two books that have introduced me to these methods. If you’re interested in this approach to problem-solving, I recommend them!

  • Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. This book has great ideas, but it takes some effort to parse. I’ve created an internal training course for our team to share its principles in a more structured way. For those who are willing to invest in its ideas, there is the potential for a huge payoff.

  • The McKinsey Way by Ethan M. Rasiel. There are plenty of books on McKinsey and MECE. I happened to get my introduction to the concept here.

The MECE framework — what it is and how to use it was posted via Internet Marketing

The Real Value of Martech & Automation? The Humanization Potential, According to Liz Cope

Liz Cope at B2BMX

Liz Cope at B2BMX

Standing before a room of eager-to-learn marketers at B2B Marketing Exchange, Liz Cope, Director of Marketing Technology and Operations at Ingersoll Rand, was an open, honest, vulnerable … human.

“This is so embarrassing,” she said, admitting that some fundamental marketing functions were missing the mark at her multi-billion-dollar company.

Liz’s candor helped audience members feel right at home and not alone. After all, we’ve all been disappointed to learn that one of our core marketing functions or strategies needed to be reworked, rebooted, or reimagined entirely. Her candid approach also tied well into her session’s theme: Martech, Process and People: Humanizing the Journey to Channel Transformation.

Liz’s presentation was robust, detailing key technologies, processes, and the organizational structure she and her team have put in place to transform their channel marketing strategy. But her message was simple: Automate to humanize.

And in a time where marketers are being challenged to deliver more personalized, customer-centric experiences to create connections and drive results, this premise deserves consideration.

The Real Value of Martech & Automation is Human

Marketing technologies exist to automate time-consuming processes; to eliminate and alleviate the level of human touch necessary to complete a task or series of tasks, while also delivering more intelligent insights. So, how can automation be a gateway to humanization? The answer is quite simple, for Liz and her team.

“We can use martech to automate work for our internal employees and channel partners to free them up to engage in valuable human interactions with customers,” she stated. “We can automate to humanize our brands.”

And they’ve put this mantra in action.

The Humanizing Journey

Ingersoll Rand, a manufacturing company that’s been in business for more than 130 years, gets most of its sales and revenue through indirect distribution channels—meaning the company has to manage a global network of distribution partners.

To arm those channel partners with the tools they need to be effective and successful, Liz and her counterparts have been working hard to ensure the right marketing technologies, processes, and people are in place.

Another major driver of their hard work is the desire to build a customer-focused business. According to Liz, a new batch of research shows that companies that are perceived as easier to do business with will have three-times more share-of-wallet in the future. And Ingersoll Rand wants to capture that share.

“When we’re genuinely invested in our customers—invested in putting them first—we can gain their trust. And we can earn their confidence and mindshare to increase our market share and share-of-wallet,” Liz declared.

So, where are Liz and her team at on their “automate to humanize” journey and what results have they seen?

While Liz admits they’re just getting started, they’ve begun by focusing on two improvement opportunities:

  1. Improving lead management. On average, it was taking at least three days for leads to get routed to the right partner.
  2. Enhancing accessibility to marketing collateral. According to Liz, there were several different systems being used to provide resource materials, each requiring a separate login and password.

Here’s what they’ve done:

  • When it comes to technology, they’ve implemented a partner relationship management (PRM) system to automatically route leads to partners and house an asset library. As for initial results, the ability to automatically route leads has reduced internal effort by an impressive 30%. In addition, they now have more visibility into how partners are consuming content, so they can personalize communications and support on the go-forward. Finally, they’re in the midst of a martech stack evaluation to understand where there is overlap, gaps, and the most value to be gained.
  • When it comes to process, they’ve identified key priorities to keep them focused and enhance their ability to scale efforts across the organization. For example, they’re building out a “marketing standard work” framework to ensure employees know what steps to take when executing work.
  • When it comes to people, they’ve constructed an organizational structure that allows collaboration and visibility at multiple levels. For example, they’ve established a Marketing Leadership Council to act as a steering committee.

The B2B Marketer’s Takeaway

If your organization wants to become truly customer-focused and deliver more personalized experiences, you need to enable your internal team, partners, and customers to be successful.

While Liz’s insights came from work to transform a channel strategy, any B2B marketer has the opportunity to ensure the right people, processes, and marketing technologies are in place to deliver content and experiences that empower their audiences, humanize their brands, and create efficiencies at scale.

For more insights from the conference, you can follow @toprank, @leeodden@azeckman, and @CaitlinMBurgess on Twitter. Stay tuned for more by following the blog here.

The Real Value of Martech & Automation? The Humanization Potential, According to Liz Cope was posted via Internet Marketing

Sales & Marketing Alignment: Shahid Javed Shares How to Go from Hate to Love in 60 Days

It’s a tale as old as time. The marketing team is hyper-focused on awareness campaigns, events, and driving more leads to fill the funnel. Meanwhile, the sales team is hyper-focused on meeting sales and revenue goals, and nurturing relationships to empty the funnel.

These two teams occupy two very different functional areas within a company. They’re moving at completely different speeds. They’re operating under their own rules. And as a result, there’s tension, misunderstanding, and even … hate.

But according to Shahid Javed, Director of Enterprise Marketing for Hughes Network Systems, B2B marketers can be change agents here. They can give and get love from their sales teams. And they can do it in as little as 60 days.

How? Shahid says you need a short- and long-term strategy to foster the collaboration, love, and alignment needed to drive results. In his session at B2B Marketing Exhange in Scottsdale, AZ, he focused on the short-term strategy to help marketers understand where they can start and get some immediate traction. Let’s dive in.

The Three Phases of Overcoming Sales & Marketing Beefs

In 2016, Shahid joined the Hughes Network Systems, which is a broadband network provider, team on the enterprise marketing side. When he arrived at the first meeting ahead of a massive annual tradeshow event, he found tension and chaos between the marketing and sales leaders. And he vowed to change it.

“We had 23 different sales decks,” he shared. “Now we have two. We also had 500 dashboards in Salesforce—we deleted nearly all of them.”

To make change, Shahid leveraged a three-part framework:

Phase 1: Listening & Information Gathering

According to Shahid, the first phase is all about listening.

“I met with everyone—the head of east coast sales, the head of west coast sales, the head of marketing, executive leadership,” he shared. “I wanted perspectives. I wanted to know what everyone was thinking and how they saw their roles.”

During those meetings he had some core questions that he asked every stakeholder:

  • What were your objectives, roles, and responsibilities in the last year?
  • What are some of your top highlights from the past year?
  • What are some of the misses you experienced this past year?
  • What are your goals for this year?
  • What do you need from marketing to reach your goals?

It seems simple, but the act of listening is a critical first step. Why? As Bill Gates once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

“Marketing is a service provider to sales—sales is our customer,” Shahid said. “We need to be able to empower them and enable them to solve problems. We need to make them the hero in the buyer’s eyes.”

[bctt tweet=”#Marketing is a service provider to #sales—sales is our customer. We need to be able to empower them and enable them to solve problems. We need to make them the hero. @shahidj” username=”toprank”]

Phase 2: Finding the Sweet Spot

Once you’ve collected all the data, it’s time to analyze and normalize that data so you can create a plan that management and leadership will buy into.

“This is where you look for common goals between leadership, sales, and marketing,” Shahid said. “It’s all about finding that sweet spot—and making sure everyone is in agreement on where things fall. You cannot do it on your own because sales and marketing leaders have to be able to sell your end-plan to their managers and teams.”

Once the common goals are agreed upon, you can create a plan that helps you hit that sweet spot and sell it to the C-suite. And there are four key steps that Shahid outlined:

  • Define and agree on objectives and roles. Who’s doing what and how does that support the overall business goals?
  • Identify short- and long-term goals. If you only think long-term, you’ll never get anything accomplished because everyone is so busy. You need a short-term plan to get traction.
  • Outline the tactics and strategies you’re going to use to reach those goals. And marketers, be honest about what you can and cannot do. Some things you may not be capable of doing yet, and that’s OK. Your sales team just needs to know.
  • Document plans and actions. These are the marching order for each team.

And a bonus piece of advice to work into this phase: Make sure you have agreement on what qualifies as an MQL or SQL—and really, you should let the sales team define that.

“The biggest nightmare for us was the MQL and the SQL,” Shahid said with a laugh. “We let sales define it and come up with the scoring. We knew that if we defined these and delivered leads under that scoring, sales would never take them. They needed to define it.”

Phase 3: Empowering Execution

Now it’s time to profess your love to sales by making it easy for them to become that hero for the customer.

For Shahid’s team, that meant making it easy for the sales teams to access and internalize marketing materials and messaging. Here’s just a sampling of what that looked like:

  • Leveraging Dropbox, Shahid’s team created and shared templates, style guides, brand guides, and more with the sales team.
  • The team used Salesforce Chatter, a communications tool, to collaborate and share information.
  • They created social messaging and visual assets that sales reps and sales leaders could leverage on their personal social media platforms.

“Most buyers have already made up their mind on the kind of solution they need,” Shahid said. “When it comes time for the sales person to come in, buyers need to know that they’re the problem solver. So we need to help the sales person come in as the superhero.”

Love Has Its Benefits

The collaborative approach to fostering sales and marketing love didn’t just lead to alignment and trust for Hughes Network Systems. It led to big, beautiful business results. In the last year, the sales and marketing teams have seen:

  • 120% boost in web engagements
  • 118& increase in email engagements
  • 108% rise in tradeshow engagements
  • 62% lift in social engagements
  • 22% jump in win rates

“Twenty years ago, it was an actual best practice for sales and marketing to work in silos,” Shahid said. “But alignment has become absolutely critical now. The expectations are too high, [internally and externally].”

So, B2B marketers: Are you ready to give and get love from your sales team? Now is the time.

For more updates and insights form the conference, you can follow @toprank, @leeodden, @azeckman, and @CaitlinMBurgess on Twitter. Stay tuned for more by following the blog here.

Sales & Marketing Alignment: Shahid Javed Shares How to Go from Hate to Love in 60 Days was posted via Internet Marketing

Kelvin Gee Delves Into Key Learnings from Oracle’s Account-Based (Marketing) Initiative

Oracle's Kelvin Gee at B2BMX

Oracle's Kelvin Gee at B2BMXAccount-based marketing (ABM) has been a rising trend for B2B brands for roughly a decade. And it’s appeal (and effectiveness when done right) is rooted in thinking differently—in transforming your traditional approach to targeting, engagement, and nurturing to drive results.

But for Kelvin Gee, Oracle’s Senior Director of Modern Marketing Business Transformation, and his team, thinking differently has led to piloting an account-based framework. (Notice, “marketing” is missing.)

“We believe words matter,” he told a packed room at B2B Marketing Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ. “[If we called our initiative ‘account-based marketing’], sales would think it was just another campaign of the month.”

“So, we just call it ‘account-based’ because we’re all in it together,” he said. “It’s not a tactic or event. It’s a go-to-market strategy.”

This all-in-it-together mantra should resonate with B2B marketers. Simply put, if we want to scale our marketing efforts and drive tangible and transformative business results, we need alignment and buy-in across the organization; we need to be a team.

Why Oracle Launched Its Account-Based Initiative

During his session, Kelvin gave us a high-level look at why and how Oracle tackled creating an account-based framework. At the most basic level, the demand waterfall was broken. Kelvin said that a very small percentage of MQLs were converting.

“There were silos; everyone was doing their own thing,” he said. “And we were transitioning to the cloud. We needed to do something.”

From internal myth-busting around what account-based really is to developing highly-personalized content for specific executives within target companies, the ultimate goal was to elevate Oracle’s strengths and mask weaknesses in the eyes of their target market.

Key Insights From Oracle’s Journey Thus Far

While Kelvin said Oracle’s account-based approach is still in “pre-season” mode, he shared a couple key insights and learnings his team has garnered.

#1 – Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.

Marketers are often perfectionists, which can make embarking on a new initiative scary. But, according to Kelvin, if you’re willing to at least get started—to take that first step—you can get to the other side.

And you want to step together, and that starts with getting the team strategically aligned. To get your people there, here are four key focus areas:

  • Targeting: How do we select the right accounts?
  • Personalization: How do we develop insight and personalize content for our audiences?
  • Orchestration: How do we get everyone to work together?
  • Measurement: How are we going to measure success? (Since this a new initiative, you wouldn’t be able to use the same benchmarks. You need a new yardstick to measure against.)

#2 – Sometimes it takes a while for a team to gel.

Misalignment with sales. Poor execution. Shoddy communications plans. You will inevitably hit some snags throughout your account-based journey. And that’s OK. As you expand collaboration and refine roles, it will take some time for your team to work in harmony.

“You’re never going to get it perfect right out of the gate,” Kelvin said. “The key is to learn from those mistakes and continue to iterate.”

[bctt tweet=”You’re never going to get it perfect right out of the gate. The key is to learn from those mistakes and continue to iterate. – @kgee on #AccountBasedMarketing #ABM” username=”toprank”]

#3 – Remember, teams never give up.

Launching an account-based approach for your organization is a lofty task. And those snags along the way may make you rethink whether or not you should continue. But you should.

“Account-based is a team sport,” Kelvin said. “Sometimes you’ll need to reboot it; rebuild that trust [with the internal team]. And you need to be honest.”

Account-Based (Marketing) is a Long Journey—But It’s the Future

Breaking away from tradition and charting an account-based course is a long, hard journey. As Kelvin mentioned several times, Oracle is just getting started; Oracle is in pilot mode. But it’s a critical step toward the future of marketing and the future of their business.

[bctt tweet=”Account-based is the future of B2B marketing. – @kgee #AccountBasedMarketing #ABM” username=”toprank”]

For more updates from the conference, you can follow @toprank, @leeodden, @azeckman and @CaitlinMBurgess on Twitter. In addition to speaking and tweeting, team members from TopRank Marketing will be live blogging sessions (like this one) throughout the conference so be sure to follow the blog for more.

Disclosure: Oracle is a TopRank Marketing client.

Kelvin Gee Delves Into Key Learnings from Oracle’s Account-Based (Marketing) Initiative was posted via Internet Marketing

Bye-Bye Boring B2B: Lee Odden Shows B2BMX Attendees the Power of Interactive Influencer Content

Interactive Influencer Content Marketing

Interactive Influencer Content MarketingQuick question, B2B marketers: How many of you wake up feeling like this about your B2B content?


Not so much? Hey, it’s OK. You’re a passionate and proud B2B marketer. But finding a way to create exciting, inspiring, infotaining content that connects with your audience is hard work. After all, B2B isn’t innately sexy—it’s booooooring. Oh, and between content overload, changing consumer preferences for personalization, and diminishing audience trust, it’s increasingly hard to capture and keep attention.

So, here’s another question: Are you ready to say bye-bye to boring content and hello to exciting, inspiring, and infotaining content experiences?

Yes so much? Good. Because, as TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden told a packed room at B2B Marketing Exchange this week, you can.

How? By bringing two incredibly powerful content marketing tactics together: interactive content and influencer content.

Why interactive? Why influencers? Why interactive and influencers? Here’s how Lee broke it down.

Why Interactive Content?

The digital content landscape is increasingly competitive. If brands don’t create great content experiences that grab and hold attention, they simply can’t compete. But interactive content can be a B2B game-changer.

Interactive content informs. Interactive content engages and entertains. Interactive content connects. Oh, and interactive content converts. And as Lee pointed out, research shows that 81% of marketers agree that interactive content grabs attention more effectively than static content (CMI) and 70% of marketers say interactive content is effective at converting site visitors (Ion Interactive).

Why Influencer Content?

As Lee said, these days “buyers expect more, but trust less.” In fact, according to a HubSpot report, 65% of buyers don’t trust ads and a whopping 55% of those surveyed said they don’t even trust the companies they’re already doing business with.

The good news? Buyers desperately want to trust.

[bctt tweet=”Buyers desperately want to trust. And we can give them trust with relevant #B2B content that features credible voices. – @leeodden #InfluencerMarketing #ContentMarketing” username=”toprank”]

But who do buyers trust? Simply put, buyers trust people they know—or people they think they know. (Just for fun, take a peek at where marketers rank as compared to baristas. Uh huh.)

HubSpot Research(Image credit: HubSpot)

Eighty-one percent of HubSpot respondents said they trust friends and family over business. In addition, DemandGen Report’s 2018 Content Preferences Survey showed that 78% of B2B buyers place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of the content source, and 65% have a higher preference for credible content from industry influencers.

[bctt tweet=”Co-creating and collaborating with influencers can play a role at every stage of the customer lifecycle. – @leeodden #InfluencerMarketing #ContentMarketing” username=”toprank”]

Why Interactive Influencer Content?

To remain competitive, marketers need to create engaging experiences for their audiences while also building credibility and trust. And that’s precisely where interactive influencer content comes in. To really drive the point home, Lee pointed to a fabulous quote from Amisha Gandhi, Vice President of Influencer Marketing for SAP Ariba:

“Working with influencers to co-create content delivers mutual value. When that content is interactive, it creates an experience that is more engaging and inspires action.”

[bctt tweet=”Working with #influencers to co-create content delivers mutual value. When that #content is interactive, it creates an experience that is more engaging and inspires action. – @AmishaGandhi” username=”toprank”]

What Does Effective B2B Interactive Influencer Content Look Like?

When you put relevant, useful, and credible content in an eye-catching, engaging format, incredible things can happen. Not only are you creating an infotaining experience for your buying audience, but also for influencer partners. You’re creating mutual value.

Examples of Interactive Influencer Content

#1 – Interactive Infographic

Topic: The Future of Influencer Marketing

Objective: Drive leads from original research report while also repurposing influencer tips.

Results: 6,971 pageviews and an impressive 42% conversion rate

Future of Influencer Marketing Interactive Infographic

#2 – Interactive eBook

Topic: Future-Proof Content Marketing

Objective: Leverage an entire year’s worth of content and insights around content marketing strategy, planning, and measurement to boost awareness and lead gen (small ask: participate in content marketing planning survey; big ask: request a trial).

Results: Exceeded small and big ask benchmark goals four times over.

Back to the Future Interactive eBook

#3 – Interactive Voice Assistant and Microsite + SEO-Driven Content

Topic: AI and the Next Evolution of Finance

Objective: Build industry credibility and engagement on AI and Finance with thought leadership content.

Results: 189% increase over benchmark pageview goals and 642% increase over benchmark engagement goals; 84 net-new keyword rankings

Interactive Influencer Asset with Voice Assistant

Buh-Bye Boring. Hello Infotaining Interactive Influencer Content.

B2B brands need to break free of its boring-to-boring reputations if they want to engage, inspire, and convert modern buyers. Buyers are ready for bigger, better, bolder content experiences—experiences they can trust.

So, B2B marketers, it’s time to ask yourself: Are your ready to create meaningful, trustworthy connects with buyers through your content? If you are, interactive influencer content deserves your consideration. Not sure where to start? Here’s Lee high-level checklist:

  • Identify a customer solution topic that is relevant to your brand’s expertise and your audience’s information needs.
  • Pick an interactive content type, story arch, and call-to-action that makes sense for the topic, audience, and objectives.
  • Identify, qualify, and validate influencers that have the topical expertise and the right audience for the end-product. And map them to your topics and subtopics.
  • Collect influencer tips, work them into the experience, and promote the heck out of the final product.
  • Nurture influencers for future engagement; strong relationships are at the center of successful influencer programs.

In the meantime, here’s a little something to snack on:

For more live updates from the conference, you can follow @TopRank, @leeodden, @azeckman and @CaitlinMBurgess on Twitter. In addition to speaking and tweeting, team members from TopRank Marketing will be live blogging sessions (like this one) throughout the conference so be sure to follow the blog for more.

Bye-Bye Boring B2B: Lee Odden Shows B2BMX Attendees the Power of Interactive Influencer Content was posted via Internet Marketing

How B2B Marketers Can Make the Most of Interactive Content Tools

How to Make the Most of Interactive Content Tools

How to Make the Most of Interactive Content ToolsInformative. Engaging. Entertaining. Inspiring. Interactive content is a rising B2B marketing star, allowing brands to break free of their “boring-to-boring” reputations to give their audiences bold, beautiful, badass experiences.

And to make it increasingly easy for B2B content marketers to deliver those interactive experiences, interactive content tools—from simple web-based tools to robust platforms—have proliferated.

But here’s the thing: From upping marketing efficiency to collecting unique audience data insights, the beauty and utility of many interactive content tools extends well beyond content creation and delivery.

So, if you truly want to make the most of your interactive content investments, you should take care in making the most of your tools of choice. How? Here are a few tips.

#1 – Take advantage of templates to boost efficiency.

You’re busy—and so is your graphic designer or design team. And unfortunately, when you’re strapped for time and resources, content innovation can take a back seat and the “static-only status quo” lives another day.

But you don’t have to build an interactive content asset from the ground up. Interactive content tools come stacked with templates—most of which can be optimized and customized for your brand and audience. By leveraging templates, you can maximize efficiency and get content in front of your audience faster.

For example, Ceros—which is a more advanced interactive content tool—offers a template gallery that includes templates for case studies, content hubs, eBooks, infographics, lookbooks, short- and long-from quizzes, and the list goes on.

Ceros TemplatesExample of Ceros TemplateIn addition, some interactive content tools give you the ability to create your own templates, which is an excellent feature to take advantage of if you’re creating a content series or if you’d like specific design elements to be the same throughout every piece you create.

SnapApp, which now bills itself as lead qualification platform for marketers, is a great tool for creating interactive quizzes. And the SnapApp team offers a super simple five-step process for creating a template.

Creating a SnapApp Template

#2 – Make use of resources to curb the learning curve.

Regardless of simplicity or complexity, every tool has a learning curve. But the good news is that some interactive content tool makers don’t skimp on learning resources. This means you or your design team can get the on-demand resources you need to create great content more quickly.

For example, Webflow, which is a platform that allows you to design, build, and launch responsive websites (complete with animations and interactions, of course) without bothering your web development team, has an impressive learning platform dubbed Webflow University.

The educational portal is complete with tons of video course and tutorials to get you started and make the most of the tool. They also have a robust blog and a forum for users to ask questions and share best practices.

Webflow UniversityAs another example, Ceros Educate is a dedicated learning portal, featuring courses for designers who are just getting started or need a refresher, as well as a plethora of articles that detail specific functions and features. There’s also a collection of resources for developers.

Ceros Educate Resource HubFinally, even Qzzr, which boasts an extremely simple interface, offers a learning and support resouce featuring advice and insights from its team.

Qzzr Resource Hub

#3 – Leverage integrations to enhance visibility, insight, and lead gen and nurturing.

Whether you’re embedding a quiz in a blog post or creating a content resource hub, interactive content tools are designed to make it easy for you to deliver experiential content on your owned channels.

And the good news is that most tools offer some unique analytics capabilities so you can understand how users are interacting with your content. For example, Ceros provides all the basic KPIs such as visitors, opens, and pageviews, as well as engagement metrics like time spent and interaction clicks. The tool also track inbound referrals, social shares, video plays, and outbound link clicks.

But the even better news is that some tools boast integrations that makes it easy to connect data and information with various CRM, marketing automation, email marketing, and analytics platforms. This not only gives you a more holistic view of how interactive content perform as compared to other types of content assets, but can also streamline lead gen and nurturing, and the sales process.


For example, SnapApp integrates with: HubSpot, Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Pardot, Salesforce, Adobe, and Act-On. As for Ceros, integrations include: Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua, Google Analytics, and Google Tag Manager. In addition, Qzzr supports webhooks and third-party integrations such as Zapier to send quiz data such as email addresses, scores, and outcomes to a variety of CRM and SaaS tools.

Put Interactive Content Tools to Work for You

There’s no doubt that interactive content tools are designed to help you deliver a great end-experience for your audience. But to really make the investment worthwhile, take advantage of the unique features and benefits each tool offers so you can maximize efficiency, minimize the learning curve, and streamline data collection to improve your marketing and sales efforts.

How are B2B brands using interactive content? Check out these seven examples of interactive B2B content to find out.

Attending B2B Marketing Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ from Feb. 25-27, 2019? Attend Lee Odden’s session to learn how interactive influence content can help you break free of boring B2B.

How B2B Marketers Can Make the Most of Interactive Content Tools was posted via Internet Marketing

Digital Marketing Campaigns: Winter 2018 Edition

It feels like the time has come for the Distilled Winter 2018 creative content round-up, which must mean – spring is on its way! So, without further ado…

Data Visualisations

A world of languagesAlberto Lucas Lopez

At school, the languages lessons offered to me were either French or German. Some more forward-thinking schools had Spanish in their curriculum. This graphic, by freelance data visualiser Alberto Lucas Lopez, puts into perspective how much more of the world is opened up to you if you know Spanish. If you want to be able to communicate with even more of the world population, then Chinese or Hindi would work in your favour. The presentation here, with the data shown in a circle, with the countries that speak these languages included by area based on population feels novel too, especially if you stretch your imagination to think of it as a globe.

The world through the eyes of the USThe Pudding

The Pudding has created some of my favourite data visualisations over the years. Originally their content focused on music, but now their scope has broadened. This chart looks at which countries have been talked about most in the New York Times each month since 1900. A grid of flags shows the beginning of the first world war, as mentions of Germany flood the headlines. In 1965, Vietnamese flags dominated, and from 2003, Iraq. The present day leans mainly towards China, followed by President Trump and the trade war.

Fiction Made Reality

7 Floor Plans of famous hotel rooms in filmExpedia

Ever wanted to step inside the hotel room you have seen in a movie? Expedia created Sims-like architectural sketches of the floor plans of seven famous hotel rooms from films, and in most cases offered a way of booking that very same room in real life. The attention to detail here is what makes it so cool – the tiger strolling casually through the apartment in The Hangover, down to the cutlery that was used on the tables – it’s making those magical scenes in your favourite films a livable reality.

Product Promotion

Free rides during Black History MonthLyft

Lyft gave users one free ride during Black History Month to Black history museums, memorials, and relevant cultural sites. Promo codes for participating cities were given out in a blog post, along with possible destinations. Calling out the contributions of black women and men throughout history makes Lyft come across as forward-thinking and timely. It’s my guess that supporting communities like this improves brand sentiment with lasting effects.

Name a cockroach this Valentine’s DayHemsley Conservation Centre

Enough brands focus on the lovey-dovey aspect of Valentine’s Day during this annual celebration of romance; Hemsley Conservation Centre’s campaign however stood out from the crowd by putting in place a stunt that helps you get back at your ex. Not that it is healthy to dwell on negative things in the past, but this tongue-in-cheek cockroach-naming service certainly makes revenge that little bit more sweeter, and all at the tiny price of £1.50.


GilletteThe Best Men Can Be

In January, Gillette launched a new ad changing its strapline from ‘the best a man can get’ to ‘the best men can be’. Piggybacking off the #metoo movement, in this ad, Gillette challenge men to hold themselves accountable and to stop bullying, violence and sexual harassment. The ad received mixed opinions, I am in agreement with Bernice King (Martin Luther King’s daughter) who said, ‘This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity’. Changing habits and mindsets is one of the hardest things to do, and I feel this was a courageous topic for Gillette to comment on.


Hey from the futureRyder Damen

Advice from those older than us has been a successful format for us recently. For A Place For Mom, a senior care referral service in the US, we analysed over 100 news articles which gave advice from people over 100 on how to have a happy, healthy, and – most importantly – long life. Similar to this, Ryder Damen created a piece, offering advice to all ages from those older than them. At age 33, I quite agreed with mine.

Currency Converter 1270 – 2017The National Archives

Looking back as well as looking forward can often be a good basis for an idea. The National Archives have used their data to calculate modern day equivalents in the values of wool, horses, wheat and other tradable products from a year in the past of your choosing, based on the value of today’s money. For example £100 of today’s money would have brought me three horses in the 1920’s when my grandparents were born. Comparing today’s money to horses feels silly, as not that many people want to buy a horse, but it works as a concrete comparison to show how value has changed over the years.


Praise or haze

In a world where it seems we’re often powerless to make a change with our opinions, especially those towards controversial leaders, something, anything we can do to get back at them even in a silly way to their often ridiculous statements feels empowering. This silly game allows you to ‘praise’ or ‘haze’ Donald Trump for things he has said. My personal favourite is when a large waterfall of wee is poured onto his head…I didn’t bother pressing the praise button.

Photo Stories

Dollar StreetGap Minder

Gap Minder create free teaching materials to dismantle misconceptions and promote a fact-based worldview on cultural differences. The money other people is always a cause for intrigue, as we inevitably compare this to our own wealth. This piece, in particular, looks at the differences in monthly household earnings, and also even allows you to take a deeper dive into what basics, like fetching water, a refrigerator or cutlery look like in these countries.

At Distilled we have made similar stories ourselves with much success. In the video below Vicke and I talk about how you can reach people from all around the world using freelancer websites like UpWork to gather unique images and content.

What content have you enjoyed lately? Let us know in the comments.

Digital Marketing Campaigns: Winter 2018 Edition was posted via Internet Marketing

How B2B Marketers Can Win at Search with Best Answer Content

Winning Search with Best Answer Content

Winning Search with Best Answer ContentMarketers are engaged in a continuous battle to gain an edge when it comes to SEO, seeking those crucial advantages provided by top visibility where customers are looking. Multiple disciplines from technical SEO to creative content can be leveraged to win the search marketing game. At TopRank Marketing, we believe the best answer to this quandary is… well, to be the Best Answer.

To simplify and clarify, it might be helpful to take a step back.

In October of 2000, Larry Page laid out his ambitious vision for Google, a company he’d founded along with Sergey Brin just two years earlier.

Page foresaw his creation as “the ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the Web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing.”

“We’re nowhere near doing that now,” he admitted. “However, we can get incrementally closer to that, and that is basically what we work on.”

At the time, here’s what the Google homepage looked liked (prepare for nostalgia shock in 3… 2… 1…):

Fast-forward almost 20 years. Google’s interface looks decidedly more modern and its functionality is now much closer to what Page envisioned. Through artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sophisticated algorithms, the search engine is amazingly adept at understanding a searcher’s intent and motives.

And digital marketers are just out here trying to keep pace.

The Answer Machine

Back in the day, we had these wacky contraptions called “answering machines,” which hooked up to “landline phones” (!) and recorded messages on little cassette tapes (!!) when calls were missed. This precursor to the voicemail now seems prehistoric — a sign of the speed at which technology is advancing.

In 2019, answering machines are mostly gone, but the digital “answer machine” is a staple of everyday life for many of us. In fact, Google’s brand name itself is now used as a verb, describing the act of asking the internet a question. Input query and receive answers, in order of relevance. Bleep, bloop.

Our hunger for knowledge is insatiable: Google processes 35,000 searches per second, and 3.5 billion each day.

With this kind of volume, the high end of a search engine results page (SERP) is critical real estate; one study found that the top position gets one-third of all search traffic on average. So it’s easy to see why SEO has become a cornerstone of marketing strategies everywhere.

At TopRank Marketing, we talk often about gaining this coveted visibility by being the best answer for customers, and how to achieve it through deep, comprehensive, high-quality content. But before a brand can go about creating best answers, it must determine which crucial curiosities it wants to satisfy.

Herein lies the key to developing a search marketing approach that integrates with a customer-centric strategy.

Hearing Your Customer’s Voice

In many ways, the advent of voice search really crystallizes Google’s function as an answer machine (or “answer engine” as our CEO Lee Odden has put it). ComScore predicted a while back that by 2020, more than 50% of searches would be conducted by voice, and suddenly that’s less than a year away.

This fast-rising trend strengthens the wisdom of a “best answer” strategy for two primary reasons:

  1. Featured snippets (aka “answer boxes”) are gaining more prominence as the default result delivered by a voice search. These excerpts are deemed by Google to be the “best answer” for a particular query, based on various factors.  
  2. We’re moving toward a more literal question/answer format with search, because while people might type a string of keywords to research a particular topic (“best answer seo strategy digital marketing”), they tend to be more colloquial when speaking to a voice-search device (“What does a best answer SEO strategy mean for digital marketers?”).

Structuring SEO around conversational keywords is nothing new. As we wrote here on the TopRank Marketing Blog a couple of years ago:

Google has been encouraging this type of behavior for years, especially with the Hummingbird update back in 2013. People communicate with conversations, not just keywords. Associating the right keywords with concepts helps the overall content quality as opposed to targeting only one or a couple keywords per page.

In other words, you want to address not just a specific keyword with your content, but rather the breadth of what someone is trying to learn when they search for that keyword.

And so, search marketing today is less about building traditional keyword lists, and more about using those lists – along with other resources – to make deductions about which questions your customers (and potential customers) are asking. Your findings should become the foundational basis for both organic and paid strategy.

Unfortunately, no machine will serve up a quick-and-easy answer in this case. It’ll take meticulous research and deep insight about your audience. Let’s walk through that process a little to set you on the right path.

How to Identify Best Answer Opportunities

Here are a few tactics for making confident determinations about the burning questions you want to answer for your customers

Reverse-Engineer Keyword Data

Marketers have a wealth of SEO data at their fingertips, and can use this information as breadcrumbs tracing back to a user’s starting point. Dig into Google Search Console to learn which queries are bringing people to your site and how many people are clicking through from particular searches. Instead of simply parsing out keywords, seek patterns and greater meaning in this data. What is it telling you about the mindset of searchers who end up on your page?

By connecting search terms to pages on your site, you can get a better idea of the intent behind them (e.g., searches that are bringing people to solutions pages likely represent a more advanced stage of research).

Use the “People Also Asked” Feature in Google

I love this little feature. When you run a search, Google will often serve up a list of related questions, and these can be extremely helpful when it comes to building out your best answer content. If you want to create an authoritative resource on the topic you’re targeting, chances are you’ll want to account for each of these tangential queries in some way.

Leverage Schema Markup

Schema structured data helps search engines (and their users) understand the purpose of a page, and the questions it is trying to answer. Adding these tags to your source code enables a SERP to display rich snippets that are directly relevant to a searcher’s query.

Why is this so powerful and relevant? Last summer Google confirmed that it had been testing a new featured snippets in the form of FAQs, Q&A, and How-tos. And as it turns out, has a lot of this markup readily available.

Rely on the Right Tools

There are three in particular that I like to use for this type of research:

  • SEMrush: Awesome SEO tool that shows real-time keyword volumes and (more importantly in this case) “Phrase Match Keywords” and “Related Keywords, which can lead you down other branching paths for that search journey. The Keyword Magic tool is very helpful for finding question keywords.
  • BuzzSumo: A great site for finding trends around any topic or keyword. In particular, I recommend using its Question Analyzer function, which is perfectly suited for the purpose at hand. This enables you to identify questions being asked on Q&A sites or forums, clustered by topics.
  • AnswerThePublic: The “auto suggest” feature in Google is similar in function to “People Also Asked,” but can provide more extensive insight. AnswerThePublic helpfully takes these snippets and turns them into conversational keywords, delivering a “question wheel” of longtail inquiries stemming from that term.

Example of an AnswerThePublic “question wheel”

Go In-Depth with Marketing Attribution Models

Multi-touch attribution is not easy to master, but those marketers who gain proficiency are able to tap into key buyer signals. When you follow the string backward on a purchase someone made, identifying touch points along the way, you can learn a great deal about the questions they asked and the content they consumed to reach that decision.  

As you start to gain a better grasp of the searches that carry clear commercial intent, you can begin to situate your PPC strategy around them. Those are usually the clicks worth paying for.

Search for Whitespace in SERPs

Not every priority question for your audience will be worth attacking. Make honest assessments about the existing search results for certain terms. If another company (or, in many cases, Wikipedia) is already owning the answer box with a stellar page, you may want to turn your attention elsewhere or at least push it to the back burner.

The sweet spot is when you can find popular questions among your audience that aren’t already being definitively covered. This also applies to paid keywords with lower competition. Those are the gaps you want to fill with your best answer strategy. As your site gains authority and backlinks, you may find it easier to topple some of the entrenched leaders for other high-volume queries and higher-cost keywords.

Break Down Questions and Build Up Best Answers

The late businessman Arnold Glasow once said, “It’s easier to see both sides of a question than the answer.” Very true. When marketers make the effort to see every side of the questions their customers are asking, we can see the bigger picture and craft content to fully satisfy the extent of a searcher’s interest. At TopRank Marketing, we’ve built our search marketing philosophies around this belief.

Google has come a long way since its early days, and our approach to working with it must evolve in kind. In the age of RankBrain, you’re not going to game this ultimate search engine through keyword-stuffing or other gimmicks. Google is continually getting better at understanding exactly what a searcher wants and giving them the right thing.

If we want to be that “right thing,” we also need to understand exactly what our customers want, and we need to deliver it.  

To paraphrase the great Ricky Bobby: If you’re not best, you’re last.


Want to learn more about TopRank Marketing’s take on modern search marketing? Go ahead and peruse our SEO service page.

How B2B Marketers Can Win at Search with Best Answer Content was posted via Internet Marketing