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You might not be able to name it, but chances are you’ve felt it – another seismic shift in the world of marketing.

Perhaps you’re creating helpful content for your audience, and it feels like no one is noticing. Maybe visitors are viewing and downloading your resources as normal, yet you’re noticing fewer leads convert to customers. Or maybe you’ve only felt the ripples of what’s sure to be the next big wave in marketing.

Either way, what you’re experiencing is likely due to the same ailment: prospects are overwhelmed by the environment we helped create.

And can you blame them? With the millions of how-to blogs, thousands of case studies, and a never-ending sea of ebooks to read, how can anyone possibly take action.

We’re not writing this article to bash inbound marketing. Blogs, whitepapers, and other traditional forms of content marketing are still incredibly valuable. They help establish you as a thought leader, provide valuable insight to prospects and existing customers, and help you differentiate yourself from the competition.

What they’re not so great at is actually cutting through the noise. That’s because people want “solutions,” not “resources.” And one of the most effective ways you can help prospects is by creating tools that immediately help users solve a problem.

What do we mean by a tool?

When we refer to a “tool,” we’re not talking about a checklist or some branded slides. We’re talking about an interactive tool that immediately delivers results. It might not solve every problem a prospect has, but it should provide so much value that a prospect feels immediate relief after using it. In today’s noisy marketplace, few resources actually accomplish this.

That’s because many organizations, especially those who practice inbound and content marketing, have become so occupied in generating content they’ve lost sight of the endgame.

Does your audience really care about having one more whitepaper on a topic you – and every other marketer – has covered a thousand different ways? Of course not! They care about solving their problems as quickly and easily as possible.

Interactive tools are likely the best way to achieve this.

To test this hypothesis, OverGo Studio created the Digital Marketing Tuner – a free resource designed to help organizations analyze and improve their marketing efforts.

In the short time since we launched, the results have been overwhelming. Just weeks after release, it has become one of our most successful lead-gen tools. We look forward to sharing precise metrics with you in the near future, but let’s first look at why tools like this are so effective in cutting through the marketing noise.

How do tools cut through the noise?

Tools aren’t just great at generating leads, they can also help you optimize conversions and shorten sales cycles. But, why are they so much more effective than traditional inbound “resources?”

Let’s look at a few of the big reasons.

With a cleverly designed tool, you can provide value to prospects instantly. Compare this with the old way of doing things. For prospects to really start solving their problems, they’d have to read one or more of your blogs, then likely download a premium content offer, digest the information you provided, then make plans to take their first real action.

Tools allow users to take action immediately, and that accelerates the entire lead nurturing process. In addition to forming relationship faster, functional and actionable resources allow you to create bonds that are much more meaningful. That’s because tools allow you to showcase your expertise and ingenuity in ways that no whitepaper or ebook ever could.

Ten best practices for creating useful tools

Creating useful tools can significantly improve your leads and conversions. Poorly executed tools, on the other hand, can generate more harm than good. This is why it’s vital you observe the following ten best practices when launching a new tool.

1. Understand the commitment

Creating a helpful tool is far more time-intensive than writing a 600-word blog or cranking out another checklist. Keep in mind that the more valuable the tool is, the longer it will likely take to create.

It’s not a bad thing, because there is much less competition. Few competitors are going to be willing to invest the resources into building a tool. And once you have yours established in your industry it is even less appealing for them to do so

2. Ask yourself why?

Before you undertake any serious effort, it’s a good idea to ask yourself “why?” This is one of the most important questions you can ever address, yet it is often one of the most overlooked. This is a big mistake

Asking why doesn’t just assist with big-picture concepts like positioning (as Simon Sinek thoroughly explores in Start With Why), it helps lay the foundation of your tool by defining success, creating decision-making criteria, and clarifying focus (as David Allen covers in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity).

3. Provide real value

For your tool to be effective at generating leads and optimizing conversions, it must provide users with real value. If your tool doesn’t do that, then it’s going to hurt your business and not help it. In addition to determining what problem your tool will solve, you must be certain that it’s a problem that merits solving.

Consider the following:

  • What burden would our tool help alleviate?
  • Is this a significant burden that would drive user action?
  • How many people suffer from this problem?
  • Does a solution already exist?
  • What does your tool offer users they can’t get elsewhere?
  • Is the tool in alignment with the product or service you sell? If not, people will use the tool and not even make the connection to become a customer.

4. Do your homework

Developing a meaningful tool is a huge undertaking, and that requires you to do your homework. This is true in terms of the production, marketing, and analyses of your tool. Here are a few of the questions you should research before investing in any tool.

  • What products and services do you need to create the tool?
  • Will it be cheaper or more effective to hire an outside agency to create the tool?
  • What format should the tool take – should it be an app, a desktop program, a website, all three, or none of the above?
  • How much will it cost to maintain your tool and provide needed support?
  • What should you name our tool (factor in both the SEO and stickiness of terms)?
  • How will you advertise, and how much will you spend?
  • What ROI might you expect?

5. Take an iterative approach

It’s been said many times and in many ways, but it bears repeating once more: fail early and fail often. Don’t let perfectionism stand in the way of what could be a huge opportunity for your company.

Your top priority should be to create a working MVP (Minimally Viable Product). No matter how many hours, weeks, and months you dedicate to product development, there will be bugs, hiccups, and headaches along the way. The sooner they’re discovered, the easier and quicker you can solve them.

6. Consider UX

For the tool to be effective, it must be easy to use and understand.

Consider the user experience and how it can be improved. Have others test it, including those who operate outside of your industry. In addition to evaluating UX elements like navigation and functionality, take a close look at the language your using and the recommendations your making. Will these be easily understood by your target audience?

7. Map out your marketing

You didn’t think we were going to make it through an entire article without using the dreaded F-word, did you? That’s right, it’s time to discuss funnels and other components of your marketing strategy — which should be created BEFORE you start coding, clicking, and developing a tool.

Consider the following:

  • How will you efficiently move prospects through the buyer’s journey?
  • How will we position the tool and what will our messaging look like?
  • What type of supporting content will we need (ex: blogs, pillar posts, etc.), and when will these launch?
  • Through what channels will you market the tool?
  • Should you engage in a backlinking strategy, and if so, how will you request links?
  • If we could get users to take one action after using the tool, what would it be?
  • How do we make this action easier for users to take?

8. Stress test the hell out of it

Before you release your tool into the wild, it’s important that it’s properly stress tested. If possible, have every member of your team try to “break it.” Encourage them to use real information/statistics in their entries. This will help you simultaneously identify bugs and gauge the accuracy of the tool.

Encourage testers to submit all types of feedback and thoughts, especially those that might be considered “negative.” If possible, have users submit feedback on an individual level, as this helps reduce the chances of groupthink.

9. Offer support

You will also need to provide users with support for the tool. This will vary greatly based on the functionality and complexity of the resource. Providing an FAQ and offering email support will suffice in most cases. However, more technically demanding tools will likely require greater involvement.

10. Continually evolve

One of the most exciting features of digital tools is that they can evolve. Avoid myopia and create an infrastructure that can be easily updated from the get-go. This will save you many future headaches, and you’ll be happy you invested the time, energy, and resources at the start.