The word "content" seems to have been the darling of all things marketing in 2012, and content marketing has been recommended as a best-practice by an endless array of marketing experts and industry bloggers.
By nature, many of us like to look at trends. Some people are trend-setters and other people are trend-followers. Just as the Acai berry was regarded as the top super food in 2011 and quinoa took over the crown in 2012, content seems to be the new black in marketing.
Social media channels are flooded with opinions about why content is so important and how to develop a sound content marketing strategy. In particular, my Twitter feed is abuzz with content tweets and links to a sea of articles.
(After spending many hours reading through these words of wisdom, I have the following advice for budding authors: When you write an article about content, please ensure you deliver good content.)
At the Canadian Marketing Association's Marketing Influence in Canada conference on October 3, 2012, Ipsos Reid presented survey findings suggesting that Canadian companies are allocating more budget toward content development in search marketing. According to the 2012 Marketing Sherpa Lead Generation Benchmark Report, 54% of marketers use content marketing as a lead generation tactic. And a BtoB study has found that content marketing is the top driver of leads for B2B marketers.
All very exciting stuff indeed; however, I am not sure what to make of those pronouncements. I find the phrase "content marketing" rather amusing as a "new" concept. Can anyone really market anything effectively without good content or content strategies? I believe not. In fact, content has always been and will always be the very foundation of marketing.
So what does content marketing mean exactly? In my view, it means to mindfully create and share valuable messaging that attracts a consistent readership, influences mindshare, and accelerates buying decisions in a non-sales way.
Content drives traffic. Traffic creates interest. Interest breeds conversion. That seems like perfect logic to me.
So why do so many marketers pull their hair out when the word "content" gets brought up? I attribute that to a lack of confidence.
Over the years, I have worked with many people I would consider top-notch marketers. I've had discussions with dozens of them about this very topic. The consensus is that our stakeholders tell us we are not doing a great job when creating content.
In the technology industry, for example, Marketing can feel sandwiched: We get stuck between Product Management and Sales. The former owns the products, and the latter owns the customers. In messaging and content creation, Marketing tries to translate features and capabilities into benefits and solutions. However, Product Management is concerned that Marketing doesn't know enough details about the products, and Sales is equally concerned that Marketing will create something that doesn't resonate with customers.
The social media explosion in recent years has helped to address those concerns. Marketing can now rely on channels that reduce the internal dependencies between Product Management and Sales. We can test-drive content and build online communities. We can provide valuable insights back to Sales and Product Management. We feel more in the zone.
Yet, still, we have trouble believing that we can master a sound content marketing strategy. We are also challenged with meeting the constant demand for supplying consistently compelling content.
Problem... and Solution
Fortunately, there is no shortage of advice out there to help you tackle those challenges.
One of the best resources I've come across is Copyblogger's collection of content marketing articles. I recommend that you allocate a few hours to go through the material. It will be time well spent.
Another great content resource that I religiously follow is MarketingProfs.
Now let's address the topic of "confidence." In my experience, the lack of confidence to create compelling content often stems from two things:
- Marketers don't believe they are subject-matter expert.
- Marketers feel that they are too removed from their audience.
Over the years, I have shared some of my approaches for overcoming those challenges with my peers. I repeatedly use the following three strategies to create and repurpose compelling content.
Strategy 1: Be an avid journalist to your internal audience
When you go to an event, make sure you participate in it. Marketing is not about setting up the logistics and swiping the name badges; you also should sit in the sessions and take plenty of notes. Your notes should include insights from customers that can be summarized in a valuable report and communicated to your stakeholders. The notes can then be repurposed as "Industry Newsflashes," "Customer Insights," and "Opportunity Analysis" for your internal audiences. Develop a content cadence for every event. Doing so will grow your internal visibility and readership.
Marketers often fail to realize that their most important audience is the internal one. To market anything successfully, one must first and foremost create as much visibility as possible internally. Every employee is your message carrier. You will not become a rock star marketer if you don't have the support of your internal stakeholders.
Strategy 2: Insource your content, but control the output
Identify your domain experts and create an editorial calendar. I prefer to identify at least one person in each cross-functional area whom I can rely on as my go-to person. That person is typically a knowledge expert and someone easy to talk to.
Keep in mind that these people will be busy. If you leave the ball in their court to write something, you should expect that the content will be delivered late. Instead, I set some time with them and interview them in person. That way, I get all the content extracted from them in a matter of 30 minutes or less. Afterward, I'm the one who has to commit to my own time to turn these nuggets into crunchy goodness.
If you apply this approach every quarter, you will have a healthy and fresh supply of content. As a bonus, you are also promoting your experts and giving them much deserved visibility, which will gain you even more loyal sponsors and support for your next "ask."
Strategy 3: Outsource your topics to industry experts
I often say that marketing is all about perception. Companies want to be perceived as thought leaders in their respective field; however, constantly singing your own praises can put people off. One tactic that I have used successfully is to get someone else to do the praising in an indirect way. I select that "someone" very carefully.
In the technology space, I engage industry experts, media personalities, and well-known bloggers. The kind of perception you are trying to create is this: "Wow, these guys are associated with her? Impressive."
To be more effective, I try to stay away from one-off engagements. I prefer to design a 3-6 month campaign and go to my expert for various activities. For instance, an initial article can turn into a moderated customer forum. The findings from the forum become a whitepaper. The whitepaper can be used to develop a video case study. And so on. Such linkages can continue to develop and mature over the life of the campaign.
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In summary, if you can execute those three strategies consistently and effectively, you will not only do your job with ease; you will also be in the top 5% amongst your peers. More importantly, you will have confidence in your own abilities. Content is the bread and butter of what we do in the world of marketing. It is neither a mystery nor the new black.