Many businesses will make moves to put content marketing at the heart of their marketing and communications. It may look simple but just as the Tim Robbins character in Robert Altman's The Player underestimated the power of the writer, it's easy to underestimate what it takes to actually do it well.
I define content marketing as follows:
When brands organize themselves to deliver a regular stream of valuable content to customers and stakeholders meant to strengthen their relationship with those audiences, they are practicing content marketing. The “value” must be mutual and measurable. For customers/stakeholders, they must feel that the content solves some need or desire and that a certain portion of it is “share-worthy” – worth them passing along to relevant social connections (who, by the way, will judge them by the quality fo that content). For the business, the content marketing effort must deliver a meaningful impact on the customer journey all the way down to sales, customer satisfaction (and delight) scores, and Net Promoter Scores.
In short, content marketing is the practice of using mutually valuable content to earn people’s attention, their advocacy and their business.
Sounds simple and attractive.
But, it’s worth noting what content marketing is not. It is not sending marketing messages down through Facebook or any other channel. Why not? Usually your customers and stakeholders don’t find that valuable. Industry standards of .05% clickthroughs would be a ridiculous measure of success for valuable content marketing. Why that’s become the accepted standard in digital advertising is a mystery.
So, content marketing is hard and for most businesses, it’s a journey. Here are 3 harsh realities of what I have learned it takes to deliver great content marketing:
1. Content marketing takes a lot more quality content than you have right now
How many times have you heard, “We have tons of great content already, we just need to find it and use it?” Except when you try to get your hands on it, you realize the ratio of bad stuff to good stuff is shockingly high. Executives often overestimate how much ‘good stuff’ they have. And it’s a harsh lesson to learn filled with many meetings-worth of denial.
When you decide to create content of authentic value to your audiences, it requires you to create different content. Rarely do you have great stuff sitting on a shelf. That content you used in a sell-sheet? It was written to support a sales process not help your customer understand and solve a business or professional problem.
When you launch a relevant content channel via LinkedIn or across a few social networks driving back to a dotcom, you acquire an audience with expectations of regular, high-quality content. This is not “one-and-done.” It’s a series of posts on a relevant business problem supported by a useful (and shareable) infographic, 2:00 videos, promotional posts on social networks and more. Now fill up the whole year. Then multiply by your business lines.
You will need more stuff than you have.
2. We really need to understand our customers’ journey requiring new research behaviors
If you are trying to be of-use to your audiences, you have to know what they are trying to accomplish within the context of the moment. An understanding of the broad business problem your product/service delivers against isn’t good enough. If a functional manager stands on a trade show floor and searches for an expert on a topic via smart phone, they need a quick answer and a quick connection. If they are in the middle of a planning cycle for next year, they need solution-oriented content to help them plan including quotes and stats to pull into their management presentation. The context of the customer need has huge bearing on the content you create and the channel you deliver it through.
We need more insights along a journey not a messages for a linear and progressive funnel.
3. Writing editorially (interesting and of-use to audiences) needs training, cultivation and practice
You can imagine the conversation, “How hard can writing an interesting article on factory safety? I mean we know all about it and we already have the tech documents written…”
Experienced journalists and writers cringe whenever these words are spoken. It reminds me of the scene in The Player where Tim Robbins (studio exec) tells his management team that they don’t need scriptwriters, they just need to flip through the newspaper to find the right stories.
Writing to capture people’s attention and interest is an art and science. Ingesting brand journalism into the organization is never that easy but it is necessary. We need the skills to recognize a story, hunt it down and extract it from the brilliant but potentially communication-challenged subject matter experts. And we need the skills to tell the story across creative and media types from animations, videos, infographics, illustrated articles and more.
We need more than a new style of writing, we need an editorial culture that is always hunting for the interesting and useful story and then knows how to tell it so people care.