Recently I was asked for my thoughts on some of the top challenges and questions on content marketing.
Marketers and brands are trying to understand content marketing and how to execute successful content marketing programs.
Here is an overview of my best answers to 9 questions you may be asking. Let me know your thoughts as well in the comments below.
What are the most common mistakes brands make with content marketing?
The most effective content is that which best meets the needs of the audience. List posts and “How to” articles go a long way to building this kind of credibility but they aren’t enough. This kind of content needs to be balanced with deeper thought leadership that also inspires our customers to think differently about the challenges they face.
The biggest mistake brands make is in creating too much content that is focused on the brand and not enough content that is focused on helping the audience.
What changes are in store for content marketing in 2014?
We are seeing a lot of technology and start-ups in the content marketing space. There are tools for curation, CMS, reporting engines, editorial workflow, calendaring and platforms that try to do all these things.
In order to increase ROI, brands need to figure out the right mix of creation, curation and syndication and build a team of people who really understand how to think and act like a publisher. Once that is in place and working like a machine, it’s time to build the kind of platform that can scale and sustain growth into the future.
2014 will see brand content marketing teams that take on the look and feel of real newsrooms including the technical platforms to support that.
Which metrics are most critical to measuring the success of content marketing initiatives?
We are moving away from activity-based plans to performance-based measurement. It is no longer enough to count how many tactics or campaigns you launched or how many visitors or social shares you achieved. We need to tie these metrics to real business outcomes. Marketing has to deliver results using business metrics: how many new customers were delivered, how much revenue did they generate and what is the return on the marketing investment.
With social and content marketing programs, we have to demand that these results will be achieved. But they take time. You have to feed the funnel. So we look at reach: are we effectively gaining access to potential customers). Then we look at engagement: are they spending time consuming and sharing our content. And conversion: are they turning into quantifiable sales leads that ultimately become customers.
What approaches does your company use to engage and captivate the audience?
We engage our audiences by helping them. We do this through valuable content that solves a business problem or answers a key question. Or we provide exposure to their personal brand and their own content.
And in some cases, we might even provide some entertainment or distraction. The golden rule of content marketing is that is has to put the needs of the customers first and then the business results will be earned through trust and value already provided.
How do you use your social and content efforts to acquire market intelligence?
Everything we do starts with a solid understanding of search terms and patterns. This is the best research available since it tells you what the entire world is looking for and in what priority order. I am just amazed at marketers who act defensively when I ask them if they conducted any keyword research because they don’t understand it or the importance of it.
After that, we have found that the best way to acquire market intelligence is to ask for it from your influencers and experts. We crowd-source ideas for new content or answers to key customer questions or who to follow on social channels.
This kind of content curation and crowd-sourced content does a couple of things: first, it gets great answers from passionate and engaged experts on important topics. But it also gives them an opportunity to provide input and that transfers “social equity” that is important to help grow their own personal brands and social influence.
How do you increase content consumption and visibility across your channels and business verticals?
We measure everything in hopes that we can understand what works for our audience. That way, all our efforts around content creation, curation and syndication are continuously optimized.
The first hire we made on my team was a social / analytics person so that all our content gets shared on the right channels in the right way. And then the analytics help us to drive constant improvements for which content performs well on which platforms and in what context.
How do your content efforts impact the sales funnel?
Content marketing does a couple of things for business development. It generates leads directly. We map content to each stage of buying process so we can include offers and “calls to action” and triggers as part of our content strategy. That way, whichever stage of the buying process our visitors are in, we can nurture them to the next level. For those who are quite close to being ready to buy, we employ mechanisms to capture them and begin the process of converting them directly into sales.
But effective content marketing also provides the content our own social sales teams and inside sales executives need to nurture their own prospects. We enable this by creating weekly “best of” email newsletters and both internal and external community discussions for sales enablement. Then our account execs use that content to generate interest on the part of the leads they are nurturing.
How do we scale content marketing efforts?
Content marketing is ultimately a disruption to traditional marketing. It has the potential to achieve more for less by attracting customers with great content vs. just paying to reach new audiences. But these efforts need to work together to achieve the scalability that can drive real business outcomes. So content marketing needs to work with the existing campaign and product and field support teams in order to be truly effective. It cannot be just another silo.
How is content marketing transforming marketing itself?
In order to achieve real transformation, you have to starts with a culture of customer-centricity. And making marketing leaders accountable for driving that change quickly follows. We need leaders who are transparent and active in content creation and social media. Our own CMO, Jonathan Becher (@jbecher on Twitter) was listed as one of the most social CMOs. It helps to have that kind of example at the top.