Why Content Marketing Needs a Balance of Art + Science

The content marketing definition that has probably been quoted about a thousand times comes from The Content Marketing Institute. It has been quoted this many times for a good reason. “Content Marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” The reason I, like many others, love this definition is because it points out the two distinct aspects required to make content marketing work: art and science.

The Art: Content Marketing is Worthless Without Great Content

Let’s begin with art. There’s no point in doing content marketing if you can’t commit to creating good content. In reality, your content doesn’t need to just be good. It needs to be great. It’s competing head to head with the best of the best on the internet. But what does great entail?

Your content has to actually be interesting. No one is going to read your content if it’s boring. Derek Thompson, Senior Editor at The Atlantic explains this well with, “Brands should hold themselves to an awesome standard. If a brand wants to make a powerful piece of content, they should make something that is truly exclusive and inherently fascinating and not just their take on what everyone is talking about. I think brands should be doing things that are awesome, new, original and totally fitting with the brand.” 

Now I’m sure the first thought that pops into your head is, “Yeah but how interesting or unique can content be from a financial services company?” From the surface, sure, the “How Much You Should Contribute to Your 401k” blog post has probably been written about 100,000 times. But that’s because it isn’t a very interesting or unique. Now what about something like, “How to Handle Crisis in Your 401k.” Which one is promising a more interesting story?

Granted, yes, there may be some room for overlap, but there are plenty of things going on in the world. You can probably find something new and interesting to say if you spend some time on it. Priceonomics (my new favorite site) explains, “You have to have the attitude that everything is interesting. Every industry has a history, every set of data has an insight, and every person has a story.” Your job as a content marketer is to find this.

The Science: Content Marketing is Worthless Without Driving Business Value

Now let’s move on to science. There’s no point in doing content marketing if it isn’t going to provide any business value. By business value, I don’t mean your content goes viral and thus sell millions of dollars of product. That isn’t a business plan. Again, to quote Priceonomics, “Sure, there may be more “shareable” content out there — cute animal pictures, snarky commentary, celebrity gossip, and the like — but that stuff won’t get you customers.”

So think about your business case:

  1. Brand Awareness: Early-stage prospects finding their way to your brand’s site via content
  2. Brand Health: Improving or changing the way your digital audience feels about your brand
  3. Conversions: Prospects who became customers because of the content your brand provides
  4. Retention: Customers who continue to use your products or services because of the content your brand provides
  5. Monetization: Treating your content marketing as a stand alone profitable business by converting existing traffic into revenue

All of these business cases have hard metrics and key performance indicators behind them that will allow you to measure the business success of your content marketing. Without identifying this business case, you don’t have a business plan and you’ll find yourself just making content for the sake of making content (which also happens to be the biggest misconception of content marketing).

Let’s take Brand Awareness as an example business case. Reaching early-stage prospects has everything to do with SEO. If this is your business case, you need to first identify keywords for which you want to rank organically. You then need to swarm those keywords with content that will help you rank organically for those searches. After a few months of doing this, you’ll be able to see your ranking improve which will then allow more early-stage prospects to find their way to your site.

The Balance: Find the Overlapping Area Between Great Content and Content That Helps Your Business

Now comes the tricky part. It’s easy to be pulled too far in either direction. For me, I often get pulled into science because I think it’s easier, but living too far in either direction just doesn’t work. Too far in “art” won’t provide any business value and too far in “science” will leave you churning out bland content packed with SEO keywords. To help keep yourself honest, here’s a quick editorial gut check to use before you publish anything:

  1. Will it interest my audience?
  2. Can it be distributed effectively to reach them?
  3. Does it align with my business goals?
  4. How is this an original idea?
  5. Does it fit my brand?

Truly successful content marketing programs master the art and science balance. These programs provide value through amazing content to their audiences who then, in turn, give back monetary, profitable value to the business.

This post originally appeared on LizBedor.com 

Liz Bedor

Liz Bedor is a content marketing strategist at NewsCred, based in New York City. With NewsCred, she’s helped enterprise brands including AXA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Estée Lauder, IBM, Verizon, ADP and Office Depot conceptualize, implement and optimize their content marketing strategies. Prior to joining NewsCred, she worked in brand marketing and sales enablement for Salesforce.