Content Marketing Is A Strategic Solution To A Strategic Problem

 In Content Marketing

One of the biggest challenges I see today with content marketing is that it is largely a tactical solution to a tactical problem.

Many so-called approaches to content marketing are merely just content. Or worse, they are campaigns.

An e-book is not content marketing. A landing page with content on it is not content marketing. A YouTube video of your advertising campaign is not content marketing.

Content marketing is not going away. But it needs to become institutionalized and understood as a strategic approach to marketing across the enterprise landscape. Consider the facts that content marketing is the top priority for many CMOs and yet most have no idea what to do about it.

More content is not the answer. And Technology is only part of the answer. Marketing leaders need to establish a culture that delivers customer-focused content continuously. I guess I could have titled this post The 4 Cs of Content Marketing?

But those words are all important: Culture that delivers customer-focused content, continuously. I could add that the content should be delivered across all the channels your audience uses, should ignite conversations and drive conversions. So now we’re up to The 7 Cs of Content Marketing.

In order to make content a strategic solution to a serious challenge inside your business, you have to start with defining the problem and then building the business case to solve it.

Yes, You Have A Content Problem

The journey starts by understanding that the world has changed. Your buyers are deciding when, and how, and where they will engage with you. If your business isn’t creating engaging content across ALL stages of the buyer journey, then you are losing ground to your competition.

What is the cost of bad content? We know that as much as 70% of the content your marketing team creates goes completely unused. I have yet to see a brand where that number is under 50%. So half or more of your budget that goes to creating content is completely wasted.

Add this to the fact that the non-content (media) budget spent your business goes towards banner ads that are ignored by 99.9x% of the audience, TV ads that are skipped by more than three-quarters of us, landing pages that have 99% bounce rates and emails that are opened by fewer than 10-20% of those who receive them.

The reason these outbound media budgets are so inefficient is because the content these programs contain the promotional messages we all avoid, ignore or worse, hate.

So yes, you have a strategic content problem that is responsible for the waste of a significant portion of your marketing budget.

Defining the Business Case

In my adventures inside large enterprises, I found a few ways to build a business case for strategic content marketing:

  • Advertising effectiveness
  • Cost per lead
  • Social media channels hungry for effective content
  • Content gaps across all stages of the buyer journey
  • Share of conversation
  • Content utilization inside across the entire enterprise
  • Content marketing effectiveness

Content marketing is no longer a question. It is an imperative for every single brand.

And as we look to the future, content marketing will become one of the key marketing disciplines along with data and technology.

Yes, that’s right, Silos will be broken down. And the traditional channel-based approach will be left behind. No more advertising department working directly with agencies to do whatever they want.

No more social media teams struggling to figure out what to push out.

We may see some delineation within the content teams. I like how Hubspot breaks their marketing organization into the stages of the funnel. They’ve got Early stage (brand and buzz), Middle (Demand Gen) and late (Product). And a separate content team led by Joe Chernov as a center of excellence across the teams.

So why are so few companies managing their content and marketing strategically?

Because it’s hard. Everyone produces content. Everyone owns content. And when everyone owns something, no one owns it. The CMO of tomorrow needs to be the Chief Content Officer or she will fail.

A Strategic Approach To Content Marketing

Here are 9 questions to get you started down the road of strategic content marketing.

Defining Your Content Marketing “Why?”

Before you get started, define exactly why you are doing content marketing in the first place. What gap in your marketing performance is lacking? How much content do you produce along each stage of the buyer journey? How much of your content is used, downloaded, viewed – whatever metrics you can get. Are you ranking on the highest volume keywords used by your customers when it comes to your primary product or solution? And if you’re really good, what is your market “share of conversations” of your solution area?

Define “Content Strategy”

For me content strategy is the combination of an editorial approach and a business strategy: how do you publish content that meets your customer needs, incites them to act and drives additional business for your company. There is some debate over the differences between content marketing and content strategy that are debated by some industry insiders who have spent their whole careers on one side of the discipline.

What matters most is that you are thinking strategically, with purpose, authority and intention to drive better business results with content.

What is the objective of your content marketing strategy?

Or as Joe Pulizzi calls it, what is your “Content Marketing Mission Statement” that defines your target market and what you want to help them achieve. For example, for the SAP Business Innovation site, I defined our mission as: To become a destination of insights for business professionals looking to understand how technology and innovation can help them grow their business, out-perform their competition and advance their careers.

What is your design objective?

Are there visual standards you want to emulate? Who is already doing content well in your space? What does it look like? It makes a lot of sense to look at the examples of the content marketers who have come before you and look at the different elements of their site. Identify which ones you like and don’t and build those design specifications into your strategy.


How prominent do you want to make your company brand? If this sounds like a crazy question, consider your objectives and how likely you are to achieve them if your readers are aware that ultimately you are trying to sell to them. If you are looking to establish trust with your readers before entering into a deeper relationship, you may want to consider toning down the size of your logo and the amount of promotion.

What Keywords Are Important?

The answer to the question needs to be driven through lots of analytical research. Take the Google Keyword tool out for a spin. Look at your own web analytics and check and see how you rank for the key terms. Once you identify the gaps, you can define a set of targeted keywords to build into your content production efforts.

What is your Editorial Approach?

What topics, authors and content types can best help you deliver on your strategy? Will content curation and syndication play into the mix. There is a budgeting aspect to all this as well and if you are managing your content as an asset, you need to consider what will provide the most editorial bang for the buck. Can you create an editorial board across your key content constituents.

What Will Drive Conversion?

Think about the buyer or customer journey. What is an “appropriate next step” from the articles on your site. Your buyers are probably not going to go from early stage content to a product demo. So think about additional thought leadership offers. Think about subscriptions as the main focus of your efforts. There is value in building an audience vs. buying it.

How Will You Report On Results?

If you’ve defined your mission and objectives, then the next step is to make sure you track the metrics that relate to each objective. Create a report, update it monthly and share it widely.

How can you get this all done? It may sound impossible, but when the stars align, the results are almost unbelievable. Here are three things to think about as you get started:

1. Look for courage and support your leadership to create a culture of content

2. Create training and enablement to develop the skills to get the job done across the organization

3. Select the right technology to support your efforts

Follow these steps, answer these questions, commit to taking strategic action and I know you can be successful. Or call me. I would love to help!

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, former Head of Strategy at NewsCred, and the former VP of Global Content Marketing at SAP. Michael is also the co-author of The Content Formula, a contributor to leading publications like The Economist, Inc Magazine, The Guardian, and Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to the Marketing Insider.
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Showing 16 comments
  • James Meyers

    Excellent post Michael! Brands are just starting to learn that content marketing is not just about “dumping” huge amounts of content into their digital channels.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks James. It is definitely not a volume game. But needs to focus on adding value for the target audience. Appreciate your comment and support.

  • phil smith

    I think perhaps the most important ‘C’ and the one so often overlooked is Channel. Get that one wrong and the rest is a waste of time and money.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Phil, my experience has been different. I think most marketing plans are directly focused on channel. “We’re gonna spend x on TV, y on digital and z on mobile.” But we forget that it’s the content and the customer connections that really matter. Emotional connection (know, like and trust) is the only way to drive conversion and sales.

      • phil smith

        Agreed. My point was (badly made) content must reach its target audience. There is little point in many B2B markets pushing content out on Facebook for example as the audience (in general) are simply not there.

  • Sascha Stoltenow

    Great phrase, Michael: “content strategy is the combination of an editorial approach and a business strategy.” That’s what we had in mind with “Content Connects”, our motto for Content Strategy Forum 2014 in Frankfurt. And that is, what makes content strategic, because, just as in business strategy, you only need a strategy when you wnat to reach multiple, competing and sometimes even contradicting goals, such as being a good corporate citizen while at the same time laying of people to built a better company and work for your shareholders. Everything else is really just campaigns.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thank you Sascha. I wasn’t aware of the conference but would love to learn more. Will it be repeated in 2015. And I agree with your point of contradicting content from campaigns. It is such an important point. I really appreciate your comment and hope to connect offline.

  • Mike Myers

    I actually wish some of this weren’t true (especially at the enterprise level) but it is. Thanks for articulating what many of us are feeling right now. It definitely helps…and your questions are spot-on. Thanks for raising this to the strategic level and making us think!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Mike. I’m optimistic that changes are coming in a positive way. Advertisers project to spend 10-20% less on TV in the next 2 years. The shift to digital is happening rapidly. Unfortunately, many don’t have the skills to communicate in a 2015 way. Telling stories, putting customer value first, introducing the brand without promoting it. Should be a wild ride!

  • Rodney Robinson

    Great insight Michael. I am witnessing many organizations “fixing” their content marketing problem with those tactical solutions you mentioned. “Continuously” is the C that emphasizes the importance of the strategic approach.

    • Michael Brenner

      I agree Rodney that is an important one. Thanks

  • Katrina Boydon

    “So half or more of your budget that goes to creating content is completely wasted.”

    Is unused content really wasted? Do you mean that 70% is actually unused (as in created but never published) or just that most content has no engagement? Sometimes great content is ignored but we have to write/publish it anyway, don’t we? Reminds me of the old quote; “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Attributed to John Wanamaker who died in 1992. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Katrina, yes that stat means is it completely unused, meaning it is created but not published. Someone asks for it but it never gets exposed to the audience. So no, this is not reflecting content created, that gets published, and no one looks at it. This is true waste. It is money that would be more efficiently spent if the dollars were burned. Because then at least there wouldn’t be the cost of effort.

      Engagement is a whole other issue.

      As I’ve talked about in my discussions about content ROI. There are 3 components to content ROI: start with the cost to produce content, next is utilization rate (it gets published) and 3rd element is whether it was effective (driving awareness, reach, engagement or conversion).

  • John Bottom

    Hi Michael – I seem to have missed the party by about 6 months, but wanted to say this post hits the nail on the head for me. I might go further and say that you might add another ‘C’ to your list – commitment. It really needs to be a long-term strategy – simply doesn’t work otherwise. I guess you have covered this with a “culture of content” (that’s two Cs!) but I think this is the single biggest obstacle to developing effective content marketing programmes with all but the most sophisticated brands. Thanks for posting. John

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks John, this was a bit of a rant for me and still applies to so many. I totally agree with the commitment to continuous content vs cammpaign mentality. There’s just so many Cs we could find! 😉

  • Ann Van Orsdel

    Very insightful read, thank you! “There is value in building an audience vs. buying it” Aha!