Every content marketing effort should succeed. Sadly, they don’t. Take the right preparatory steps to get off to the right start.
Thought leadership about content marketing is full of truisms that apply to all marketing: Know your audience, measure results, etc. This post does not do that. Nor does it try to convince you to do content marketing (I’ll assume you’re already there).
This aims to be the stuff you should know that relates specifically to content marketing, and only to content marketing — particularly for the business practitioner.
I work in a content marketing agency, and we look at new content marketing programs on a regular basis. This is what we’d ask all new customers to do from the get-go, to maximize our shared potential.
Implementation: The stuff you need to lock down before you get moving
Goals: Content marketing goals will, by and large, be identical to your goals with any other kind of marketing — that is, they contribute to your business’ goals in terms of new business leads, customer retention, and straight ROI.
However, from an operational standpoint, an important content marketing goal may be to steadily reduce the amount of overhead; that is, you’ll want to increase those top-line results with fewer meetings and less back-and-forth and detail management.
Also, content marketing will often achieve softer, organizational and brand-centric results — goals that sit with PR, HR, or brand management departments. Talk to them about how to measure your contribution. (For more information, here’s a great post on defining your content marketing goals.)
Team: Content marketing requires a bevy of new skills for most organizations. A site-wide editor or content strategist role is common, as is having someone with experience tracking content analytics, social dashboards, and marketing automation (the last is a field in and of itself).
Most marketers won’t be able to hire in a whole new team, though. And an AdWords specialist will not become a storyteller overnight. The first period of content marketing will involve showing your team how to think like an audience, identify good stories, and nurture them into killer content.
At the start, managing the transition to content marketing will be a teaching effort. Internal wikis, reading lists, training, and discussions will be your friend. Fortunately, there are lots of great resources available to you for free (including our Content Marketing Workbook).
Technology: You’ll need all your existing tools (SEO, social, Excel, etc.), plus a few new ones.
A user-friendly CMS is a great place to start — if you need to get dev support each time you’re going to update your blog or website, you’ll be dead in the water.
Most organizations doing content marketing want to incorporate marketing automation fairly quickly, to help them manage their leads and nurture them into customers. I won’t list the many vendors here — but you can Google “marketing automation software” to find them.
The other two main areas of technology include content production tech (from creative packages to online services like SlideShare or LinkedIn groups) and content analytics, such as Google Analytics and Google URL builder.
Budget: Obviously, as a content marketer, your budget is likely to swing away from ad buying and toward content production. That’s a gimme.
One of the biggest differences between content marketing and other techniques may be the “lag.” There’s a longer period from initial investment to payback. You have to invest (time or agency fees) well before you see results. But in turn, the returns are longer-lasting. Overall, this requires some budgetary mettle.
Also, content marketing is best when your organization has some agility and an interest in testing the waters — you see what works and push more budget in that direction. That probably means more discretionary spending than most marketers are used to. This would be an aim and talent of experienced content marketers — earning the right to keep budgets free, then using all of them effectively on the fly.
Calendar: Any newspaper editor or journalist will tell you that calendars and deadlines are crucial to keeping a readership happy.
Most marketing departments are accustomed to project schedules — you work on something and then you release it. Job done. Next project.
Content marketing’s more like farming. It’s a constant, ongoing effort — and you’re never “done.” For that reason, you’ll need to discipline yourself to create and stick to a good editorial calendar, and develop regular routines (checking efforts against targets, adjusting, and repeating).
A few great calendar resources:
- Five keys to effective editorial calendars
- How to create editorial calendars
- Editorial calendars for content marketing
Operations: The stuff you’ll need to manage on a running basis
Communications: Content marketing has lots of moving parts, and it’s a cumulative effort. That means that you need everyone on your team to be on the same page (and even people outside your team should be involved).
If content marketing’s an effort to turn your organization inside-out (exposing your company’s knowledge), your experts need to see where they can contribute. At the same time, you don’t want to communicate by committee. Managing the “who, when and how” of internal communications becomes an art form.
Tips: Invite outside input early, give them a deadline, then proceed. Encourage a higher-than-normal level of communications and sharing within your team. And manage expectations from word one.
Agency/internal: This is a classic puzzle of content marketing. For any operation larger than a mom-and-pop business, you’ll probably want to partner with outside creative talent, content strategists, and experienced agency accounts people.
The argument that third parties can’t contribute because they don’t have the expertise is an error. If that were the case, there would be no journalists or scholars.
A question to ask before bringing in outside help: “Could I do without this resource (or switch it out) next month?” If the answer is yes, an agency can do it. If not, it may be worthwhile to bring that work in-house.
Media choices: Content marketing has many flavors, and it’s worth limiting how many you use. Are you going to specialize in video, in podcasting, eBooks, surveys, crowdsourced content, blogging, or presentation decks, for example? All can be engaging, and all are measurable — the choice depends on your business, your goals, and your target audience.
There are two pretty important considerations here:
- What is your audience most likely to want to consume?
- Where are your natural strengths?
I’d say the second one is the more important, as great content’s pretty platform-agnostic. For example, if you have a born podcasting genius either in-house or readily available, your audience can learn to love podcasts.
In choosing your media, look for excellence. If you can knock people’s socks off in any area, focus on that (and get even better).
Promotion: No matter how good your SEO, you’ll probably need to spend some effort promoting content (though probably not the 80 percent/20 percent promotion vs. production split some recommend).
This means budgeting and scheduling for ongoing promotion of both your platforms (building relationships with influencers) and specific pieces (email, advertisements, webinars, social media updates, etc.).
Promotion is grunt work, but make sure it gets done (though you don’t need to put your best content strategist on it). Build processes around it, allow for some experimentation, and let it go.
Optimization: Your great SEO, landing page optimization, and email conversion expertise is not lost on content marketing.
However, there are new areas to learn, such as linking between pieces of content (in a way that allows you to track shares off your site), or building marketing automation flows that deliver the right information to the right person at the right time.
Pace: More than any form of marketing before it, content marketing requires a steady drumbeat of activity, discovery, and community. This may mean you’ll be working on a number of projects simultaneously, each at a different phase of development.
And there will be times when that pace needs to pick up (around a major event) or slacken (holidays).
Probably most challenging of all is the fact that you won’t be able to dictate the rhythm yourself; you’ll have to live according to the patterns and habits of your specific market.
Management: The stuff you’ll need to make high-level decisions about
Expectations: As with all new and shiny endeavors, content marketing will be expected to do all things for all people. Some people will expect it to lead to high-profile mentions in industrial media; others will expect an immediate bottom-line result. Still others will say you’re not being authentic enough, or not posting frequently enough, or not talking enough about your company (or too much).
At the start, you need a business case to follow. You’ll also be able to get some goodwill among your executives by saying it’s an experiment — you’ll be measuring the results and reacting in due measure. Obviously, setting expectations at a modest level, and then beating them, beats the contrary.
Input: As a content marketer with a background in PR, I was always taken aback by how little many marketers (and businesspeople in general) followed debate and news in their own space. This, the listening bit, can’t be reasonably neglected when you’re going to do content marketing for the win.
You can’t follow every blog or channel in your business; decisions will need to be made. And time will need to be set aside to actually consume content.
For this, you’ll want to use an RSS reader; be good at “favoriting” or bookmarking content; delegate the burden across your team; and share the best stuff on a tool like Yammer (their basic level’s free). I usually track one or two “fast-moving” media with regular updates, a couple dozen thought leaders on their own sites (blogs and the like), and a couple hundred influencers on Twitter.
Engagement/interaction: Content marketing’s about the conversation between you and your market. The customer controls the conversation, but you need to be prepared to manage your end. How do you respond to trolls? To angry customers? To belligerent rivals?
Initially, common sense and a dose of caution serve most content marketers well. But it is best to have a response plan in place ahead of the launch of each content effort, so you are prepared in case you need to battle a wave of comment spam, or worse — especially in the early stages of your content marketing efforts.
After gaining a little experience with casual give and take on behalf of your brand, content marketers also need to set aside time to participate meaningfully on others’ sites and in forums. The connections and goodwill will pay off when you’re looking for help promoting your own content.
Measurement: At a high level, if you’re doing content marketing right, you should see more “stickiness” around your marketing efforts. People who come to your site are more likely to return. They stay longer. They’re more likely to fill out forms (register). And they will pull in other visitors.
Sure, traffic numbers and conversion rates should rise, but lower-order metrics that indicate an audience is coming to your site and spending time there should also tick up — time on site, depth of visit, and social shares, for example.
Content marketing’s unique in that you can also track attribution that never touches your site. For example, imagine someone downloads your eBook and sends the PDF to a few colleagues. Of these, one sees a link in the eBook to another one of your eBooks and comes to your site to download that. You can track that kind of thing. (Here’s an article by a colleague on how to cross-promote content and track its usage.)
Reporting: Reporting for content marketing’s little different than with other marketing disciplines, particularly in these two key scenarios:
- Breadth: As content marketing has a tendency to bring both higher- and lower-order benefits to diverse departments in a company, it’s a good idea for content marketers to expand their reporting remit. Keeping these departments apprised of results will drive their contribution in future content marketing activities.
- Sales escalation: Content marketing allows for some pretty advanced nurturing of known leads, and salespeople can get a rich report into a prospect’s behavior before they ever pick up the phone. Thus, it will be key to work out with your sales team how you plan to share information and key metrics, what specific information will be most helpful to sales, and how often you will report back with this data.
Vision: There are two crucial “vision” elements that you’ll need to address as a manager. More than anything else you do, these will be your legacy, so they demand some careful thought:
- Content brand: Content marketing builds up a body of knowledge and thought inside and outside of your organization, as well as a unique voice or personality. In order to address this one well, you’ll need to identify core elements of your company’s mission, i.e., what are you fundamentally trying to achieve, and how will your editorial decisions impact this mission?
- Community: If your efforts see any success at all, you’ll see elements of community spring up — advocates, critics, self-policing, unbidden contributions, third-party mentions, and the like. Your values and behavior will influence the shape and activity of your community. It can be an incredibly powerful force (witness the amazing community around SEOMoz’s content brand), but requires careful attention.
That’s the 10-Minute Content Marketing Buyers’ Guide; you’re now better equipped to make a success of your first content marketing efforts.
For more guidance on getting started with your content marketing program, read “Managing Content Marketing,” by CMI’s Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.