By Joe Pulizzi published October 5, 2013

The 3 Content Marketing Strategies Your Program is Missing

missing puzzle piece-strategyAs our recently released 2014 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark research tells us, the majority of brands out there have absolutely no documented content strategy.

Ouch!

Why is this so critical? Because only 11 percent of marketers who don’t have a defined content marketing strategy for their enterprise describe their efforts as being effective.

Double ouch!

I’d like to write that this is not such a bad thing, but I just can’t do it. This is a major problem —an epidemic, if you will. But the bigger issue may be that most marketers really don’t know what it means to develop a true content marketing strategy for their business. This is understandable, since most marketers were never well prepared for the shift to content marketing.

comparison of content marketers effectiveness

As we work with enterprise brands, time and time again we are seeing the same issues being overlooked. If I were to rate them in order of frequency, the following would be the top three:

1. An utter lack of buyer personas

The issue: A buyer persona is a helpful tool to use as part of your content marketing plan. It’s the “who” we are talking to and with.

When developing content for our content marketing programs, it is our personas that provide the context we need to frame our stories. At any one time, you may have employees, freelance writers, agencies, and even outside bloggers creating content for you. Personas keep the main goals in focus by emphasizing to whom your organization is reaching out, and why it matters for your business.

Adele Revella, founder of the Buyer Persona Institute, is perhaps the leading expert on the creation and implementation of personas. In her eBook, The Buyer Persona Manifesto, she defines the persona as, “a composite picture of the real people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones you market, based on what you’ve learned in direct interviews with real buyers.”

Most content programs don’t use personas… at all. Content creators guess, use hunches, or use an uninformed brief that works to replace the persona.

Adele’s fix: The only way to gather clear, unexpected insights about how your buyers make decisions is to have a conversation with them. Make it a goal to spend a few hours a month interviewing recent buyers, including those who chose you and those who did not. Ask buyers to walk you through their decision-making process, starting with the moment they decided to solve this problem. Each in-depth conversation should take 20 or 30 minutes, but the time it will save you in planning, writing, and revising content will be immeasurable.

Note: Adele has provided some excellent templates for handling your buyer personas. You can access these among the bonus materials found in my new book, Epic Content Marketing.

2. Lack of consideration of a cohesive audience outcome

The issue: Does the content you create have an overriding content marketing mission? In other words, have you determined what outcomes you want to result from the audience engaging with your content? For example, is your goal to have your customers become informed about the benefits of 401(k) plans? Or maybe you are looking to educate your audience on all the solutions available to address the challenges of using soldering equipment (that’s the goal of Indium’s blog).

tech spotlight

Indium’s blog

The fix: Part of choosing a content niche where you can honestly become the go-to resource for your customers is a laser focus on the audience outcome. To do this, answer this question: “What does your content actually DO for your customers and prospects?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, your story is probably disjointed.

3. The print channel is getting stonewalled

The issue: Our B2B research found that just 35 percent of B2B marketers leverage print magazines as a content marketing tactic. Now, I understand why this is so low: There are significant barriers to entry here (unlike what we see with social media, where there are literally no barriers to entry). With print, there are editorial, production, and circulation development costs. There are also printing and postal charges. Let’s face it: Print can be expensive.

But answer me this: What if there were a social media channel where all your customers were hanging out, where there was not a lot of clutter or noise, and where few of your competitors had a presence? You’d be all over it, right? Of course you would.

In our enthusiasm for our beloved digital channels, we’ve forgotten about an opportunity that’s right under our noses. Do you think 2013 Content Marketing Award overall winner TD Ameritrade complains about the expense of its print magazine, thinkMoney, when it knows that 90 percent of subscribers take some kind of action after reading the magazine? Nope.

thinkMoney

thinkMoney Magazine

There is no fix for this. You just need to acknowledge the fact that you might be missing out on an opportunity to go “old school” successful with your content marketing program.

Think about it.

For more insight on developing a strong content marketing strategy that helps you stand apart from your competitors, read Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing.”

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

    Joe: You’re on point as usual but I’d like to point out something: I’m trying to slog my way through one of the better books on digital content strategy and I have to tell you it’s extremely tough sledding. There’s just so much to learn. You have to master

    * umpteen channels
    * crafting budgets and persuading recalcitrant execs
    * training, staffing and planning
    * and about 13 other key issues before you’ve written the first blog post or outlined the first white paper.

    And while you’ve got all these balls in the air, you’ve got make the best strategic choices because if you make bad calls, it cascades down through the entire project.

    Doing content is hard enough — writing, editing, filming, producing — but building an overarching strategy to implement it feels infinitely more complex.

    Find a way to simplify and rationalize content strategy and you’ll probably see a lot more people doing it. I know it sounds insane to produce content without a defined strategy – it’s like producing a magazine with no defined topic or audience.

    It could be that the lack of publishing background among content marketers is what’s holding them back. A newspaper or TV newscast knows exactly what it has to do and exactly what its readers expect. Nobody ever told us our “content strategy” when we were putting the newspaper out every day. We just reported the news, put it on pages, sent it to the press and they sent it out on trucks.

    Picture how imposing all that would be to somebody who’s never done it before.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Tom…you are correct, and even though this little industry has been around forever it’s only going to get more complex. That said, it should be a fun ride.

    • Peter Odryna

      Tom, your right. There are so many marketing agencies moving into the content marketing space, especially the used-to-be-SEO firms, that those without a repeatable plan to succeed are going to be shaken out. Probably with a lot of pain on behalf of their clients. Your experience in publishing is especially valuable to this discussion.

      Fine article Joe, in particular the section on Personas. Excellent links provided there. You’re on a streak, with a series of top articles as measured by our analytics. Nice! I’m thinking these articles are helping a lot of people.

      • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

        Thanks Peter…appreciate the kind words. Lots to do…lots to do.

  • http://www.catalog-on-demand.com/ Catalog-on-Demand

    So glad to see you identified print as a top priority vehicle for content marketing. But the opportunity for print goes well beyond the print magazines that you mention. Content can be used in print catalogs too, especially niche catalogs. Now you have delivered your valuable content in a way that is convenient, friendly, and more powerful than any web page could possibly be. You have given the reader something they can read on the train, hand to a colleague or friend, and refer to again and again. The publication essentially becomes a micro trade publication, branded by you. It features the product mix and the articles that you have selected as best for that niche. It is a great way to make a positive and lasting impression. We blogged on this topic “Hey Content Marketing! Say Hello to Print Catalogs!” http://www.catalog-on-demand.com/blog/2013/09/content-marketing-say-hello-to-print-catalogs/.

  • Evgeniy Afanasiev

    Thanks for interesting article you shared with us. I totally agree with you that
    companies should pay more attention to the plans they are trying implement. But it’s really hard for them to think about the goals that the content marketing strategy should reach. “Success of the business” is really blurry goal. And in this case bayer personas can actually be helpful to specify these blurry goals and ideas.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for the note…it is difficult…but if you don’t clearly understand the “why” for your content marketing it’s not much worth doing (in my opinion).

  • http://www.referralcandy.com/ ReferralCandy

    Indeed, many marketing departments are really focused on a blunt approach of just ‘getting stuff out’ and getting people’s attention, without first finding a target audience and then implementing tailored strategies. Even their usage of online and social media platforms are for the same purposes.
    Customers now increasingly want quality content that is written ‘specially for them’, and unless we as marketers can cater to those wants by having a solid content marketing strategy, we will lose out to those who have exactly that.

    I do love your section on print ads! Indeed, the current shift in marketing lies not in the medium, but the content. Engaging people on social media platforms with crappy non-customer-centric content is hardly as useful as awesome content packed within print or television ads. Awesome content wins any day.

    -Hum

  • Tony Yang

    Great post Joe, especially your first 2 points about lack of understanding buyer persona and knowing what you want to get out of your content marketing. Many marketers, including myself at times when I get lazy, tend to just go for the tactical part of developing the content (typically company/product-centric) and then release it out in the wild through as many social media channels that they can think of.

    Related to your point about buyer personas, we’ve put together a practical ebook on “Creating Personas for B2B Marketing” that’s actually available through Content Marketing Institute’s library. It can be found here:

    http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/education/white-paper-library/creating-personas-for-b2b-marketing-white-paper/

    Hope that’s a helpful resource! Keep up the great posts Joe!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Great Take Tony! Thanks!

  • Activ Hub- China Digital Intel

    Hi, good article, can only agree, but was surprised to see the AVERAGE # SMM channels was 6! As a small business, that is a lot.
    I agree with persona’s, we have the base of this, but it mostly comes from briefly chatting at Expos, etc.
    I know if I asked to spend time with my clients or those, who weren’t, to walk through their process the door would appear very quickly. We run a follow up quick survey to all those who request our time, a very small % complete them.
    Also agree with the poster who said the space was becoming crowded, we are seeing this here too, SEO ers are trying to hitch up their wagon.
    I am in Beijing by the way.