American Express’ OPEN Forum stands out as a content marketing success story. By enlisting professional writers and focusing on quality, the OPEN Forum team turned its platform into a widely read site that has become one of the best client sources for American Express.
American Express followed the lead of traditional publishers – something all marketers could stand to learn. The best traditional publications are consumer-oriented, while brands often publish with a “me” mentality. When a business becomes so focused on sales numbers, it can quickly turn off audiences with sales- or spam-like content. Traditional media, on the other hand, builds engaged, loyal audiences that it can monetize. By following the lead of successful publications, brands can use some of those dollars to attract qualified clients.
Find your tilt factor
Good content needs a differentiating element. Joe Pulizzi calls it “content tilt” — it leads to unique content that makes a publication stand out. The tilt depends on the brand’s distinct philosophy and audience. Respected publications know their audiences well, and they build these four traits into everything they publish:
- Quality – Harvard Business Review has a prestigious reputation thanks to the time, effort, and intellect that go into each of its articles. BuzzFeed often publishes pieces that some people consider lowbrow, such as 21 Reasons Puppies Are Basically Furry Drunk People. But share that BuzzFeed article, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit. BuzzFeed and HBR are different publications because each found a unique tilt. The quality lives in the value each provides to its audience.
- Uniqueness – Your defining element might be a new medium or introducing your industry to new ideas. Look to bring value to your community in a fresh way like Moz’s Rand Fishkin did with its Whiteboard Friday feature.
- Consistency – Think about your favorite niche publications. You read their sites daily, maybe even several times a day. Reputable publications regularly put out high-quality content, which keeps people coming back to them as valuable resources.
- Competitive advantage – Some companies possess data that gives them a genuine edge. The CMO Club recently developed the CMO Solutions Clubhouse to leverage the data it collects from members. Its competitors simply don’t have the same information, so The CMO Club can boast unique content. At Influence & Co., we leveraged our publication relationships to survey editors and help our readers get published on influential sites. Provide unmatched value and your audience will be hooked.
Take a page from the strategies
If you want to match the success of enduring publications, you need to build certain practices and values in your content team:
- Develop a knowledge management system.
Publications draw on the experience of their reporters and editors, as well as vetted sources and experts, using a thorough interview process. Successful brand publications also work with contributors from various departments within the company, as well as industry experts, to develop unique content. One person can’t possibly communicate every facet of a company or industry, so one individual shouldn’t be the only mouthpiece for an organization.
Influence & Co. manages intellectual capital by using a knowledge management system that includes expertise directories. This system, which runs on our proprietary software, serves as the basis for all content creation and is easily accessible by our marketing department. We regularly add to our knowledge banks as we extract more insights from our growing team.
- Outline clear publication guidelines.
Publication guidelines are a must. They spell out the voice, style, and format of your content. Do you want to write funny, informal content or serious, analytical pieces? Will you publish 500-word blog posts or lengthier articles? All of these things should be addressed in your guidelines, which will help establish consistency for contributors and readers.
Advertising Age posts its submission guidelines on its website. Make your guidelines accessible to everyone involved in content creation.
You also want to define your company’s “promotional line.” Your content should engage readers and spark intrigue about your company or offering, but it should also provide value without demanding something in return. We evaluate our content by asking whether company mentions illustrate a lesson, show personal experience, or provide context for the article. If they don’t, we cut the gratuitous mentions.
- Implement a content marketing strategy.
Behind every publication is a brand. And just as nearly every publication – from Forbes to The New York Times – has a media kit to outline what it represents, content marketers need to develop a comprehensive content marketing strategy.
Publications don’t run articles without a compelling reason – they’re breaking news, providing context for a bigger story, or entertaining their audiences. But ultimately, all their content ties to their core values and strategies. Your brand should apply the same rigorous standard.
Know why you’re publishing every article and which audience it is targeting. Your content marketing strategy should cover information about your audience, your message, your calls to action, and your publications. A good strategy encompasses all of your content marketing goals and guides the content creation process.
- Hire trained journalists and editors.
Many companies pay lip service to the importance of content, but they never hire the right people to create it. You need a content marketing team, whether it’s in-house or an outside firm, to manage your unique content needs.
However you choose to structure your team, you need someone to act as your chief storyteller, and you need journalists who can do the analytical, detail-oriented writing that will set your brand apart. Imitate successful publications, and hire journalists and editors as content gatekeepers to develop or evaluate content that follows your guidelines.
- Follow an editorial calendar.
Publications organize and line up content well before it goes live to make sure they publish relevant, topical content that aligns with their audience and mission. An editorial calendar serves as the road map for your content marketing campaigns and the topics you cover month to month. Plan at least two months ahead. Allow for internal feedback and revisions.
Content marketing brushes the line of traditional publishing, and smart marketers know how to replicate this time-tested approach when developing their content marketing strategies. By focusing on providing value before making a sale, you plant the seed for ongoing relationships and profitable business opportunities.
Learn from a traditional publication reporter turned Starbucks’ chief storyteller and more at Content Marketing World 2015. Register by May 31 for early-bird savings ($500) and keep another $100 in your pocket when you use the code CMI100.
Cover image by PazMadrid, morgueFile, via pixabay.com