By Ardath Albee published December 28, 2012 Est Read Time: 5 min

Content Marketing Theory vs. Practice: 8 Truths

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from our CMI Consultants. Today’s post originally appeared on Ardath Albee’s blog, Marketing Interactions, on March 29, 2012.]

Ardath Albee content marketing blog

Sometimes I think content marketing can be made so convoluted and complex that it’s nearly impossible to execute. I’ve seen spreadsheets and diagrams and lists of things you must do that make my head hurt. And, yes, I know I do this for a living. I’m a B2B content strategist — and dang proud of the work I do.

But reality is what we have to work with, and a phased approach can be a beautiful thing. After all, if you can’t execute the strategy, it’s not delivering a service to your company — or your customers.

Here are a few things I find true in practice:

  1. Marketers must be able to wrap their heads around the why, what, when, where and how.
  2. Content theories abound, and if you try to kludge it all together, you will become as immobilized as a deer in the headlights of a rapidly approaching semi.
  3. Theory is great but often difficult to put into practice in a reasonable way.
  4. Expectations need to be appropriate based on your resources, capabilities, and limitations.
  5. Content marketing never ends, so quit trying to get it perfect before you launch.
  6. Until you launch, you have no real-world feedback from which to judge your strategy or programs. It’s not about what you think, but what your buyers think and how they respond.
  7. Once you launch, you can tune on the fly and add layers as you gain proficiency.
  8. What I find with most projects is that the marketers taking on content marketing already have a full plate. This means that we need to figure out how to incorporate what they’re already doing within the content strategy, rather than approaching it as a stand-alone effort — which a content strategy should never be.

First, marketers need to build buyer insights and identify personas or market segments. It is only through gaining a clear understanding of each persona’s orientation, objectives, and obstacles that marketers can begin to design a relevant content strategy.

Without knowing your buyers, where’s your focus? On your products and company, of course. Because that’s what you know. This is why there’s so much crappy content floating around in the ether.

Once you know your buyers, choose a segment, step into their shoes and figure out what are all the questions they need to answer based on their specific situation. Open a document and type the problem statement at the top of the page (or get a group together and use a white board to brainstorm).

Persona problem statement: I need to do X in order to get Y.

Start tossing up questions this persona would have about solving that problem.

For example:

  • What are the different ways I can do X?
  • How much of Y do I need?
  • How are our competitors solving X?
  • What competitive advantages could we gain if we solve X?
  • Who else will be impacted in the company if we solve X?
  • How will I convince them that Y is worth the effort to change the status quo?

Keep going until you can’t think of another question this persona would ask in order to gather all the information they need to build confidence, gain consensus, and make an informed purchase decision.

Now, given what you know about your persona/segment, how would you answer each question? The answers are the premise statements for your content development. And the answers should not be all about your product, but rather focused on what it enables that your prospect couldn’t do before. The why, what, and how that will get them Y. If possible, identify several different ways to answer each question.

Assess your existing content to see what questions it answers, or if it needs to be reinvented or retired. Identify your gaps for new content development.

How do your current and planned campaigns and events, etc., fit in with your content flow for this persona? Match them up and insert them into the flow.

Consider your marketing mix and where you’ve determined your persona goes to find information and create a distribution program. Based on the modes you use, this can include website, email, blogs, social, etc. This is when formats come in. Not before. Your focus should be on the information first. Make sure you have the resources to execute and know what the timing looks like to get it done.

Don’t forget to consider calls to action. What do you want them to do after engaging with the content? Be reasonable about what makes sense as a next step given the information they just viewed. It’s not generally “have sales contact me.” And, based on the technology you have, determine the best ways to measure and monitor outcomes.

Get it out the door and tune on the fly as you go. Even if you only start with one persona, just get it going. Evolve and add layers as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Content marketing in practice can be as easy or difficult as you make it. Focus on learning what your buyers need to know to reach objectives and give it to them in digestible ways they will value. That’s really what’s at the crux of content marketing.

Theory is great. All marketers should understand it. But practice is about execution.

For more details on how to turn content marketing best practices into actionable efforts, read CMI’s how-to guide on Managing the Process.

Author: Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. where she helps companies with complex sales use persona-driven digital strategies and content marketing to turn prospects into buyers and ensure that existing customers choose to stay. She’s the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She has been voted one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales and Lead Management for the past four years and was selected a 2014 Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing by FierceCMO. Ardath is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Follow her on Twitter @ardath421.

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