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How Content Marketing Can Save Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Updated Aug. 3, 2020

 How is your summer going?

If 2020 was a movie – it would be Jaws. The mayor of Amity has successfully dismissed the threat, rejected the findings of the leading scientist, and we’ve just watched the poor fisherman get attacked in the harbor as snipers and professional law enforcement circle the wrong beaches that have been reopened. Now, it’s up to us. We are Brody, Quint, and Hooper – piling into a boat to take on the viral beast ourselves.

We are smack dab in the middle of the next normal. Our businesses must evolve. Our marketing must evolve. We must evolve.

We are smack dab in the middle of the next normal. Our businesses and #marketing must evolve. We must evolve, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Share on X

You may be new to content marketing. It may be that your business is pivoting hard to content in a 2020 world. There is good reason for that. We’ve seen:

  • Acceleration to the de-evolution of trust and usefulness of social media
  • Increasing importance of first-party data in a heightened environment of transparency
  • Evolution of paid media and disappearance of sponsorships for physical events
  • New challenges, technologies, and processes of operating in work-from-home

As you dive into the content here at Content Marketing Institute, you’ll notice we’ve always clarified that content marketing doesn’t simply replace your broader integrated marketing strategy. Much of what you find in both the “content-marketing-is-dead” articles as well as the “content-marketing-is-better-than-sliced-bread” articles are false assertions. They argue you should stop classic advertising, public relations, cold calling, and all other forms of classic marketing and advertising in lieu of content marketing.

#ContentMarketing doesn’t replace your broader integrated #marketing strategy, says @Robert_Rose. Share on X


Content marketing is, and has always been, best served as an integrated infusion into a broader marketing strategy – a multiplier. Content marketing is the opportunity to make everything we do better.

As you look to sort out your 2021 approach to integrated marketing, you may decide content marketing should be but a small fraction of your overall integrated marketing strategy. Or you may look to make content marketing a larger part of your overall strategic portfolio. The balance in your strategy is uniquely yours.

But here’s something interesting.

As the COVID-19 impact encourages companies to reassess the entirety of marketing, we’ve seen a larger opportunity for content marketers to play a true leadership role in that broader marketing planning. Your content marketing strategy can be the foundation for either an improved or newly rebooted integrated digital marketing strategy.

Your #ContentMarketing strategy can be the foundation for either an improved or newly rebooted integrated #DigitalMarketing strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Share on X

Let me explain.

Today’s integrated marketing strategy isn’t (mostly)

In 2019, I traveled more than 205,000 miles working with enterprises to operationalize nascent (or broken) content marketing strategies. In most cases, I noticed that the one thing paralyzing their content marketing strategy was a lack of clarity for the broader digital – or integrated – marketing strategy.

“Tell me about your overall marketing strategy” is one of the first discussion questions I pose to understand where a new or tweaked content marketing approach can help. Time and again, the answer is something along the lines of “well, see, that’s one of our bigger challenges.”

In 2019, we worked directly with 35 companies. Of those, 24 were B2B and 11 were B2C or B2B2C. (We worked with two nonprofits that target consumers so we put them into the B2C group).

While hardly scientific (because of sample size), I have some interesting observations. Of these 35 companies:

  • 95% (all but two) said they were siloed and had an incredibly difficult time aligning enterprise digital marketing efforts across products, channels, regions, or even functional areas (brand vs. PR vs. demand generation).
  • 80% of B2B and roughly half of B2C companies were “frustrated” because while they were “doing digital marketing” they either didn’t have a cohesive strategy or digital was a separate effort (run by a separate team) and, ironically, often competitive with what other functional areas were working on.
  • A little more than half (55% – mostly B2B) said their company had no integrated digital marketing strategy that rolled up a broader view of all the paid media, social media, lead nurturing and/or content-focused platforms. Why?
  • Different teams and different people were responsible for channels (web, mobile, blog) vs. marketing function (brand, product, demand generation) and had gone through some kind of “reorg” in the last 12 months. The idea of an integrated strategy was “evolving.”
  • No one really is responsible for an integrated strategy – and there are, as one vice president of marketing said, “too many teams to try and pull all that together.”
  • Some combination of the first two.

Well, here we are in the second half of 2020. I’ve traveled a sum total of zero miles, and most of the 15 clients I’ve worked with this year have responded similarly. It’s a safe bet to say the status of the overall marketing strategy – and the content marketing approach within it – is ripe for a reboot.

The overall #marketing strategy – and the #ContentMarketing approach within it – is ripe for a reboot, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Share on X

Perhaps it’s time to let the tail wag the dog and lead with our approach of content.

Content strategy: The heart of a marketing strategy

Many marketing organizations seem stuck in a never-ending cycle chasing the needs of internal content/experience silos and enabling them with the technologies to optimize each separate layer of the customer’s journey.

In our work and research over the last decade, it is common to see multiple technology solutions managing data, activating content, and measuring consumption of the exact same content – at disparate parts of the customer journey.

In today’s B2B marketing, for example, the lead generation strategy centers on customized content interactions that build trust over a long and complex buying journey. Paid digital media is driven by the need to stand out. It promotes differentiating thought leadership content more and the buy-now call to action less. B2B marketing is becoming hyperfocused on targeting customized content into specific accounts. The PR, influencer, and analyst relations teams are focused on developing earned coverage of differentiating viewpoints across myriad digital channels.

When these activities are not working well, it’s because they’re siloed capabilities. The teams try to solve each step of the customer’s journey instead of connecting the entirety of it.

When they work well, it’s because of a connected, cohesive strategic content approach that builds value for customers along their journey. In other words, today’s integrated marketing strategy starts with a great content strategy. If we can get to a foundational and strategic content marketing approach – we may just find the heart of a central and integrated marketing strategy.

A connective, strategic #content approach builds value for customers along the journey, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Share on X

Example: Financial services company finds a 2020 groove

We’ve been working with a 110-year-old financial services company. It is in the midst of transforming from a largely event- and consultative sales-driven (e.g., telephone) operational model into a digital content and brand strategy. In 2019, it tried its first direct-to-consumer-focused brand campaign and it went fairly well.

The primary challenge is that, historically, whatever marketing (including digital) it was doing had been handled by product management teams. They create brochures; PowerPoint decks; thick, technically focused white papers; and Excel-based calculators. All of this content was to be presented in person, at a conference, during a dinner meeting, or printed from an email.

Well, now all but one of these delivery methods are gone.

New events? Now they are webinars. New in-person presentation? Now they are Zoom calls. New white papers? Well, they always needed a better distribution system than email.

Further, the financial services company needs these efforts to be more integrated than ever before. The new direct-to-consumer brand campaign is an effort to unify the story/messaging under one consistent brand. The company can no longer simply lean on the names of the products and the old patterns of recognition of the features and benefits.

The idea of a firmwide, holistic, and integrated marketing strategy is alien to this company. There’s never been an integrated approach that drives visitors to a content platform, nurtures multiple audiences through an engagement journey, and then aligns and integrates into the PR, virtual event, sales, and analyst relation destinations.

Instead of trying to de-silo the organization, the company started its integrated marketing strategy with a goal-driven and story-first approach. The team in charge mapped the expected outcomes from each of the content-driven platforms back to a division’s overall business goals.

For example, the existing website became the trust-development and lead-nurturing engine. It collects the high-level leads from direct marketing campaigns, events, and the thought-leadership platform (its digital magazine) and, in turn, is enriched by the data from these campaigns.

All campaigns are tagged (for attribution purposes), but – based on the content consumed – the nurturing programs and sales teams may involve different products and services. As new audience personas are identified, they are orchestrated to other content platforms, which are managed by other functions in the business.

The goal was to have no more siloed landing pages, microsites, one-off campaigns, or leads pooled in Excel spreadsheets.

Then, the thought-leadership program (a newly launched digital magazine) became a source for the story-driven strategy. The story plays through to a reskinned website (matching the new direct-to-consumer brand efforts). The digital magazine serves as a center of gravity and an anchor point for directing different audiences once they become subscribers.

Finally, every product manager is building a 2021 marketing plan around four focused purposes aligned with this content strategy. Each campaign should:

  • Grow the pipeline
  • Increase the pipeline’s investment value
  • Increase the velocity of the existing pipeline
  • Increase the value of existing customers

Based on those four purposes, integrated and standardized plays will be developed to define where the calls to action lead, how measurement is applied, and how content is used. There is much more, of course, but I hope you get the idea.

The interesting thing is how quickly this foundation on content and story-first came together for the financial services firm. Instead of starting with how the business can be cleverer selling the features and benefits of products, the product marketers are starting by selling an integrated and differentiated point of view to which their products are the natural answer.

The content strategy is the foundation of the marketing strategy.

Of course, execution is everything, and we’ll see how all this plays out the rest of this year and into 2021. However, I’m excited the company sees the benefit in how clear the marketing planning process can be when a content strategy is the foundation.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve found another valuable role for content marketing to play. Perhaps as we all work from home and begin to think about rebooting our content marketing approach, we can think a bit bigger.

Perhaps it’s not just how we can tack on content programs to our sales efforts. A new opportunity may lie in starting with content and allowing the sales materials to be the supplement to selling our differentiated story.

Build and grow your content strategy foundation at two upcoming educational events. Join us Aug. 10-12 for ContentTECH Summit, and then gather virtually again in October for Content Marketing World. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute