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Effective Content Marketing: 5 Habits that Help You Stand Apart

effective habits for content marketingContent marketing is gaining traction at many companies, and some may argue that it is now mainstream. According to the 2013 content marketing research reports for B2B and B2C industries by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 91 percent of B2B marketers and 86 percent of B2C marketers are using content marketing. In addition, 54 percent of B2B marketers and 55 percent of B2C marketers will increase their content marketing spend in the next 12 months.

When you see successful content marketers, you may ask yourself: “What are they doing differently?” “What do they know that others don’t?” “What are they consistently doing right?” 

Here are five habits that will help you become an effective content marketing pro and help you rise above the competition:

1. Know how to explain content marketing in business terms

Even though marketers understand content marketing, a lot of marketers have trouble making the business case for content marketing to senior leaders in their organization. It is important to have advocates of content marketing in the C-suite, especially your chief marketing officer and chief executive officer.

Companies that successfully demonstrate how content marketing can or will help them meet their business objectives can grow their content marketing budgets. They can also tie their content marketing goals to enterprise-wide business goals. For example, a company’s goal may be to build brand awareness. Content marketing helps by providing authentic and engaging content that helps current and potential customers learn more about the perspectives of a brand.

Another example of a business benefit gained from content marketing is customer loyalty, which can be built and maintained through delivering relevant, useful information to your audience in the form of email and print newsletters, print and online magazines, or live customer or virtual events.

2. Build a strong and integrated content marketing team 

You can’t do it alone; it takes a team to be successful. Read “Creating a Content Marketing Team and Workflow Plan,” to learn how to assemble a team and develop your editorial plan:

  • Establish processes that are flexible but firm, so your expert team can develop content that is relevant and meaningful. Furthermore, you will want to expand your reach beyond just the content marketing team, so other parts of your organization can benefit from the content you create.
  • You may also want to develop a content marketing advisory board that includes people from many different parts of the business to ensure you are producing the right content for your audience, and can use your content to address their goals at every point of interaction.

3. Tell compelling stories

This is the part where effective content marketers really shine. As one Copyblogger blog post says, learn how to be interesting. In other words, tell great stories and get your audience hungry for more (read “Brand Storytelling Lessons You Can Steal from Hollywood,” for more tips on how to do this).

It’s also helpful to take a tip or two from professional journalists, who write their content as “must-read” stories (for inspiration, read “6 Ideas B2B Content Marketers Can Take from Professional Journalists“).

Some tips you can take from professional journalists:

  • They create stories that might refer to a specific product or service, but they don’t’ directly promote or endorse them.
  • Journalists follow strong editorial guidelines to ensure the consistency, accuracy, and integrity of their work and the publication they write for. These guidelines also help them determine whether a given article meets the quality standards of their publication.
  • Journalists also know what constitutes a valid, reliable source of information, and how to attribute those sources correctly.

You can also learn to tell compelling stories by learning the key components of journalism and basic storytelling principles.

The first key component: Know the five stages of developing a story. These stages are:

  • Brainstorm
  • Find a source
  • Conduct an interview
  • Draft the article
  • Meet the deadline

The second element is learning how to create different acts (or “mini stories”) within your stories. For example, modern storytelling has a three-act structure. The first act is called exposition, where a writer identifies the main characters, their relationships, and what type of world they live in. The second act is referred to as the rising action, where the main characters can’t resolve their problems because they don’t have the skills or the right state of mind to overcome them. The third act is the story resolution, where questions are answered, problems are solved, and the characters often gain a new sense of themselves.

The third key element is good graphic design, or how imagery and graphic design helps bring out the story. That leads us to the next key component: the importance of combing words and visuals to paint the picture. Basically, this means keeping an eye on how you associate the written word with visuals that help illustrate or enhance the emotion of the story.

The last element is an understanding of how stories can build upon other stories. Journalists are good at reporting the story, but often a story will continue to develop over the course of days, weeks, or even months. Reporters write about what they know at the time, and they report on the story again when the story develops. By building upon the previous report, a larger story begins to develop, and the full story is eventually told. Sometimes, journalists even create a story recap of all the developments over the course of time so you can see the timeline of events.

By understanding these key elements of journalism and storytelling, you can craft an integrated and holistic brand story that will draw your audience in and drive them to take action on behalf of your business.

4. Lead change

Content marketing may require a mindset shift at your company so that you are prepared to create content that tells a compelling story, rather than offering up the same old promotional copy. In order to accomplish this feat, you will need to know how to lead successful change at your organization.

The fable, Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, illustrates the eight-step process of change. It is an easy-to-read story about penguins that realize their iceberg is melting, and go about making necessary changes to improve the situation. Today, effective content marketers should be more than just storytellers; they should also be agents for change. Why? Because successful organizations that excel at content marketing are able to function almost as if they were a publisher or a media company. That is why content marketing is sometimes called “brand journalism” — because it requires a brand to think in terms of what their readers or viewers are most interested in, rather than what the brand itself wants to talk about.

What do journalists do really well? They pump out a lot of quality content that makes their audience want to come back to them to get their news and information. The same should apply to your company’s content: the information you provide should be considered your product.

But while the information-as-product concept may help you address some of the tactical decisions involved in branded content creation, getting your company to really take a strategic, integrated, and editorial approach to content marketing may require a more significant mindset shift. The most essential step in leading change like this is creating a sense of urgency that such a transformation needs to take place (which takes us back to the first habit: Know how to put content marketing in business terms).

5. Audit and assess content continually 

It’s urgent that content marketers have a detailed awareness of what is in their content inventory, and a solid understanding of how each piece of content integrates with their overall content strategy. For example, if you produce an article on a particular topic, do you have a white paper or video that presents a more in-depth perspective on the topic? Is there a way you can use the two pieces together to tell the larger story in a more vivid way?

The ability to slice, dice, separate, and recombine content in new ways is why you may want to consider conducting a content audit, which will show you what stories have been developed, what stories you may need to refresh, and what stories still need to be told on behalf of your brand. It will also help you avoid content archipelagos. Just like an archipelago is a group of islands that is typically uninhabited or rarely visited, this is a group of content that didn’t resonate well with your audience and wasn’t shared at the level you were hoping for. By auditing your content to see what performed to your expectations, you can get valuable insight that will help you decide what content to change and what to create more of.

Content marketing is as much science as it is art. With the availability of marketing automation tools, web analytical tools, and social media tools, there is no shortage of usable data at the content marketer’s fingertips. But what makes successful content experts stand apart is their ability to incorporate the information they gather from the data and use it to improve the content they create and distribute.

For example, if you are seeing that your blog post, “10 tips for topic X” is being read and shared a lot, do you have a plan in place to make sure you recognize its popularity and develop more content on that topic? Do you have a content calendar to keep track of the content you have produced, and what you would like to produce in the future?

It is also just as important that you and your team understand why your most popular content got the increased attention. Did they spend extra time engaging with your article because you included a video or slideshow? Was the topic related to a hot-button issue that drove a lot of conversations in the comments? The more you know about the factors that contributed to the success of a particular piece of content, the easier it will be to deliver the content your audience is looking for.

What do you think successful content marketers do differently? What would you add to this list?

For more tips on what it takes to be a standout content marketer, read the CMI book, “Managing Content Marketing” by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose.