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Leaner, More Effective Content Marketing in 6 Steps

more-effective-content-approach-leanerIn Silicon Valley, “lean” is the key to startup strategy. Could it also describe a more effective content marketing approach?

The Lean Startup,” by author and entrepreneur Eric Ries, introduced “lean” methodology, which uses science to help entrepreneurs match their products with a target audience quickly and cost-efficiently. The approach is iterative — it consists of repeating a process and shaping it with feedback until you reach an intended goal.

Lean marketers push campaigns live before they’re “perfect,” learn from the data that results, and use that knowledge to make improvements in their next campaign. Essentially, the model promotes learning as you go, saving time and resources in the process.

Some marketers already practice lean content marketing — whether they know it or not. Fundamentally, it’s a more structured approach to shaping content through experimentation. Still, looking at effective content marketing through the lens of lean methodology is particularly intriguing.

Everyone wants to cut the fat from their work flows. The good news is that applying lean methodology to your content marketing efforts is pretty easy to do.

What is lean content marketing?

Lean content marketing is an iterative approach to refining topics, length, and other elements of content to land stronger leads and more customers.

Lean methodology follows the “build-measure-learn” feedback loop. To stay lean, content marketers would create or curate content; collect data on that content; and use the resulting data to shape future pieces of content. As you can see in the chart below, lean startup and content cycles benefit from similar feedback loops — both involve iterating and perfecting as you go.

View the full presentation, “More Impact with Less Time and Resources: Content Marketing the Lean Content Way,” here.

Repeating this process weeds out lower-value topics in favor of those that will result in more conversions. For example, lean content marketers might collect data that justifies an investment on an eBook or webinar, but argues against the creation of more expensive content, like video.

“Lean content marketing is about measuring the impact of content and refining it, rather than just flopping around,” explains Arabella Santiago, Director of Marketing and Communications at Her company is a leading proponent of lean content marketing.

As a concrete example, Arabella points to nonprofit marketing expert Beth Kanter, a power user who curates nonprofit content.

Using lean methodology, she narrows down the most popular ideas in curated content for use in her original content — including her books. Through her curation efforts, she learns what her audience is most interested in reading about, and then structures her next wave of content with this information in mind.

What about your brand? How can you create leaner content?

The lean content workout

Lean content marketing isn’t just for startups. Even the largest enterprise organizations can benefit from a lean approach.

Looking to practice quick, high-impact marketing using fewer resources? Lose that content bloat with this six-step “workout” program:

1. Define your pain points: Offering solutions to your audience’s biggest challenges is exactly what all of your content should be trying to accomplish. Too often, content marketers rely on guesswork, or their own industry experience, to define these pain points. A “leaner” approach would be to interview actual customers rather than relying on anecdotal evidence.

Lean content marketing is all about taking that next step to uncover data that can be “scientifically proven.” Treat your customers’ pain points as a hypothesis, and then survey them to confirm your theory — the resulting data you gather will prove whether your hypothesis was true or false.

A content marketer with a CRM software company, for example, might present a hypothesis this way: “Our potential customers are struggling with low user adoption on their current CRM.” The implication is that creating content around this topic will drive more members of your target audience into the sales funnel.

You can’t truly know that this is a real pain point for all of your potential customers unless you test that assertion.

2. Start small: Now, it’s time to build content around your hypothesis. Lean is all about creating high-impact content using fewer resources — which means it’s best to start small.

Short-form content can range from social media posts to shorter blog posts (like those that Seth Godin writes) — even to normal length blog posts, depending on your content model. It’s all about bouncing that idea off of the audience so you can collect and analyze their responses.

Here’s where content curation comes in especially handy. Someone else has already taken the time to create testable content. Using that content to see how your audience responds is a low-cost way to start small and scale up.

Rally up a series of strong posts on CRM user adoption — challenges, solutions, and the like — and push them out through a curation platform or social media. Keep a keen eye on how your followers react.

3. Measure audience engagement: Audience engagement metrics — like social shares, “likes,” retweets, and bounce rates — help inform you on whether or not your content is drawing readers in.

For these measurements, you should define benchmarks that tell you whether or not your content is engaging your readers. Use your past experience to define those benchmarks — for example, focus on the performance of a particularly hot piece of content you created that hooked three newsletter sign-ups or 40+ social shares. Many content marketers do this already. But it bears repeating that the data is telling you something. Listen to it.

But creating lean content is about much more than audience engagement. You also need to consider what impact it produces in terms of your business goals.

4. Measure bottom-line impact: So many content marketers are missing this extra step: Find out which content actually converts visitors into new customers.

It’s easy to get tied up in the surface value of your content — how much traffic it draws and how many comments it gets, for example. But in the end, it’s all about what drives desired actions; how your content affected those who converted, and those who walked. One converted customer is so much more valuable than 100 people who comment and split.

Define benchmarks specific to new business to help you test that assertion. They don’t have to be as ambitious as landing a new client. Maybe they focus simply on lead capture. However you measure this, make sure your reader is taking that next step into the sales funnel.

Your first round of experimentation is complete. So what’s next?

5. Push your next iteration: If you’ve proven your hypothesis true, it’s time to move onto the next iteration. Create longer content, like a 400-word blog post. Take the same approach you used for your micro- or curated content, this time taking a more detailed look at why your potential client’s CRM might experience low user adoption.

Don’t move on to an eBook or a webinar just yet. Think of this next piece of content as a stepping-stone to longer pieces.

6. Establish a feedback loop: Repeat the process as many times as it takes, working your way up to longer-form content pieces. As you create, test, and iterate, you’ll come to learn which formats are producing the most effective content results for your business.

BONUS: Test old content, too: If you’re already putting resources into repurposing your older content, go through this process to maximize the value of it. Content that’s still relevant and represents your hypothesis hastens testing, instead of forcing you to spend time on new content. This cuts more bloat.

Looking for more information on this approach? Check out this great resource on lean content marketing. In addition to addressing individual pieces of content, author Liam Gooding discusses lean content strategy on a higher level.

How do you keep your content lean?

Some content marketers may already be taking a lean approach to their content efforts. If you are among them, please share your tips and stories with us in the comments.

For more innovative approaches to more effective content marketing, register for Content Marketing World 2013

Cover image via Bigstock