Author: Robert Rose

Robert is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for The Content Marketing Institute. Robert has worked with more than 500 companies, including 15 of the Fortune 100. He’s provided content marketing and strategy advice for global brands such as Capital One, NASA, Dell, McCormick Spices, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert’s third book – Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been called the “book that rewrites the rules of marketing.” His second book – Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing is a top seller and has been called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert’s first book, Managing Content Marketing, spent two weeks as a top 10 marketing book on and is generally considered to be the “owners manual” of the content marketing process. You can follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

By robert-rose published October 10, 2011

6 Ways To Move Beyond Best Practices

In Best Practices, Mediocre Results , Robert Rose claims marketers who focus on measuring up to others are less willing to take risks and less likely to stand out.  Here, he offers tips about how to move beyond best practices—and become more than just average.

6 Ways To Move Beyond Best Practices

1. Turn worst to best

As an exercise, take your worst performing tactic (maybe it’s print) and ask yourself, “If tomorrow this was the only way I could market, how would I do it differently?”

2. Turn best to different

Pretend you learn the conversion rate on your best content marketing tactic ranks dead last among your peers who use the same tactic. What would you do differently?

3. Burst your bubble

What would you do if demand for your product or service   fizzled out (e.g., demand for camera film)? How would your story change to meet the challenge?

4. Join a new clique

What if you applied best practices from another industry to your business? Learn what’s going on in an industry completely different than your own. What ideas can you borrow?

5. Ask the choir for a song suggestion

Have you mined company employees outside of marketing for wonderful, crazy and out-of-the-box ideas? Find the hidden innovators in your organization and find ways to get them involved.

6. Differentiation, not “incrementation”

Remember that differentiation means being “different” than your competition. Instead of asking how to tell a better story than your competition, think about how you can tell a different one.

By robert-rose published October 10, 2011

Best Practices…Mediocre Results

Why a hyper focus on measurement and incremental gains makes marketers average.

Let’s talk about how a myopic focus on measurement can suck all the innovation and success out of our strategy. Here is an experiment: Walk around your office and ask everybody three questions. The first question: “Should companies be innovative?”  I’ll take a wild-ass guess and predict a 90-percent-plus response in the affirmative.

Then, independent of that answer, immediately ask the next one. “Has our company ever been innovative?” Here, you may get that confused it’s-4 p.m,-and-I-haven’t-had-my-Snickers look. They may ask “Do you mean are we innovative right now?” And you’ll reply, “No, I’m asking whether we have ever been innovative? Ever?”

Here, your mileage will vary, but I’ll bet you one thing to be 100 percent true. Of those who said “yes” to the second question, when you ask them the third and final question, everyone will cite a success.

You see … everybody LOVES innovation. You know, just so long as it worked.

Nobody wants to be the dope who said “yes” to the new content marketing strategy that wound up causing a social media tsunami. As a friend said to me recently, “I’d rather get a zero out of 100 on a test rather than a 22. Because a 22 means I tried.”

Today it seems we are under constant pressure to obtain data, prove ROI and justify our choices—even those we haven’t even made yet. Content marketers in particular seem to be in the grips of ROI monomania. At almost every conference, webinar and client meeting I attend, one of the first things I’m universally asked is “We’re thinking of doing some content marketing, but my boss wants to know it will work. How do I show the ROI?”  

So, what are we really looking for when we ask that question? There is almost certainly no way to draw a straight line between the expense of a content marketing initiative and revenue. And, arguably, many successful content marketing initiatives aren’t designed to generate revenue anyway. No, what we’re really looking for are best practices. They’re safe. Whenever we’re trying something new like content marketing, we become so focused on following best practices that we forget our real job is to be innovative. We become incapacitated by this feeling that our measurement should always be moving up and to the right, and unable or unwilling to embark on any activity we can’t ensure will nudge our measurement stats in the right direction.

Best practices are maps for us to follow to get the same results as those who went before us. In short, they are the marketing equivalent of sitting down at the restaurant and saying, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

But, here’s the thing: When we are satisfied with a best practice—when we end at best practices—we are saying that we’re satisfied with being average.

You’ve all heard them. Here are a few “best practices” that we’ve grown up with:

  • 40/40/20 rule: Started by Ed Mayer, a pioneer in the direct marketing industry, the 40/40/20 rule says we should focus 40 percent to the right list (audience), 40 percent to the offer and 20 percent to everything else (format, paper, stock, graphics, etc.).
  • No navigation on landing page: This best practice says that you should remove everything extraneous from your landing pages or risk your conversion rate.
  • 1 to 2 percent conversion rate: This one is so ingrained that it’s even become a “rule” within Google Adwords. If you can’t maintain a higher than 1 percent click-thru rate on your text ad, your ad quality score is penalized.

And there are tons of others …

The point is not to disabuse you of these practices (although I have personal experience that the second example is definitely not always true). In fact, quite the opposite—these are best practices precisely because they have worked for many in the past. 

Do you want to be the chicken or the egg?

Who was the first marketer to discover that removing 75 percent of her email list and culling it down to just those who opted-in actually improved her marketing performance and saved money?

Almost certainly this wasn’t a best practice when she tried it. She either discovered it accidentally (happy accident) or there was a decision to test this as a theory and the marketer tried it out. Then, a case study gets written, the idea gets passed on and passed on … and ultimately becomes the rule of thumb for marketing best practices from that point forward. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Content marketing is no different. It’s a new practice we’re putting into our organizations. And, it’s a practice that doesn’t replace the channels we’re using. Rather, it’s one that ideally makes everything else we’re doing more effective. So we should build our business case and our measurement strategy with that in mind.

Say we produce high quality content and distribute it through a number of channels (blog, social web, etc.), and we notice an uptick in visitors to the site. That’s measurable but let’s be clear: higher traffic does not mean that content marketing is providing a return. It means our one, great piece of content is providing value to our existing advertising process. And, we can quantify that value based on how many more people we get into our sales process because of it. In short, this is what gives you the permission to think outside the box. Using a content marketing strategy more likely increases the ROI of other activities you’re supporting (search tactics, lead nurturing, advertising, CRM, etc.). That’s where you stretch your unique and creative strategies and test your assumptions—and create new best practices.  

Stop looking at content marketing as yet another channel. Instead, think of it as a new, comprehensive process and mindset that you integrate into your other marketing efforts.

Consider this example: At the beginning of this 2011, a B2B organization launched a new blog. It spent tons of time and effort developing a solid set of “big ideas” around which to have a discussion. It wasn’t going to be about the brand; the blog was going to offer leading-edge insights about its area of expertise, positioning the members of this company as thought leaders in the industry. The company acquired an amazing, one-word URL that summed up the exact theme of these ideas. It developed a content strategy. It put together the targeted personas. It created an entire editorial calendar. In short, this organization did everything just right.

Then, as the launch date approached, and the blog started filling with posts and content, the executive team began to second guess themselves. What started as quiet hallway conversations a few weeks before launch became a full-blown conference room debate about marketing’s best practices:

  • “We can’t talk about competitors here.”
  • “We should incorporate this into our corporate SEO strategy.”
  • “What’s our official position on that? We need to add that into every post.”
  • “We’ve never talked about that before. We have to delete that.”
  • “We don’t compete well on that issue.”
  • “Aren’t we helping our competition with that post?”
  • “We need a lot more persuasive calls to action on this blog.”

What’s the ROI?

So, the company changed the blog. (To be plain, it was gutted.)  It deleted the “offending posts,” added a call to action for a free trial on every page and changed every mention of a competitor to a generic term.

Guess what happened? When the blog launched, it was basically an extension of the corporate marketing site—and was about as well recognized a thought leadership platform as you might think. Crickets chirped.

Too often marketers’ fear of failure in the short term stands in the way of the learning—even the breakthrough new practice—we might achieve in the longer term. In short, we’re so afraid that we might lose sales or disenfranchise a prospect that our practices stay safe, incremental—and ultimately mediocre. We get so boxed in by measurement that we have no choice but to grasp tightly to best practices and strive to be “a little bit better than last time.”

Peter Drucker says that business “only has two functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation create value, all the rest are costs.”

By robert-rose published August 31, 2011

What It Takes to Effectively Manage Content Marketing for Your Business

As we take a collective breath before we head to Cleveland to experience how content, marketing strategy, Rock & Roll, and more orange than we ever knew existed can be mixed together, Joe Pulizzi and I wanted to offer up a little surprise.

Before I get to the surprise, let’s talk a little about how we can make content marketing real in our organizations.

At this point, you’re no doubt convinced of the “why” of content marketing; it’s now a question of “how”: How do we make it a reality in our organization? We know that the ideas in content marketing aren’t new — we’ve all been doing it for years, in varying ways. But really, there’s been no standardized way to create repeatable, manageable, and measurable processes to manage content marketing.

As we’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in the world on creating content marketing strategies, we’ve see some of the same things coming up again and again, including certain challenges, tools, solutions, and processes that just simply work. And, they are reflected in the themes that we see repeated throughout the amazing content from CMI contributors. The big issues to address all seem to boil down to a great Top-10 list…

10. How do we build the business case?

Remember: A business case is not ROI; ROI is a goal that the business case addresses. Sometimes, before we can build a business case in our organization, we have to build a case for innovation itself, to prepare for this new way of thinking. As I mentioned, content marketing itself isn’t new; but implementing it as a regular practice in a company very often is an unfamiliar prospect that requires some guidance. You can find some of that guidance in Tom Pisello’s article, Is Your Content Marketing Relevant to Buyers, or Arnie Kuenn’s Developing Your Content Marketing Mindset.

9. Who are our buyer personas?

We need a process for identifying our buyers — the people who will be passionate subscribers to our brand — and mapping them to a content marketing strategy that will support our business case. I recommend Barbara Gago’s 4 Questions about Buyer Personas to get you started on this task.

8. What are our pillars of content?

What’s our story really about? Whether it’s one blog, a small white paper program, or a holistically integrated strategy, we have to tell a complete story. I discuss how to do this in my recent piece on What Content Marketing Is Really About.

7. What channels do we use?

Should we use print? Do we have a social media strategy? How do we create a channel strategy that makes sense and can be repeated? If you are looking for answers to these questions, take a look at Joe Chernov’s excellent post on how Content Marketing Is a Force Multiplier.

6. What workflow should we use, and how do I set up an editorial calendar?

How do we align content on all the available channels into a calendar and other process tools? Take a look at Kathy Hanbury’s wonderful post on creating a Content Marketing Toolkit or Michele Linn’s post on How to Put Together an Editorial Calendar for some ideas.

5. What tools do we need?

Of course, a great process is facilitated and made easier with the tools we use. From content management to lead generation to social media, choosing the right tool can mean the difference between struggle and success. My post on How to Choose a CMS for Content Marketing offers just one example of this.

4. How do we get our choir to sing?

It’s a safe bet that any given organization might not necessarily be filled with skilled writers and other content producers. We need to align our best content resources so we know when and where we might need to outsource. A number of CMI contributors tackled this issue in the great roundup post, How to Hire the Right Consultant.

3. What is the best way to listen?

Of course, one of the biggest changes in our strategies is that it’s not just content we’re publishing — it’s conversation. And, as part of any good conversation, we need to listen first — to both the conversations we’re generating and those happening outside of our organizations. Joe Pulizzi’s post on setting up and managing Listening Posts provides an excellent discussion on how to make this happen.

2. How do we measure success?

Perhaps the most popular topic in content marketing is how to effectively create a measurement process that can justify the time and effort it takes. Tom Pisello’s post on How to Calculate the ROI of Social Media Marketing has some great measurement tips that can help.

1. How do we put it all together?

Here’s where I get to the surprise that Joe and I have for ya’ll:

We are very proud to announce that we’ve spent the last six months taking all of the experience we have gained over the last few years of working with REAL clients with REAL content marketing challenges and have distilled it into what we think can be your owner’s manual for content marketing.

Our new book, Managing Content Marketing – The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand, is designed to tell marketers exactly how to put content marketing to work with a structured, repeatable process. In fact, it covers the processes of the Top-10 list that you just read.

As Jeffrey Hayzlett, the former CMO of Kodak and author of the bestselling book, The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing, said in his very kind forward:

What gets me fired up about this book is that these guys have it so right. Their book provides the vital steps required to navigate this new path called content marketing.

You can certainly learn more about the book here. But we’re very proud to announce that, due to the herculean efforts of Newt Barrett and the editing team at CMI Books, we will have a limited supply of preview copies for sale at Content Marketing World, and online sales will follow very shortly in mid-September.

At Content Marketing World, we’ll have four full days of talking content marketing. We’ll learn so much about how the power of story can work for our business. The process is new. We need to be okay with that. The budget allotted for new content creation is going to become a significant part of our “new media” budget. And subject matter experts in our organizations are going to have new responsibilities. It’s a transformative new process, and it won’t happen overnight. But it can, and should, happen.

Get Content Get Customers, showed us the light, but there’s been no book to show us the way.

Until now.

See you in Cleveland.

By robert-rose published July 5, 2011

What Content Marketing Is Really About

Ask any good author what their story is about and you will almost certainly not get the plot (what happens in the story) but rather the themes (what the story is about).

Take, for example, the recently released hit comedy Bridesmaids.  The story is not about the raunchy shenanigans that go into planning a wedding, but it’s about how life “moves on” with or without you, and you must take charge of it.  In fact, the climactic scene for the main character is not the big wedding, but rather an argument two of the bridesmaids have that convinces Annie (one of the bridesmaids) that she has to “fight for herself.”

Continue Reading

By robert-rose published April 14, 2011

Do You Really Need A Content Marketing Consultant?

Okay quick – how many marketing consultants does it take to change a light bulb?  There is no shortage of punch lines here.   “It depends – how large is your budget?”  Or – “We don’t know – they never seem to get past the requirements stage.”  Or, here’s my favorite (maybe because I made it up) – “Four, one to change the bulb and three to blog how Seth Godin would have done it.

Okay, jokes aside – you may have seen that we have formally launched CMI’s consulting practice (CMIC). I’m so very pleased to have a leading role in helping CMI organize this important initiative, and I’m honored to be working alongside such a stellar group of people.Continue Reading

By robert-rose published September 27, 2010

Content Mobility: The Key to Content Migration

When we think of mobile and content these days, the conversation usually goes to publishing content for mobile devices such as iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones.  While the mobile platform is interesting – and something other CMI contributors have covered – by “mobile” I actually mean something quite different. I’m talking about content mobility: migrating content from one CMS to another.Continue Reading

By robert-rose published September 16, 2010

How to Choose a CMS for Content Marketing: Don’t Hammer with a Screwdriver

My college roommate used to hold up his giant screwdriver and say – “this is the only tool I’ll ever need.” And, he’d hammer nails with it, open boxes with it, open beer bottles with it (yes, college was like that for me). It was everything he needed. Sadly, the same can’t be said for different web content management software.

So, if you’re neck deep in a content marketing strategy, it’s a sure bet that you’re also, in some way, wrestling with a web content management system (CMS). Continue Reading

By robert-rose published July 12, 2010

4 Quick Tips for Increasing Your Content Marketing Budget

There’s a great quote that I love that says, “Budgeting is just a way to worry about money before you spend it.”  As you get ready to move into the planning season for your 2011 budget, it’s a good time to start thinking about things you might do to increase your chances of getting increased budget for content marketing.

So, with no further ado – here are some quick checklist items to do as you prepare your content marketing budget.Continue Reading

By robert-rose published June 7, 2010

How to Use Mapping to Develop and Measure Content

In last week’s post, I walked you through how to map your content to your buyer personas and sales funnel. By having this information, you can start to see where your gaps in content are.

So, what’s next? You need to fill in the gaps and put a plan in place to measure what is and isn’t working.Continue Reading

By robert-rose published June 2, 2010

A Quick and Dirty Way to Segment your B2B Content Marketing

If you’re a B2B marketer you’ve inevitably heard sales say things like this:

“Yeah, we’re getting leads from all that content you guys in marketing are writing – but they’re all tire kickers.”

Or (my favorite): “We don’t need more leads. . . we need better leads.”  What now?

You want to be able to address these questions from sales with answers that are really specific. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to be armed with this kind of info?Continue Reading