The Content Matters 2022 Report from Parse.ly highlights how important content is to customer experience this year. But it also leaves out some key points about content strategy that many companies plan less for than the actual creation of content.
The report includes findings from a survey of over 800 content marketers. This found that more content was created last year than the previous one, with even more to come this year. However, that increase comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities.
To help create all this new content, 50% of companies are increasing budgets, which is allocated variously to content creators and agencies (58%) and tools (51%). But 30% said budgets aren’t increasing and only 36% are spending budget on analytic tools.
I would like to see a breakdown of this data. How many of the companies not increasing their budget are spending money on tools to help create more content? How many companies spending budget on content creators and agencies are looking at tools to help manage the content creation and distribution process?
The report points out that there needs to be a balance of people, process, and technology for an effective content program. This is true, but what you don’t read much about is what that balance looks like. What are some examples of a content strategy that blends these things well?
Why more isn’t always better
Robert Rose talked about the increase in content development in his weekly column, Rose-Colored Glasses for the Content Marketing Institute, where he talked about two different companies with plans to increase the amount of content they created:
My gaming contact and my client’s boss share the same philosophy: More content equates to more audiences, which equates to more value.
As Luke Skywalker once said, “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.
The gaming company planned to leverage AI to help it dramatically increase its content. There are certainly plenty of AI tools that will help you create content, but if you are expecting each piece created from an AI tool to knock it out of the park, you’ll be waiting a long time. We aren’t there yet - and we probably never will be.
Maybe that’s not the intent. As we’ve seen from other studies, a lot of content goes out these days that is “just good enough.” As much as we marketers like to think we only want high-quality content, the reality is, it’s not.
Rose wrote that it’s hard to create high-quality, differentiated content, which is probably why many companies think quantity and hope for something close to high-quality. It’s also why marketers need to get off that quantity versus quality hamster wheel. As such, I like Rose’s advice:
Your mission as content creators isn’t to avoid creating noise or focus only on creating signals. No. Your mission is to make the most “right people” (i.e., those in your desired audience) care. This is the art of creating signals among noise.
The what and why of content development
Let’s jump back to the Parse.ly report and consider why marketers create content. In the study, respondents said their number one purpose for content is to create brand awareness. That was followed by educating audiences, building credibility and trust, and generating demand leads.
What I found interesting is only a third (34%) is creating content to build a subscriber audience. But isn’t content for brand awareness, educational content, and content that builds credibility and trust, the type of content you would create to build a subscriber audience? You are missing opportunities to get to know your audience and customers better if you aren’t leveraging content to build a subscriber audience
Then there’s the question of how marketers know what content to create? According to this report, the top answer was that it comes from other teams. While getting requests from other groups makes sense, it’s essential to understand what drives those requests. Are they backed by analysis and research into customer relationships? Are they asking for content because that’s what competitors are creating? Or what that team thinks it needs?
A content strategy must be based on a solid understanding of the people you want to reach. You get that through research, interviews, performance of existing content, talking to people in the company who speak to your customers and prospects. You can get some of it from what your competitors are doing. But if you only create the same or slightly better content, you aren’t doing what Rose says you need to do - “create signals” to the right people. You do that through learning about people.
I’ll add here one additional report stat related to content performance. Of the respondents in this study, 51% say they track metrics and know how their content performs, but another 32% admit that they track metrics, but still don’t understand performance.
Okay, one more: page views was the number one metric tracked. Don’t even get me started on that one…
There’s a line in the introduction of the Parse.ly report that resonated with me:
The key to great experiences comes from creation, feedback, and iteration.
'One and done' is the wrong way to think about content creation. You don’t just create a blog, a video, a whitepaper, etc.., promote it a few times, and then move on to the next piece of content.
For all the great advice out there that tells us to leverage a content piece in multiple ways, whether text-based, audio, or video, there is rarely time built into the content schedule to do that thoughtfully.
There’s also rarely time built into the content strategy to look back at older content and think of ways to revive or refresh it. Or to cross-link between old and new content.
Moreover there’s rarely time to think about content creation as more than a content type (ebook, blog, podcast). In Rose’s post, he talks about three ways to think about content creation, and my favorite one is to focus on being “different, not better.” That requires thinking about more than format.
And there is rarely time to track content performance and use that information to improve the content. For example, update the text, change the format to something people will like, shift things around for better flow, etc.
If you want your content to matter, don’t ignore all the work required to make it matter.