Content marketing has been around in some form or another for a long time. But it seems like it’s these last few years that things have changed dramatically (and are still changing) for how organizations can do content marketing well.
There is no one right answer - we all know that. But a few insights from someone who’s talking and working with companies who are finding success and failure can help us steer down the right path. Enter Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Advisor for the Content Marketing Institute.
If you are like me, you could pick Rose’s mind for hours. I’m pretty sure he’d be open to talking that long too because there is so much left to learn. But I only had his attention for about a half an hour, so I used my time wisely.
Content marketing is not a replacement for other marketing tactics
I came across a best practices whitepaper on The Content Advisory (Rose’s consultancy website) called Content Marketing in Crisis, and this one line struck me. It said that content marketing is not a replacement for advertising or any other classic marketing. Rose told me that companies that are having problems with their content marketing strategies are often those that view content marketing as either a replacement for another marketing tactic (“instead of”) like direct marketing collateral, or another piece of the marketing puzzle (“in addition to”) and measuring it in the same way. It’s not that simple though.
Rose shared the dirty secret (maybe not so secret though): “content is harder, it takes longer, it is a bigger investment, and it’s more difficult to create high-impact valuable content that is valuable in its own right than it is to create that catalog, or that brochure or that direct advertisement.”
So it doesn’t make sense to use it as a replacement, or to measure it in the same way. You won’t get the results you are hoping to get with this approach. Instead, Rose suggests that you should be thinking about how your content marketing helps these other tactics. How can you create a better customer, a better lead, better advertising strategy? Think of content marketing as a business strategy Rose said, one that marketing people happen to perform.
Where does content marketing fit best?
If it shouldn’t be a standalone strategy or a replacement for other tactics, then where does content marketing fit into the marketing program? There is a solid case for making it a centralized activity that does its own thing but also supports other marketing efforts.
The true value of content marketing doesn’t come from cost savings or increased revenue generation, Rose said. It comes from leveraging audience data to help us do things better, or different, that we couldn’t do through other methods.
Rose said that digital has brought us a very siloed approach to marketing. There is the lead generation team, the demand gen team, PR/communications, brand, content marketing and now ABM. Each one develops content, manages a customer journey, even their own technology. There often is no cohesive story across all teams.
By putting content marketing in the center, you can use it to provide multiple lines of value. “How can we create a strategy where content helps us make all of these things more valuable?”
Here’s an example - how can you use the audience data you have collected through your content marketing program (e.g., blog or newsletter subscribers) to improve your media buys? Or this one: can you create a better lead generation campaign by leveraging your most popular blog content?
Do larger companies do content marketing better?
We hear the success stories of big companies like Red Bull and GE who are doing some great things through content marketing. But larger companies also have larger teams, more politics and legacy processes they have to deal with. So, Rose said that while some are doing great things, they also have their struggles, especially when you get down to the lower levels where content marketing teams are working within departments.
Small to mid-sized companies may not have all the problems noted above, but they have a harder time scaling. Budgets are smaller, teams are smaller, and there is always the meat and bones work that must get done. Rose said these companies often struggle to do something meaningful.
So you can’t be Red Bull, now what?
I asked Rose a question that I guess a lot of people ask him: if you can’t do something on the level of Red Bull, what’s a good in-between place? What should you do? That is a not a straightforward answer.
Rose said that you need to look at your portfolio of investments and where your marketing is allocated. With content marketing, the long-term investment is to build a loyal audience and be that trusted source that they look when they want information. This is not easy to do, Facebook, GDPR, privacy and other factors are making it more complex and challenging, but it’s what you need to do to provide value and connect with your audience.
How much of a commitment you make to that long-term investment will depend. Rose described one company that started with a 13% commitment to building a great content platform that would build an audience. The rest of the time was spent doing other marketing content as required by other groups. Once they had something established and were able to demonstrate what that effort was producing, they were able to get an even bigger commitment. Today, they spend 30% of their effort on their content platform. You can slowly work your way towards your end goal.
And finally, quality and quantity are subjective
There is too much noise out there. You need to create quality content that rises above it all. But not too much content. Quality trumps quantity. Still, what is the right amount of content, and what does “quality” mean?
Everyone is struggling with this Rose said. It’s an on-going battle that media companies, even CMI itself deal with constantly. The answer to the quantity and quality questions are “it’s audience specific.”
Instead of focusing on quantity of content - like five whitepapers a year, or 4 blog posts per month, Rose said to set goals that move an audience to take some action with the least amount of content. For example, set a goal of an increase in newsletter subscribers of 10% per month. Content costs money - especially good content - so you need to figure out how much of it you need to create to achieve your goal.
Quality is also hard to describe. Rose said to ask yourself what your ultimate goal is. Understand the impact on you and your business, and then measure the impact. If you are meeting those goals, then your content must be good.
Finally, consistency is everything. Above all else, be consistent in your delivery. A trusted source is someone a person can count on to be there when they say they will.
If you’d like to hear the full conversation with Robert Rose, you can listen to my podcast below. And if you’d like to share your experiences with content marketing, send me an email, I’d love to hear it.