That’s right. According to the 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends for B2B Content Marketing in North America from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 32% of respondents have a documented content strategy. This number is down 3% from last year’s survey. And that missing 3% didn’t move into the “Yes we have a strategy, but it isn’t documented”. It went into the “No, we don’t have a strategy.”
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of this crazy conversation on content marketing, I’d like to define something (so that we’re all clear). As per the CMI, Content Marketing is:
A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
This is not the only interesting insight from the report, but let’s stick with it for now.
Putting the plan in content marketing
I think that we’ve matured enough in content marketing to stop throwing content on the Internet to see what sticks. But to prove that’s true, and show we’ve moved on from thinking it’s some phase that doesn’t deserve a well thought out plan, we kind of need to plan.
Consider this. How many software development projects occur without a documented plan? Not many.
Software development projects involve a team of project managers, analysts, developers, testers, architects and so on who need to understand the expected outcome and the work that needs to be done to reach that outcome. They need to know what their role is, what they are expected to produce, when and how that work will be tested to ensure it’s correct.
The is true for a content marketing plan. There are many different roles played in a content marketing plan and each role requires the other to do their work correctly.
There are also many other areas where well-documented plans are put in place to ensure the right work is done. This isn’t rocket science:
Let’s direct your attention to a few key words in that definition above: strategic, valuable, relevant, consistent, clearly defined audience, profitable…
In the study, 48% said they had a content marketing strategy, but it is not documented. Let’s imagine how well that works. You tell me your strategy, and I’ll tell the guy next to me. Tomorrow he’ll tell three other people, and they’ll tell three other people. If someone doesn’t understand, they’ll go to someone else and ask a question. Then we’ll all get together and share the strategy with you. Don’t be shocked to hear ten different versions of your strategy. Or find key elements missing and new ones made up.
There’s a reason we document. Communication. Clarification. Accountability. Trackability. Measurability. Need I go on?
The larger the organization, the bigger the documented strategy. But even smaller organizations should be documenting their content marketing plan. For a smaller organization you have less to document, so it should be easy to do. For a larger organization, you have more people to provide ideas, insights and input, so even though it may be more complex, you have the people to provide the details.
The key to producing engaging content
The top challenge for content marketers is producing engaging content (60%). This is followed by measuring content effectiveness (57%), producing content consistently (57%) and measuring the ROI of a content marketing plan (52%).
Let’s shift to the top priorities for 2016:
Okay, so step back for a moment and think about this. The top challenge is producing engaging content, so they’re going to try and produce more of it. Marketers are also prioritizing repurposing content and creating visual content.
At the same time, they’re less concerned about becoming better storytellers, or understanding their audiences better. Also at the bottom of this list: personalization, content optimization and becoming a stronger writer.
But wait a minute. Engaging content is “is (1) personally relevant to your audience and (2) crafted in an interactive way that causes your audience to think deeply.”
If this is true, and engaging content is relevant to the audience, audience understanding and the ability to tell a better story should be at the top of the list of priorities. The better we understand our audience, the better content we can create that is relevant and engaging and hopefully, help develop relationships (which then may lead to sales).
I feel like we are constantly putting the cart before the horse and wondering why it’s taking so long to get to the market.
My nine-year-old told me the other day that we can only hold seven things in our working memory at one time. I looked it up - it’s actually only four. What four things will you remember today?
Put your plan to paper, computer screen, or tablet. Just put somewhere and revisit it often. Just because it’s hard coded onto paper or an electronic file doesn’t mean you can’t change it. And you will change it if you measure its effectiveness. But at least you understand where you start and where you need to go.
Documenting your strategy forces you to step back and see the bigger picture first, then dive down into the details like audience identification and development and narrative. Lack of a documented strategy means you aren’t tracking your audience and their needs closely. Start there and you may find your engaging content less of a challenge.