Marketing has had its share of challenges in the past couple of years. The pandemic forced people out of the physical office, canceling live events, and giving rise to even more digital channels for communication.
Some might argue that content marketers have had it the hardest, but the COVID crisis has brought forth opportunities that this group of marketing professionals was struggling to gain approval and recognition for. As the Vaccine Economy takes shape, the hard part for content marketers is not to keep the lights on for the brand; it’s to build the lights in the first place.
The state of the content marketer
There are plenty of research reports on content marketing and content preferences that show how content marketing is evolving. For example, from Casted’s State of the Content Marketer report, we learned that content marketers struggled last year due to the changes the pandemic pushed to the forefront (like the loss of live events and increase in digital channels and content formats).
In the report, content marketers spend an average of 33 hours a week creating new content in formats like social media content, blogs, emails, newsletters, and video content. Then there are the whitepapers and webinars that need attention every quarter (or monthly as some indicated). The rest of the time - which isn’t very much - they are doing things like managing campaigns, social media, dealing with vendors and agencies, and working on strategy.
No question, there is a lot that needs to happen outside of content creation, and it’s hard to do it all. But one thing that made the list of low-priority tasks is confusing - customer and market research. Research should be a task that is continually updated as changes in the market and customer preferences occur (and they occur a lot).
As a content marketer myself, I know the challenges with this task, such as getting access to customers to talk to in the first place. Market research isn’t easy either - you have to find trusted sources with valid datasets representing the market you are trying to reach. With many brands doing their own studies, it’s essential to take these reports with a grain of salt as they often skew to benefit that brand’s product or service.
Determining the right content formats
Casted’s study found that social media, newsletters, blogs, and email were the most created content weekly, with webinars, podcasts, whitepapers, and audio clips developed over longer periods (and to a lesser extent overall).
They indicate an opportunity here for content marketers with audio and video content. And a study from DemandGen on content preferences proves this point. In the content preferences study, people consume three to five pieces of content before they talk to sales. Also interesting was the 30-minute attention span for any content format.
But it’s the content formats that caught my eye, with top formats being webinars, ebooks and whitepapers, and research reports. Blogs trailed behind these formats. Podcasts also scored well in the report, behind blogs but still a jump up from last year’s study.
The difference between the two reports in terms of content formats produced versus consumed could be due to distribution and promotion efforts (at least related to all the social media content), but putting more time and effort into blogs if they aren’t a top content type demanded by customers doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The content preferences study also found that early and mid-stage content is important, which is good news for marketers focusing on these two areas. But if those content marketers aren’t doing customer or market research, then they will have trouble because 55% of the respondents in this study are looking for content that “Tells a strong story that resonates with buying committees.” They also want research-based content (40%) and personalized or tailored to their needs (32%). If you aren’t trying to understand your customers, you won’t meet these priorities.
The ‘good enough’ mentality
In the Casted study, 43% of content marketers rated their content “good” in terms of effectiveness. Not excellent, not great - just good. We need to get lots of content out there, so let’s not fuss over high-quality content. Let’s just get stuff out the door that looks good and provides some information.
From the report:
This can also make your content hub look like it’s very productive, putting out omnichannel content with consistent frequency. But a mass creation mentality impacts quality.
It doesn’t matter what type of content you are creating. Content marketers are wrong to think about content in terms of the funnel (the one many have tried hard to get rid of). I don’t think content always works in that way. There are plenty of opportunities during an active sales process where “brand awareness” content helps keep the brand top of mind during a sales cycle. Likewise, all that top-of-the-funnel content is great for building customer loyalty. And it needs to be great content regardless of when or where it’s shared.
I’ve been where many content marketers are in this study. It’s a hard slog to create engaging stories that stick with people whether they are in your audience, are prospects, or customers. And thinking and acting in a manner that is just “good” is a rabbit hole that is very hard to get out of.
Taking the time to create great content is worth it. It’s not only great reading; it opens up a lot of potential for reuse across channels and other formats. It’s a lot harder to break “good enough” content into reusable pieces across multiple channels because there’s not enough in it that’s decomposable and sharable.
In the CMI Content Marketing Benchmarks report, Robert Rose said something that all content marketers should realize:
The pandemic awoke a sleeping giant – content marketing, that is. Without in-person events and face-to-face selling, many who had previously paid little attention to content marketing suddenly became aware of its power. More content marketers got a seat at the table and helped keep many businesses on their audiences’ radar. Some discovered new audiences altogether.
Content marketers have had it hard and long before the pandemic hit. But it’s only going to get harder - and that’s a good thing. Content marketing has come out of the shadows in many companies to play a critical role in marketing, sales, and customer service. That means expectations are increasing, and the real pressure is on.
Great content is foundational to successful brands, and content marketers will lead the effort to create this content. But they won’t make it all. As Rose points out, there are many voices across the company you should leverage to help tell your stories. Content marketers have the opportunity to drive that storytelling strategy and help bring those voices to life.
There’s also a ton of work to happen with virtual events and webinars. Live events are coming back, but virtual event experiences are not going away, and content marketers should play a key role in building and executing the content experience for these events.
And that’s only some of the potential opportunities content marketers have to support business goals. Playing a role in product marketing and customer support are other areas that could benefit greatly from content marketing strategies.
That’s why customer and market research needs to come to the top of the to-do list. And it’s certainly why “good” content is no longer enough.
Brands that understand the impact of content marketing will want to tie it to business outcomes as well. That’s a story for another day.