How many years have we been talking about content marketing now? It doesn’t really matter, because like all marketing strategies, content marketing is constantly evolving, and some brands are getting better at it all the time, while others struggle.
In the 2019 Content Fitness Report from Heinz Marketing and PAN Communications we find this mixture of good and not so good results.
There are many reasons to start a content marketing program, and seriously, if you haven’t started yours yet, it’s time. In the Content Fitness Report, 61% of brands say that thought leadership and executive SME programs are a content priority.
From the 2019 Content Fitness Report
In terms of budget and marketing effort, 36% are focused on thought leadership and executive programs, followed by influencer marketing and customer advocacy, both at 25% and employee advocacy at 11.9%.
Thought leadership is key to building brand awareness. It establishes people in the company as experts in the field related to the products they sell. And most consider that if you know your market well, then your products must be good. It isn’t always true, but those brands get caught out fairly quickly.
Building a good thought leadership strategy takes some effort. It's not as simple as identifying a person in the company and start putting out content for them. There’s a bit more to it than that, including a plan for what topics that person will cover, where you will publish it and how you will promote it. Then there’s the question of finding the right thought leaders.
You need someone who will actively promote the content they write and be prepared to discuss it when people comment, like, or share it. And that means it might not be your CEO or some other executive leader. There’s also the question of who writes the content. A lot of content is ghost-written. Personally I’m not completely opposed to this, but I see this process happening a certain way - collaborative content development.
For thought leadership content to really be “thought leadership,” it has to come from the person putting their name on the content. For high-level execs that you want to be thought leaders for your brand, taking the time to sit down and write a good piece of content is challenging. The best way to work with these busy people then is to collaborate on the content. Consider a series of interviews where the thought leader shares their ideas and insights; a writer creates the content, followed by one or more drafts reviewed and edited by the thought leader.
Where to focus content efforts
Not just any content will do. And not just any content type will do. There has to be some critical thinking behind what you write about and how you produce that content. When marketers were asked where they would spend extra budget if they had it, 30% said they would direct it towards the development of content in the form of podcasts, webinars, and videos. These content assets are the big, fun things content marketers want to do, but they aren’t easy.
Everyone has a podcast now. OK, maybe a slight exaggeration, but I host two, for example. Yes, they are great ways to share ideas and have conversations with other people and done well, you will capture a good audience. But where these content types can fall short is in their promotion. In the Content Fitness report, only 12.2% would spend extra budget on promotion and distribution activities.
Two things to consider here:
- You don’t just create a podcast because it’s the next big thing. Is a podcast something your market would listen to? What kind of topics will you cover? Will you interview industry experts or do it all internally? How will you promote it? Who else is doing it in your market, and how is their podcast performing? You can ask the same questions for webinars and videos. You can ask the same questions for all your content.
- Promotion is critical, and if your strategy doesn’t include a robust promotion and distribution plan, it won’t succeed.
Integrating your content marketing strategy
Content marketing is not a standalone strategy. It’s tightly integrated with all your marketing activities, including ABM and sales enablement. In the Content Fitness report, this is true for 62.5% of the respondents, although no consistent approach is clear. The study found that 20% of marketing teams never work with Sales on ABM strategies, content mapping, the buyer’s journey, inbound and outbound strategies, and another 45.5% only meet quarterly or monthly.
Is it challenging to understand how your content marketing integrates with the rest of your marketing programs? It’s not only for top of the funnel, brand awareness type strategies. Content marketing helps deliver the best content at every point in a customer lifecycle, including after the sale.
Building a content marketing program that works closely with Sales, Support, and Customer Service is critical to ensure the content programs you work on are those needed by customers. The report points out that very often, brands are missing opportunities in the bottom of the funnel and Voice of the Customer programs.
Michael Brenner wrote that content marketing is the fuel for marketing transformation. He believes that marketing must evolve and that thought leadership and content marketing overall are catalysts for that transformation. That makes sense.
Too many brands still don’t look at their marketing departments as critical to the bottom line. That’s partly because it’s challenging to prove ROI, but it’s also because many marketing departments operate their own set of silos - each type of marketing activity working on its own.
Content marketing is the glue that brings all these teams together. But for that to happen, it too needs to evolve and grow into what it’s truly meant to be - foundational to the running of the business.