A few months ago, during a content marketing panel at the Texas Marketing Summit in Houston, I came to the conclusion that our understanding of content marketing is still in its infancy, much like social media was eight years ago. We have a lot of opportunity for improvement and much to learn as marketers. And it sometimes feels as if we are failing. It made me wonder: Are we doing content marketing right?
Start With the Basics
To understand the right way to do content marketing, it is important to be clear about what it is not.
- Content marketing is not new. It’s been around for a long time.
- Content marketing is not a strategy, but it should support your existing strategy.
- Content marketing is not a program, but it should influence your marketing programs.
- Content marketing should not be a department within marketing; all of marketing should embrace it.
- Content marketing is not a tool or a set of tools, but tools should support it and enable it. • Content marketing does not simply mean publishing blog posts, SlideShare decks and Instagram posts, but each of these could be part of your content strategy.
If your view of content marketing falls under one of these bullets, you are limiting your success. Content marketing is far more powerful than that.
Defining Content Marketing
Many people define content marketing as a process or set of tactics. I have a slightly different viewpoint: Content marketing is a philosophy based on the premise that marketing needs to be useful, educational and customer-focused.
Implicit in this definition is that marketing needs to shift from talking about what you want to talk about (your products, most likely) to talking about what the customer wants to learn about.
What does this mean?
- As a philosophy or mindset, it is something everyone in marketing must believe. It should guide most of your marketing activities.
- Adopting this philosophy requires us to accept that good marketers must be good writers. Marketers need to be able to write content that is visual, understandable and effective.
- It requires understanding customers’ interests and needs.
- The best marketing is educational; it helps customers achieve their goals, answers their questions and makes them smarter.
Becoming Better Marketers
One of the benefits of the recent focus on content marketing is that it also brings about a renewed focus on customers (personas). Understanding customers, how they think and the problems they want to solve is the fundamental source of value that marketers bring to the organization.
It is important that personas focus on the customer’s context, goals and their specific questions during the buying process. And increasingly, marketers are learning how to effectively use personas as a tool to create customer empathy.
Good content should not only be useful for customers, it should also help the company achieve its goals. Therefore, good content exists at the intersection of what is helpful for customers, your unique knowledge and what will predispose customers to buy from you.
Failing at Content
The truth is that we are creating a lot of bad content. Much of the content marketing out there is really just promotional marketing disguised as useful content. In fact, Brainshark recently reported that 62 percent of buyers called vendor marketing content useless.
An article about your products with a nice headline and an intro is not much different from an ad. The worst offenders are people who promote coupons and discounts on social channels and call it content marketing or social-media marketing when it is simply advertising.
Forrester Research recently found that 87 percent of B2B marketers struggle to develop compelling content. And B2C marketers are not doing much better. But why is it so difficult?
This quick test will help determine if your content is customer-centric: How many times are your products mentioned in your average content-marketing piece? I challenge you to create content that does not focus on your products—and content that does not even mention them.
Measuring Content Marketing
Not everything that is important can be measured in marketing, and not everything that can be measured is important. Because attribution models are in their infancy, it is impossible to know exactly how much your content has resulted in success. To an extent, you must trust that you are doing the right thing. This does not mean, however, that you should not measure. You can start with the basics: engagement, which is the easiest thing to measure. But keep in mind that engagement can be a meaningless measurement, an indication that customers are looking at excessive amounts of content because they cannot find what they need.
Too much weight and the wrong metrics can lead to the wrong behaviors. For instance, you could produce tons of cat videos to achieve a high number of views and engagement. However, it would not help the business in any way.
Engagement is only useful when it is helpful for customers and predisposes them to buy your products. Good content allows you to establish your point of view, educate customers, demonstrate your expertise and create affinity for your company’s products.
The only measurement that matters is impact on the business. You must find metrics that indicate a move toward reaching the business’s goals and find leading indicators that map to those goals. Those might include awareness, interest, leads, growth, loyalty and recommendation.
Improving Your Content-Marketing Proficiency
When you embrace content marketing as a philosophy, that dictates how you do marketing. You won’t need to create a separate content-marketing team because everyone in marketing will be responsible for content. For example, when I worked at Microsoft, the company had thousands of bloggers. Why? Because every employee in the division was not only encouraged but expected to interact with the community or blog. It was part of the job, not the responsibility of a content team.
Remember, the best marketing is educational, not self-serving. And successful content marketing will focus on solving customer problems, not promoting your products.