So, a SEO guru, a social media expert and a public relations pro walk into a content marketing bar.
The search marketer says to the bartender, “I’d like 35 shots of of the same tequila, but each needs to be in a slightly different glass, in different amounts and chilled at slightly different temperatures.”
The social media marketer says, “I’ll buy a round for all my friends and get one for yourself too. Oh, and let’s take a selfie while we drink. #socialdrinking”
The public relations pro joins in the fun too and winks at the bartender saying, “I’ve heard you have some really good microbrews here. If I could try a few, I’lll text all my friends this is the place to be.”
The content marketing bartender asks the SEO, “Have you ever had an amazing time drinking tequila? What was your favorite thing about it?” The SEO, says, “Oh yeah, at my birthday party we had Patron Silver amazingly cold with lemon on the rim. It was delicious.”
That’s what the bartender served.
The bartender asked the same question to the social media marketer and the public relations pro and heard their stories as well. They were served accordingly.
The punchline: Content Marketing is more than 35 variations on a theme so you can appear in Google under different keyword phrases and it’s also more than promoting “fun” content on social networks or hoping to influence people to talk favorably about your brand.
What Content Marketers are succeeding at is creating content for specific audiences intended to affect a particular business outcome. Understanding customer interests, aspirations and goals is essential for delivering informative, entertaining content experiences that both educate and inspire your audience to take action. Of course Content Marketing can also introduce new (and relevant) ideas and ways of thinking that customers have never thought of before.
Now that we have all that out of the way. How can marketers evolve their content marketing? I had an opportunity to discuss this with J-P de Clerk of the Content Marketing Conference Europe event recently and saved my answers to his excellent interview questions.
How have brands evolved their approach to integrated SEO, social media and content marketing?
More companies are certainly aware of the importance of Integrated Marketing. In fact, 90% of marketers call content marketing “necessary and inevitable” for mid to large sized companies according to a report from Econsultancy.
However, changes with search engines like Google and social networks like Facebook have made paid amplification more of a requirement than 2 years ago. No brand can succeed on organic marketing alone on those channels. Also, the volume of content being published by brands and consumers alike has made content competition or “content shock” as Mark Schaefer calls it, an important reality to consider. Content targeting and content quality are increasingly essential to reach and engage new customers.
Today modern marketers are focused on leveraging customer insights along with brand objectives to create content across the customer journey from awareness to purchase to advocacy. Search is still important, but the driver for content planning is to achieve mutual customer and brand objectives. In other words, optimizing for customer experiences and business outcomes, not just keywords and traffic.
My perspective is that companies need to master the ability to create meaningful content that’s easy to find and share with a continuous effort towards optimizing the performance of that content. Doing this at scale is no easy task, but through creative repurposing, connecting with influencers and participation marketing, companies are creating impressive competitive advantages.
Optimizing for consumers, experiences and outcomes transcends Google, social or content. And yet 80% of companies claim they are customer-centric but only 8% of customers say that’s true (h/t Bryan Eisenberg). That’s a huge discrepancy. Why is that? How can content help close this gap?
It might be corporate hubris or it might be following industry “best practices” without really knowing the impact amongst customers. Whatever the reason, many businesses are definitely focused on improving their customer-centricity. Interestingly, the Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Trends for 2014 report, research from Adobe and Econsultancy shows the single most exciting opportunity in 2014 is improving customer experience.
I think with the increased availability of direct communications with brands provided by social networks, consumer expectations have risen. At the same time, there’s a lot of pressure to drive revenue on all fronts and many companies still don’t quite understand the distinct needs of their customers outside of what’s necessary to inspire transactions. The result? Digital Marketing programs that aspire to scale through content that is more “mechanical” than “meaningful”. These programs tend to focus on vanity metrics like views, audience size and reach vs. engagement and conversions.
Also, many brand content marketing programs focus on the sales cycle and not the full customer lifecycle. In essence, companies are creating content to support awareness, interest, consideration and purchase where it essentially stops after transactions. Yet, customers continue to have information needs after the purchase.
To close the gap, companies must understand the customer experience and the continuously optimize for it across the customer lifecycle from awareness to purchase to retention and advocacy. The amazing thing about content that extends across the customer lifecycle is that gaining a momentum of advocacy is far more effective for scaling content marketing performance while being customer centric at the same time.
Another component of being customer-centric is to involve customers in content creation. Participation marketing is a result of the active engagement amongst a community of customers that reveals important insights as well as opportunities to co-create content. A continuous effort at showing interest in what’s important to customers and then acting on those insights through content, collaboration and recognition are essential for customers to feel a brand appreciates them.
The need to focus on “being the best answer” for questions and the intent of target audiences seems to be as important as the need to stand for something as a brand. How can marketers achieve both?
How to be the best answer wherever customers are looking is a simple, essential component of what makes an integrated marketing approach successful.
The idea is to acknowledge that customers have multiple touchpoint opportunities to discover, consume and act on information as they research, find and purchase solutions. Being the best answer implies an understanding of customer questions and then creating a content plan to provide informative and often entertaining (infotaining) answers across channels.
The model we advocate at TopRank Online Marketing is for an integrated, multichannel content marketing approach that is structured to solve for customer information needs while communicating brand messaging objectives at the same time. The way to do both is to communicate brand messaging in the voice of the customer and in ways that empathize with customer goals. A brand that has a clear position as well as a clear connection in their messaging as to what that position means for customers will be more successful in achieving mutual goals.
What roles do custom publishing and native advertising play in a content marketing world?
As a form of owned media, custom publishing is certainly a wise investment for some companies. Bypassing established media channels to create your own audience with a publication owned by the brand can provide numerous benefits. For example, American Express Publishing has over 2 million consumers of it’s branded magazines and custom publishing is a $43 billion industry.
However, it takes an investment in time and resources for custom publishing to reap marketing and business growth rewards and not all companies are willing to wait.
Native advertising is exciting for companies with substantial marketing budgets that want to scale content distribution and reach through the appearance of editorial placement.
The flip side to native advertising is that the news publishing industry is at a crossroads to recapture revenue with many publications continuing to downsize. Native advertising has been a much needed shot in the arm.
There is some debate as to whether native ads are understood to be ads by consumers and whether they degrade reader’s trust in the publication. It’s in the best interest of brand advertisers, publications and their readers to ensure high quality editorial standards are maintained with native ads as well as clear indication that they are sponsored content.
The importance of storytelling is now more important than ever with content marketing. What have you learned regarding storytelling while working with some of the leading brands?
One thing I’ve learned is that strategic storytelling and developing a brand narrative is not easy for most companies. Many marketers that profess to be active storytellers are simply applying creative packaging to their marketing content. They’re adding a level of “interestingness” to their content as a tactic to improve reach, engagement and hopefully, contribution to sales. Success of these tactics are measured independently and not in connection to overall brand content as a whole.
But not all companies approach content this way and many brands have evolved their approach to content and storytelling. Those that think more strategically about storytelling do a few things pretty consistently:
1. They establish their core values and unique selling proposition. They understand and communicate what the brand, product or services “stand for”.
2. They are in tune with what their customers care about. They know what information is needed and they know the emotional triggers as well.
3. Content objects each have a story, but are also accountable to an overall brand narrative. Each content object is related to what came before it and what will come after.
4. Stories are continuously evolving and spontaneous iterations are frequent based on community memes, popular culture and events.
5. There is a persistent effort to optimize the performance of brand content storytelling in it’s ability to attract, engage and ultimately convert readers to customers and fans.
Recently, you asked 21 digital marketing thought leaders about their trends and predictions for 2015. What are the key takeaways?
It’s interesting that as early as a 2015 digital marketing predictions post might be, nearly 8,000 social shares and tens of thousands of page views for that one post show it’s a topic of high interest.
One of the unexpected takeaways for me from that post is that people love to see selfies from people that don’t normally publish selfies 🙂
Actually, I think the big takeaway is the idea of upgrading the sophistication of brand publishing will continue by emphasizing customer experience and ongoing optimization of performance across channels. Creating “great content” is no longer a differentiator for brands. The price of admission in 2015 and beyond is that brands must be capable of creating authentic content that is highly relevant for specific audiences, incredibly useful and meaningful on a more human level. I like to call that “infotainment” where great marketing both informs and entertains. Forward thinking brands will treat digital marketing less as channels and more as an ecosystem.
You’ve talked about the future of content marketing at Content Marketing World in the past. Looking back, which of the predictions would you stress most now?
To stand out, brand content needs to be visual, entertaining, informative and customized for the channel and audience while maintaining overall themes that support what the brand stands for. Content that connects both intellectually and emotionally with buyers must also answer customer questions in an interesting way. These content investments must be easy to find on search engines, on industry publications and amongst social networks.
Top Photo: Shuterstock
If you really want a deep dive into improving your content marketing, then make sure you have Content Marketing World on your calendar for Sept 8-11, 2014. In fact, you can get more information and see the agenda (including a keynote from Kevin Spacey) PLUS save $100 using the code TopRank when you register at this link.