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The Three Types of Content Marketing

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Content marketing is more than just storytelling.

Don't get me wrong. Stories are wonderful. Everyone loves them, and stories can be an enormous component of a content marketing strategy. Yet increasingly the word "story" is used in some quarters to supplant the term "content marketing," and that's just wrong. Of course, to the man with a hammer, i.e., the person with "storyteller" in their title, everything looks like that proverbial nail.

There are three types of content marketing and, as a general rule, only one of them classically "tells a story." The other two content marketing modes are equally important, and often follow the rules of a story arc while not adhering to other rules of narrative.

Here are the three types of content marketing.

Content that entertains

Content that entertains is the most likely of the three types of content marketing to "tell a story." Think viral video, comic strip, or webisode. Whole Foods' Do Something Reel film series is a prime example, and so was last year's viral hit from SquattyPotty, This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop. Chipotle's The Scarecrow is another standout in the genre, prompting every agency with a fast-food account to receive a "build me one of these" phone call. Purina's Dear Kitten is a recent standout in this genre, so is The Lego Movie (also an example of my highest level of content maturity, monetizable marketing, with a $550M box-office take). Entertaining, storytelling content needn't always be video, there are certainly other forms. But increasingly storytelling is going visual, and audio visual, given those formats are easiest to consume on the small screen, and are more frequently shared in social channels.

Content that informs and/or educates

Overwhelmingly the choice of B2B companies, as well as B2C products and services with a high need for information/education or longer consideration and sales cycles, content that informs helps prospects evaluate options, the product or service, and make decisions. It can also, post-purchase, enhance the customer experience and lead to cross- or upselling. Marketing software maker Hubspot, for example, publishes enormous volumes of extraordinarily useful content for digital marketers and advertisers, rivaling that of trade publications in the space. American Express' OPEN Forum has been a content marketing poster child for years, but isn't a storyteller. Instead, the brand publishes information helpful to small business owners and entrepreneurs. 

Utility content

Zenni Optical doesn't tell stories to its buyers. Instead, it offers them tools to help make buying decisions. How do you measure the bridge of your nose for optimal fit? The distance between pupils? Utility content helps users accomplish tasks; think mortgage calculator from a bank. Calorie counter from a health or fitness product or service. Realtors offer tools that help homebuyers find properties and assess neighborhoods for amenities such as schools or crime rate. Unsurprisingly, utility content tends to be embodied in apps, and is idea for mobile content plays. And while arguably they may be a "story" in every mortgage or home sale or calorie, that's not the purpose of utility content. Instead, more akin to informational and educational content, it helps nudge a buyer toward a decision, as does this table from Crutchfield to calculate how big a flat screen TV to buy, based on room size.

So which of these three types of content should you invest in? (I'm asked this a lot.) The answer, I'm afraid, is "it depends." That's why content strategy is so essential. You may be able to accomplish your goals with storytelling. You may require other types of content in addition to, or instead of storytelling.

Without strategy, it's impossible to tell.

This post originally published on iMedia
 

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Content Marketing Targeting Fallacies

When I conducted a substantive survey of marketers and asked them what their biggest content marketing needs were, two responses tied for first place. The first was measurement, which I’ve written about extensively, both here and in subsequent research.

The other pain point is somewhat less discussed: audience and targeting.

This phase of content strategy is threefold: first, identifying the right audience of products and influencers that are appropriate to the product or service produced by your business. Second and third, creating and publishing the right content in the right channels to reach those defined targets.

Small wonder, then, that audience targeting is one of marketers’ top needs, given it’s a three-part process. If work I’m conducting with clients is any indicator (not to mention the conversations conducted with marketers at conferences worldwide), a primary reason why audience targeting is so difficult is a widespread refusal to take the time to develop personas.

Instead, far too many organizations are targeting not only content, but also advertising and social media messaging, to a single monolithic über-persona who by definition is not a persona (or a person, for that matter) at all.

Just as a for instance, what’s endemic in the marketing technology sector is to take the supposed shortcut of addressing all messaging to “The CMO.” The CMO is not a persona; it is a job title, and not necessarily a relevant one at that, given the CMO is by no means necessarily the buyer any more than is some vague notion of “the customer” in the CPG world.

As one of my savvier clients put it recently in a discussion of this persistent issue, “The CMO doesn’t want to talk to anyone. They want to set direction and have their VPs and staff take care of the details. They don’t come to my meetings or my roundtables. They sign IOs [insertion orders].”

Moving Beyond “The CMO”

Thinking beyond the monolithic CMO (or “our customer”) is the first and most pressing task in targeting the right audience for content or advertising initiatives by creating personas. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how many marketing organizations believe it’s possible to skip this essential strategic step.

Yes, persona creation is time-consuming. It involves parsing out the many “whos” that comprise a target audience, identifying their job titles, pain points, needs and wants.

The paths toward achieving this are many, but all involve labor, thought and methodology. Sure, speak to sales staff, but it’s more critical that clients and customers be regularly interviewed to learn why they elected to purchase your product or service over the competition’s.

Where do you provide value — price, design, ease of use, value-adds? — and how does each factor into the buyers’ differing roles? Are these people influencers in the buying decision? Approvers? Decision makers? Each has varying needs, wants and roles to play at different stages in the purchase cycle.

Tap Into Influencers

Audience targeting, however, doesn’t stop with a constellation of buyer personas. Just as critical isadding influencers to the persona mix, which broadens it considerably.

Who are influencers? The media. Industry analysts. Bloggers. Academics. Subject matter experts.

These are the voices buyers listen to. They not only can create awareness, but they reverberate up and down the purchase funnel, swaying opinion, sentiment and affirming (or dissenting) when buying decisions are made.

Everything about audience targeting is subtle, nuanced and highly calibrated. It’s hard work even before “what kind of content” and “for what channels” can begin to be addressed.

Yet for some reason, perhaps because of its very complexity, marketers shortcut defining the target audience to a hypothetical endgame (“We need to reach CMOs, and they’re on Facebook, or LinkedIn, or reading our company blog.”)

And the culmination of that endgame, the distribution piece that is channel and media selection, can’t succeed if they don’t ladder back to the essential process of carefully crafting personas.

Neither will investment in audience targeting software solutions. If they’re only used to hunt hypothetical or illogical targets, you may as well use them to seek out Bigfoot.

Sometimes there just aren’t any shortcuts. Audience targeting will always be a challenge, though it needn’t be the biggest one. You can make this task manageable with some time, effort and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Please Don’t! Five Content Marketing Don’ts For 2016

Despite content marketing‘s meteoric rise over the past couple of years — in terms of awareness, as well as adoption by brands and marketers — many misunderstandings still surround the discipline and practice. While content marketing is hardly new (it’s been around pretty much as long as there’s been media), many a misstep and misconception exist around content in digital channels.

As someone who helps dozens of brands get a handle on content marketing and how it relates to other marketing disciplines, I see the same mistakes around content committed over and over. So herewith, I give you a list of the five top content marketing missteps I see organizations commit. Let’s please all resolve to eradicate them in the New Year, shall we?

1. Executing Content Marketing Without First Developing And Documenting A Content Strategy

This occupies the first place on the list of content marketing don’ts for a reason. Incredibly, according to my own survey data and that of other researchers and analysts, a full 70 percent of organizations undertaking content marketing are still doing so without a documented strategy.

That means they’re investing time, money, resources and staff in a tactic that doesn’t have measurable goals attached.

It also means a lack of governance; they haven’t reviewed what tools, people and processes need to be attached to content initiatives to make them effective and achievable. They lack KPIs, so they don’t know if they’re getting to where they want to be.

It’s high time brands stopped doing content for content’s sake. Planning, benchmarking and attaching content initiatives to a strategy are necessary steps to take for content marketing to work effectively and efficiently.

In fact, the following four don’ts are really just subsets of this overarching need for strategy.

2. Confine Content To A Single Unit Or Vertical

Content marketing is much bigger than just content marketing. Or social media. Or PR/communications. Or advertising, search or email. Content is bigger than marketing, even.

In order to create effective content, input and output are required from across the organization, particularly from the public-facing divisions such as sales, customer service, recruiting and human resources, as well as research, product and, of course, senior management.

The organizations that really succeed in content create cultures of content, in which content functions as a well-oiled, enterprise-wide machine. Don’t fence content in; let it grow and expand.

Content works best when it’s informed by as many sources as possible.

3. Invest In Tools And Software Without A Proper Needs Assessment

There’s likely a great big gap between what you think you need to get content done and what you really need to invest in terms of content marketing tools and technology.

When I surveyed the market, the vast majority of marketers last year said their planned content marketing software investment would be in tools to help them create more content. But when asked what they need (as opposed to what they want), they have a ready response: measurement tools and audience targeting tools top their list.

This disconnect between wants and needs is directly attributable to a lack of content strategy (see #1). Assess your needs before investing in tools and software. Investments shouldn’t be a stab in the dark.

4. Avoid Content Audits

Even organizations that are willing to take the time and effort to develop and document a content strategy must resist the temptation to shortcut this very essential step. It’s easy to understand why.

Content audits, the process of carefully evaluating all digital and offline content across a multi-point scorecard (mine has more than 50 criteria) is a long and tedious process. But you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Audits uncover needs, gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies you’d otherwise never find. They reveal much-needed gaps in process, style, maintenance and other aspects of content governance and process.

Moreover, stopping at that one baseline audit isn’t an option. It’s the benchmark from which future audits will be conducted.

Please, don’t skimp. Audit, at the very least, twice per year.

5. Measure Only Sales

Measurement is so powerful. Why stop at only sales? Yet sales are the only thing the majority of content marketers measure. That, or volume metrics such as likes and shares, which are interesting (and ego boosting) but don’t impart much business value.

In 2016, don’t neglect to blow out your content metrics with dollars-and-cents, ROI measurements you can take straight to the bank (or to the CFO).

Create the right strategy and content, and implement the right tools and measurement, and you can demonstrate results in areas such as product development, retention and recruiting, customer service and workplace efficiencies — all via content. Don’t think narrowly about the power and efficacy of content marketing!

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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