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Why Context Is Digital Marketing's Next Frontier

Since the dawn of digital marketing, practitioners have hailed personalization as the ultimate in sophistication.

Calling customers by their names and knowing a lot about them — their ages, genders, birthdates, interests, purchase histories — enables marketers to deliver more relevant, meaningful content that helps win new conversions and engender their long-time loyalty.

Beyond one-to-one marketing

But personalization is no longer the be-all and end-all, as it’s now being overtaken by technologies that allow for the establishment of even more profound relevance and connection — both in marketing and in the overall customer experience.

These technologies provide marketers with insight into context — a largely untapped element that can provide such an in-depth understanding of customers that marketers may then begin to anticipate people’s needs, wants, affinities and expectations. These insights — which may take into account the device in use, the channel, the location and the particular brand — can then be put to work to power improved marketing in every situation.

Context, in other words, takes into account not only the Who, but also the When, Where, Why and How. Simply put, it’s deeper targeting and more on-point messaging.

It’s about so much more than just who

My soon-to-be-published current research looks at marketing beyond the right message, to the right person at the right time. Contextual marketing goes further by considering a variety of factors: the platform consumers are using; their physical location (perhaps, using beacon technology, down to the store-shelf level); real-time information such as atmospheric conditions (Is it raining?), or even geospatial movement (whether they are in a vehicle, and if that vehicle is stopped at a red light, for instance).

These types of campaigns aren’t just fantasy, they’re reality. Maille Dijon mustard used beacons to target customers who had food-related apps installed on their phones in supermarkets. Waze teamed with Taco Bell to send a coupon to drivers who were near a restaurant, but only when drivers were stopped at a red light (safety first!).

I recently talked to an audio technology manufacturer using Internet of Things (IoT) data to target offers to their customers based on the data related to how those customers actually use the product. That company boasts a five- to seven-percent conversion rate from its email marketing campaigns. This when email open rates often run in the minus-one-percentile range.

How to think about context

Contextual marketing raises questions around contextual content. What type of coupon should a customer receive? When, and for what offer? MGM Resorts makes these determinations contextually — sending offers to guests’ smartphones based on where they are on the resort property (which restaurant, shop, show or casino), as well as in the context of their individual loyalty member status, past purchase history and stated interests.

Context can also drive the strategy behind information and other types of content, whether it’s via smart packaging (Think nutritional information, which one CPG giant is looking into) or apps that are content-centric and location-aware, such as REI’s smartphone app that provides a brand-relevant concierge service for American National Parks.

Context in marketing can only be employed with the use of powerful integrated technologies. Its components range from semantic technologies to machine learning and predictive analytics, customer data, product/service data, flexible, dynamic content and journey-mapping.

Without a doubt, context is complex. Moreover, it is growing in importance, not only because it’s increasingly technologically feasible and effective, but also because newer technologies (the IoT and beacons, for example) will enable additional layers of context to meet consumers’ growing expectations for contextually relevant experiences and messaging from the brands they interact with in an increasingly digital world.

Start with baby steps

How best to get started in contextual marketing? Think small, say the overwhelming number of executives I’ve interviewed for my research. Begin with small pilot projects. Think about the data you have and how to leverage it. Often, brands find partners to team up with: retail outlets, cinemas, dealerships or other physical locations.

These partnerships, or even solo campaigns, can require a lot of back-end platform integration to join up disparate data sources — CRM, location, content and myriad other campaign elements — but, when planned effectively, the ROI can be great, and it can arrive very quickly. An entertainment conglomerate that teamed with a theater chain to send video offers to moviegoers saw ROI in only three months, and that after a significant platform build.

Teams, technology, privacy and permission concerns are other significant factors in contextual campaigns, as is a solid foundation in content strategy. But there’s perhaps nothing more important that creating a value exchange, especially given that you’re asking a customer to let you engage with them anywhere at any time. Without your offering consumers something of value — monetary, convenience, information, experiential — there’s no reason for them to listen. Or participate.

The time to consider contextual campaigns is now. Already, brands like Disney, Nestlé, GE and Unilever are developing programs. Consumers will soon expect brands to be there when they’re needed, not just in cyberspace, but increasingly in the “phygital” world we now inhabit.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

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Scaling Content Marketing to a Global Level

Enterprises are only just starting to incorporate content marketing as a discipline into the mix, and as a result, they’re quickly realizing content must permeate the entire organization. This applies globally just as much as it does regionally. Yet scaling content up to a global level brings with it a host of challenges.

Creating a global content marketing strategy is absolutely essential, but at the same time, it’s exponentially challenging. One large global organization asked me to help develop a global strategy, but to do so with two separate teams and in two separate client engagements that effectively bisected the globe (and as a result, the strategy) in two separate meridians.

It was a start.

I just worked with a major global non-profit to develop a content marketing strategy road map that will be applied across no fewer than 31 countries as diverse as South Sudan, Guatemala, the Philippines, the US and the UK.

Without a conscious effort at orchestration, time and money are wasted, employees become frustrated, efforts are duplicative and customer experience suffers, not to mention consistency in brand and messaging.

The need for content is universal, but each region, country and locality in which a brand operates has specific needs that are unique to their language and culture, and often other requirements, such as legal. You can divide these needs into three buckets that are core components of any content marketing strategy:

  • teams
  • tools
  • channels

Teams: Structure your global teams for centralized leadership and local autonomy

Creating content marketing teams and governance is essential. Content marketing requires centralized leadership, but also a substantial degree of local authority and autonomy.

If there’s a parallel editorial model, it would be that of a major international news organization. The New York Times, CNN, the BBC and their ilk maintain bureaus in major regions and capitals across the world.

How leadership is appropriated, however, varies greatly. Very few organizations have formal content marketing departments or divisions. This is no less true of global enterprises which often assign content duties to marketing teams, social media groups or communications and PR staff.

My research has identified six real-world content governance models, all of which are as relevant to global content management as they are to running content strictly on a local or national basis.

Figure3

Content is a team sport, and, as I’ve stated previously, coordinating content on a global scale is sort of like running the Olympic games. Each regional needs to have teams, those teams must have captains, and they must have training, knowledge of the universal rules of the game and the equipment needed to play it.

At the same time, each team will always fly its own flag and proudly wear its own colors.

Tools: Choose compatible tools that serve a global team

The content marketing software landscape is rapidly evolving and shifting. Selecting tools comes with additional considerations and concerns when they must serve global teams.

Does the tool support multiple languages? Diverse alphabets? Can it handle country- or region-specific barriers, such as firewalls or local privacy and data-protection regulations? Will licenses differ on a country-by-country basis? How easy (or difficult) will it be to train and onboard far-flung users? Can it be integrated with other marketing and enterprise software already in use (or planned for deployment) on a global or regional level?

Research on the content software landscape I recently conducted finds 40 percent of marketers say a lack of interdepartmental coordination is leading to investment in disparate, incompatible toolsets — and that’s just on a domestic level. Global requirements demand sharing, collaboration and efficiency.

In 2013, Unilever invested in a single tool to consolidate and coordinate content creation and publishing efforts across just three brands in the dozens of countries in which it operates (not to mention use and collaboration by hundreds of internal and external content stakeholders: staff, agency and vendor partners). The brand realized $10 million in savings in just one year. If that’s not an argument to pay close attention to the efficiency the right tools can create, I don’t know what is.

Channels: Use location-appropriate content and channels

What content should be created? Where should it be published, in what form and for which audience? Publishing on Facebook simply isn’t the same as engaging with social audiences on VK.com, Line, Mixi or Weibo.

Then there are various regional holidays to consider, local sporting events (in most of the rest of the world, “football” means “soccer”), festivals, superstitions, political and news events. If you ignore these differences, you’re an outsider, not a potential partner or a credible source of information.

Local input, knowledge and culture are essential. It’s not enough to translate content into a local language or to push content created at headquarters out to regional divisions.

In fact, often, local content surfaced in far-flung markets can bubble up and be expanded into fodder for headquarters or other markets.

Conclusion

Every organization committed to effectively using content in the marketing mix (and after all, there can be no marketing without content) must consider how to scale efforts, as well as how to establish governance, staffing, tools and technology to create compelling content in the right channels to deliver desired results. This is no small task for even a local mom and pop.

On a global scale, the complexities of creating a global content strategy can often seem daunting. A strategic approach, combined with a step-by-step process, will lead to content that’s effective globally, regionally and locally.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Content Marketing and the Silo Issue

Once upon a time (circa 15 years ago), digital marketing had a great big silo chip on its shoulder. “Digital needs a seat at the grown-up table,” the lament went. Traditional media got all the dollars, the love, the attention. Digital, meanwhile, was relegated to the sidelines. Maybe it was a nice-to-have, but never a must-have.

Boy, has that situation ever changed. Spending in digital has surpassed many traditional channels as digital has commandeered the lion’s share of eyeballs and time-spent metrics. No one’s debating digital’s primacy anymore.

But silos? That’s a bigger problem than ever. Digital, which once claimed to be the overlooked silo, used that time to develop more of its own silos than you can shake a proverbial stick at: data, measurement, email, search, social, display, media buying, retargeting, reputation management — the list goes on and on.

In fact, so many digital silos have sprouted up in a comparatively short period that now the grousing is contained under the digital umbrella. Search and email feel relegated to the sidelines. There isn’t enough communication between comms and social media. Assets aren’t shared.

A new silo issue is cropping up in digital marketing that I’m seeing on a recurring basis in companies that I work with. It’s a content marketing issue.

I’ve written in this space in the past about the challenges organizations face when they try to integrate content marketing into the enterprise. Content departments are beginning to emerge, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

While search, social, email and analytics have very rapidly become dedicated disciplines, content remains a bit of a stepchild in most firms.

That’s where the silo issue crops up. In a rush to “claim” content and, in theory, to ensure control of the content that’s produced for marketing purposes, I’m seeing wars (or at least turf battles) break out over who controls content.

These land grabs might be between marketing and the creative department. Product often wants a say. IT might claim a good deal of primacy, because, after all, content demands software and other IT resources.

It’s critical, of course, that organizations develop a culture of content to involve employees, vendors, customers and partners in the content marketing process. However, this is an overwhelminglyinclusive process. When turf wars erupt over who “owns” content, the process is, by nature,exclusive.

Overcoming silos (and turf wars)

The only way to battle exclusiveness is with inclusion. No one ever said it would be easy, but bringing parties (and factions) together is critical for alignment. Easier said than done, right?

A tactic that helps is a collaborative workshop as a prerequisite to content strategy. Representatives of all the interested parties (or corporate divisions) assemble for a full or half day to discuss content marketing.

It’s a forum in which everyone has a voice; where needs, wants and reservations can be articulated; and where a set of goals can be surfaced and, perhaps even more importantly, prioritized.

When I run workshops with the companies I work with, we begin with a crash course on content marketing: what it is, what it can achieve, how it aligns with and affects different divisions in the enterprise, and what the requirements are (e.g., staff, software and so on).

Once a common understanding and vocabulary are established, it’s then much easier to review individual and collective goals. Needs and wants, workflow issues, staffing imbalances and more surface as a result of collective, collaborative conversations.

In larger organizations, a critical part of this process is often conducting deep stakeholder interviews in advance. For really large global enterprises, this can be accompanied by a stakeholder survey (when it’s not practical to conduct one-on-one interviews with dozens of staffers in far-flung regions).

Presenting these findings to the assembled workshop group is a great way to level-set and to identify needs, gaps and priorities that exceed the scope of the gathering at hand.

Siloization nevertheless tends to be a lingering problem. I’d love to hear from readers: How are you aligning people and organizations around content efforts in ways that minimize friction and competition? 

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Morality Clause in Digital Marketing

If you very honestly, in your heart of hearts, don’t want a digital marketing initiative to succeed, should you take on the project?

The issue is a constant one, of course, and hardly limited to digital, but nothing brings it into sharp relief quite like an election year. Perhaps that’s why discussions about the ethical dilemmas inherent in digital marketing assignments and clients have been cropping up with increasing frequency over drinks and lunches, at conferences and in my private meetings between digital executives.

The topic? That job (or project, or client) you walked away from — or didn’t — when it becomes a question of ethics, beliefs or political opinion.

Just last week, a friend and colleague told me about walking away from what, by any standards, was a crazy sum of money offered by the Koch brothers for a digital marketing project. Like, really crazy money.

“I could have remodeled my mother’s house for only one day of work, but I talked to my husband about it and finally had to say no,” she confided over a cocktail.

When marketers set aside their personal beliefs

Digital marketers don’t always say no to the causes and to the candidates they don’t believe in.

Back in 2004 — which seems like recent history but was when digital was only beginning to go really mainstream — I knew a San Francisco-based digital executive giving his all to George W. Bush’s second campaign. This was someone whose personal politics perfectly matched his demographic (that of a San Francisco-based digital marketing executive).

Over lunch at the city’s Embarcadero Center one day, he confided that he took on the assignment “because digital needs this push.”

That’s not dissimilar to the left-leaning NYC executive who, eight years ago, managed a substantial portion of Sarah Palin’s digital campaign. Personal beliefs and personal politics were conveniently set aside.

It’s been a fraught year, politically speaking. The most recent stand-taking has been against North Carolina’s HB2 “bathroom bill.” In additional to celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, dozens of companies, many in tech, have registered their disapproval, and most have enacted or threatened sanctions against the state.

More recently, Microsoft has stated it will not this year, as in years past, donate money to the Republican convention.

These aren’t easy decisions for companies large or small. I’ve seen smaller agencies and individual marketers alike struggle over the past couple of years, deciding whether or not to join forces with a national fast-food giant (Will this set a good example for my kids and the values we have as a family?); a multinational agrochemical giant; and a national franchise that also happens to be a major donor to religious groups opposing same-sex marriage.

It’s also been a year of stunning corporate advocacy and stand-taking, such as Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff’s high-profile tweet that the company would suspend travel to Indiana following the passage of anti-gay legislation in that state, followed up days later by offering employees in that state a relocation package.

Marketers need to take a stand

Tech companies are clearly taking a stand — but are the marketers their technology enables? This election cycle is the first in years in which I don’t personally know any agencies or marketers who have taken on clients despite the fact that they espouse agendas diametrically in opposition to their own personal ethics and values.

The strength to say “no” and stand up for your convictions — whatever it is you believe — is a sign of maturity. Twelve years ago, my acquaintance hoped to demonstrate the maturity of digital by setting aside his views and saying  “yes” to George W. Bush. Now, digital has evolved to the point that such a thing isn’t necessary.

When enterprises like PayPal, Apple, Google, HP, Salesforce, IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo and a host of others choose to walk away from, rather than engage with, states and politicians that don’t reflect their, or their employees’, values, they’re demonstrating integrity, but something more as well.

They’re exhibiting independence and self-determination.

Personally, I’ve walked away from perfectly good money from what to me were unjustifiable sources: the pro-gun lobby and a group dedicated to dismantling Planned Parenthood. (Given my own solidly blue state and female demographic, it remains a point of wonder that I was even approached by these organizations.)

Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about the money if you’re a marketer. You have to ask yourself, “What if the marketing actually works?”

This post originally published in MarketingLand

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Reasons for Online Advertising's Eclipse

Digital advertising effectiveness is on the decline and marketers are turning to other forms of marketing to better engage customers during their digital journey.

Content marketing has emerged as something of a savior in the new marketing hierarchy as brands seek alternatives to display advertising that no longer produces tangible business results.  

These are the top findings in new research I recently published under the auspices of ScribbleLive and Visually (free download).

The research explores how marketers can build customer-centric marketing strategies that rely more on valuable content and less on paid media buys.

Consumer Attitudes, Data Privacy, and New Digital Channels Drive Change

Though rampant advertising fraud and a lack of online engagement contribute to the shift from advertising to more content-based marketing, they aren’t the sole driving forces.  Additional factors spurring the shift from advertising to content include:

Attitudinal: Consumers dislike and mistrust online ads, with 30% reporting online advertising is not effective, and 54% believe web banner ads don’t work. Adding adjectives to injury, more than half of consumers apply the terms “annoying,” “distracting,” and “invasive” to desktop and mobile web ads, according to an Adobe study.

Privacy and Safety: TrustE reports that one in four consumers worry about the security or privacy of the data collected on smart devices, and only 20% believe the benefits of smart devices outweigh these concerns. They are also concerned about malware attacks and location-specific surveillance.

Channel and Platform Proliferation: New social platforms and converged media formats, like hybrid native advertising, challenge marketers to create not only more content than ever before, but also content that can be easily adapted. It’s more challenging (and, complex) to manufacture content that fits paid, owned, earned, and converged media channels than it is to focus solely on advertising. Marketers today find it increasingly necessary to invest in multiple channels to avoid risk, as efficacy typically waxes and wanes between channels and platforms. Experimenting with new channels can pay off though, as Unilever found that buzz derived from its social content was significantly driving sales. This resulted in the company investing “tens of millions” more into its social presence.

Mobile: As mobile overtakes not only desktop computing but also television in media consumption hours spent, marketers are increasingly challenged by the decrease of advertising “real estate” on devices’ smaller screens. Mobile’s intrinsically personal nature also makes interruptive forms of advertising seem all the more invasive. Additionally, there’s an escalating cost to consumers, as mobile advertising becomes bandwidth intensive, eating into data plans more than opt-in content counterparts.

Omni-channel: There's a growing realization among even those brands that remain satisfied with digital advertising that the ability to buy, target, and optimize banners is now "table stakes," as Yext CMO Jeffrey Rohrs puts it, in an “increasingly complex landscape.” This complexity of multiple channels with complementary content needs raises challenges for brands as they transition from a paid, push-media mindset to creating a thriving content ecosystem. Retailers and CPG brands are expanding content outward from phones and desktop computers and into in-store kiosks and other retail experiences.  

Intel has partnered with Turner and Mark Burnett to produce a reality show spawning a cosmos of content, offline and off. "A consumer seeing 10 sequential pieces of content is more valuable to us than seeing the same banner ad 10 times," said Becky Brown, Intel's vice president, global marketing and communications and director, Digital Marketing and Media Group.

Marriott's David Beebee also shared (at a recent conference) that the company has repurposed content that resonates on its owned digital media channels for out-of-home billboard executions, quipping, “a multi-tiered paid model for digital content is as juicy an opportunity as a brand could hope for.”

It's not all gloom and doom – the research contains pragmatic recommendations for shifting investment from paid to owned and earned media. Give the report a read and let me know your reactions.

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New Research: Content Methodology: A New Model for Content Marketing

Content Methodology: A New Model for Content Marketing

Just published is a new report I co-authored with Joe Lazauskas for client Contently, Content Methodology: A New Model for Content Marketing.

It looks at:

  • Why a content methodology has become critical to modern enterprises.

  • How leading organizations are developing a culture that facilitates the creation of great content.

  • A step-by-step guide to developing a content methodology.

  • A framework for continuously improving a brand’s content over time.

Thanks for giving it a read, and for sharing your thoughts.

 

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New Research: The Eclipse of Online Advertising

The Eclipse of Online Advertising

My most recent research report published this week.

The Eclipse of Online Advertising explores why marketers need to focus on customer-centric marketing strategies that rely more on providing valuable content and less on media buys. 

You can download the report from my research page, or from ScribbleLive and Visually, which commissioned the report.

I'd love to hear your comments and feedback.

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Content Marketing and Personal Branding

Most professionals reach a point in life where, even if you don’t have kids yourself, close friends unleash their recent college graduate offspring upon you for career advice. This has been happening a great deal lately (Suddenly all those Dylans and Dakotas are no longer three years old, but instead in their 20s. Time flies).

Over the course of many a coffee date and email exchange, the one piece of advice I find myself dispensing most often to all these bright and eager young things is to work on building a personal brand to advance their professional ambitions.

This realization was simultaneous with two other light bulbs igniting: The first is that this advice applies to anyone, regardless of age or résumé. The second is that all this personal branding boils down very neatly to content marketing, and therefore, to creating and applying a content strategy not to an organization, product or service, but to yourself.

A personal content strategy, like an organizational one, will evolve over time. Sure, there’s dusting off the old LinkedIn profile when you’re looking for your first (or fifth) job.

But then there’s the branding that evolves over time — content that will help establish what you stand for and where you can create value and deliver insight; content that will reveal who you are (in a professional capacity); and the content your next boss or her HR staff will find when they Google you (and they will).

How to build a personal brand with content

Building a personal brand with content is much like building a corporate content strategy, only more personal.

It begins with an audit. Review what channels contain content by or about you.

For most, social media platforms are the place to begin. LinkedIn is a given for a professional presence, but these days, it’s a pretty safe bet that potential clients and employers are checking the larger non-professional platforms too, particularly Facebook.

What types of content are on what channels and platforms? How does it represent you, both as a person and professionally? Is it clean, with a minimum of typos and spelling mistakes?

A personal content strategy must strike the often delicate balance between who a person is, professionally, and what that person is like — often revealed on more personal social platforms. It goes without saying that overly personal or salacious material belongs on an account that’s not under your real name, shared with close friends but not the world at large.

What’s too personal? What kind of content crosses the line? It’s a judgment call. A musician will have boundaries that differ from a banker’s.

Often, a show of vulnerability makes you more human and approachable, even on a professional level. We’re almost all at a stage where, when confronted by milestones such as death, disease, addiction, job loss or other personal tragedies, social sharing must be informed by asking, “Would I want my boss or clients to read this?,” just as many companies ask employees to run the “Would I want my grandmother to read this?” check on social media messaging.

What platforms or channels can help build a personal brand? That will depend on industry and the usage patterns of colleagues and co-workers. Ask around.

Younger or less experienced professionals are unlikely to assume positions of thought leadership overnight in their chosen industries, but they can commit to commenting or blogging on industry trends.

Share original, high-quality content

Don’t just share headlines — add value. It can be a line or two of thought about what a new piece of legislation might mean, or the implications of that acquisition or an innovative piece of technology.

“Lessons learned” is another category for content exploration. How did that job or project or client help you to better understand your role or industry or a future trend?

Even when you’re just starting out, and it’s so early you haven’t selected an industry, content can still help you brand yourself and reveal character.

A friend’s daughter is currently blogging about her year studying abroad. She’s discussing not what she’s learning in school, but more universal lessons about life, relationships and personhood with the added perspective of distance and a new language and culture.

She may not know what she’s going to do when she comes back to the States and graduates, but she will have something to point to that indicates she’s thoughtful and analytical and wasn’t just abroad to party or mark time.

For people with larger personal branding ambitions, an initial content strategy, coupled with a commitment to a regular flow of distinctive, original, quality content, can rather quickly scale the ladder of thought leadership. Content becomes a calling card when pitching a trade publication for an article or column, or landing a coveted speaking engagement at an industry conference.

This content will quickly lead to other content — not to mention professional — opportunities.

Consider gaps, not just media and frequency, when carving out a niche for personal branding initiatives. What are the uncharted topics in your industry that matter — that you can speak to with interest and passion?

An added advantage of building a personal brand with content? You’ll become a better all-round content marketer!

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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How To Analyze Content Needs

We’ve previously discussed how to conduct a content audit. Part of that process is to perform a gap analysis, a rather fancy-pants way of saying “figure out what isn’t there, then figure out how to get it in there.”

Easier said than done. Knowing you need content is not unlike moving into a new, empty house and knowing you need furniture. Of course you do. But what kind? What style? What color? What pieces for what rooms? How much do you require to be functional and practical, and how much would make things cluttered and impractical?

Even once you’ve boiled it down to “sofa for the living room,” you must still determine if it’s a sectional, if it has arms and if you ought to order the matching footrest.

Fortunately, there are are systematic ways to go about analyzing and assessing content needs. This includes determining not only what kind of content is required and in what format, but other factors, as well, including how often, when and where to reach which target audience segment effectively.

Where To Start?

This might seem painfully obvious to some, but one of the most effective ways to assess content needs is to ask. Interview customers, clients and prospects about their content needs and their content consumption habits.

Sources To Tap

Ask how these various constituencies consume content, and what sources they turn to for content.

Do they:

  • Subscribe to newsletters?

  • Read blogs?

  • Listen to podcasts?

  • Use search engines when researching a purchase or service?

  • Visit company websites?

  • Read customer reviews on retail sites?

  • Download white papers?

  • Watch online videos?

  • Follow links on social network sites or Twitter?

  • Do they use their mobile devices?

  • Subscribe to RSS feeds?

  • Read online publications? Which ones?

  • Do they participate in online user groups or forums?

It’s also helpful to uncover the specifics of these channels. For example, it’s useful to know if they read blogs or not, but if they do, it’s even more significant to know which blogs — or bloggers — they most avidly follow. What’s their favorite publication? Their must-see or must-read sources of digital information? These may or may not lie within your professional sphere, but will nonetheless help when it comes to assessing taste, style preferences and predilections.

How Much, How Often?

We’ve all been there: subscribed to a newsletter or eagerly started following a cool blog, until suddenly it all became too much. Way too much.

That eagerly awaited weekly newsletter? When the publisher bumped it up to twice a week instead of once per week, it started looking and feeling more like spam.

Creating too much content is an onerous task for you, and at the same time, it can quickly sour your brand in the minds of its audience.

You don’t want to create content so infrequently they forget about you. At the same time, you don’t want to inundate your audience. It’s not impolite to politely inquire about their desires regarding the optimal frequency of content — and overall brand touches — when assessing content needs.

For many users, a white paper is too long. So is a video on YouTube that runs over five or 10 minutes. Some users will want the content equivalent of a snack; others will prefer a five-course meal. Many may want something in between (and all of this may be contingent on where they are in the consideration and buying cycle).

Scoping out content “serving sizes” is an essential part of a content needs assessment.

When?

Sure, lots of digital content just sits there, waiting for you to find it. A website, a video on YouTube, a white paper, a slide show.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can access all these channels in your proverbial pajamas, whenever you want. But for some types of content (not to mention some consumers) its effectiveness is all in the timing.

Ask when they consume content: At home? At work? Over the weekend? The type of business or service you offer can play a big role in this. Mainframe computers are probably an at-work type of content affair. If you sell pizza or movies or skiing, you may be better off sending that newsletter or tweeting late in the week, perhaps after the workday is done (or just before it’s time to call it a day).

Common sense dictates that most people would rather be exposed to messaging about coffee in the early morning, beer in the late afternoon (Yes, there will always be exceptions to those guidelines, but that’s why we establish guidelines in the first place).

Another reason “when” matters is because while there’s plenty of digital content waiting for you to come ‘n’ get it, digital channels are increasingly about real-time or near real-time messaging.

Tweets and posts on social networks such as Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn, in particular, are more likely to get readership — as well as to be promoted, “liked,” amplified and passed along by readers — if they appear at the right time of day or on the right day of the week.

Quantitative Research

Interviewing key audience members and members of a target market is only the first step in assessing content needs. Turning to web metrics and other analytics sources is another essential part of the task.

Elements to look for in this arena, both on a website and on external sources such as social media and social network sites include traffic, comments, “likes,” pass-alongs and other shout-outs.

What kinds of content, and in what channels, is attracting the most traffic, attention, recommendations and chatter in terms of comments and re-tweets? Conversely, what’s dormant and attracts little to no user attention and engagement?

When it comes to assessing and analyzing content needs, an essential tool in a web analytics package is search keywords: the words and phrases searchers use to find you on the web.

These terms can help quickly identify user needs. “What toothbrush is best for fighting plaque” is an example of a search term that reveals a problem the searcher is eager to solve. How can you create content that addresses that problem — and content that uses those terms — so more searchers with that problem are likely to find your content?

Keyword research reveals the words and phrases searchers use to find you. Combined with the free keyword research tools offered by the major search engines, these words and phrases can be greatly expanded upon.

A recent project with a client, for example, involved conducting keyword research around the products and merchandise they were targeting at “readers.” A quick dig into Google’s keyword research tool quickly revealed that searchers don’t look for products for “readers,” but they do search for items to buy for “book lovers,” and even for “bibliophiles.”

It’s not that they don’t ever search the word “readers” (It’s important to keep keyword research information in context). The point is when searchers are shopping, they’re not shopping for “readers.”

This one nugget of information has made the company’s content marketing more effective, influencing the content and even the categories on its blog, the posts on its Facebook page, and even its tweets on Twitter.

Sure, you can always go with your gut when it comes to creating strong content for marketing. But backing up gut instincts with research, observation and hard data will always make a content marketing initiative that much more impactful and effective.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Wrap Your Head Around the Marketing Cloud

What do you see in the cloud?

Everyone in digital marketing has their heads in the cloud -- the marketing cloud, to be precise. The marketing cloud might very possibly be the most-discussed and at the same time, least-defined term digital marketing has ever seen (and we've seen a lot of new terminology and neologisms).

What is the marketing cloud? What's its promise, and what's its future? Let's unpack how marketing technology is evolving into that elusive cloud and the role it plays, and will play, in marketing's future. (Credit is due to CIO.com's Matt Kapko for sparking these thoughts in a recent interview.)

Marketing cloud promises and objectives

The marketing cloud promises to make all marketing operations faster, easier, more streamlined, efficient and optimized -- to deliver measureable results and actionable data that's integrated not only across marketing, but across the entire enterprise as well as the scope of customer experience with the brand, product and/or service.

Evolution

The marketing cloud is not yet ready for prime time. We're still in an era of hyper-growth, development, and refinement of not only marketing technologies, but also of marketing channels and media. The promise is that everything will somehow pan out, streamline, integrate and just plain work. The reality is that we're still very much in the cycle of building, invention, disruption, and innovating. There's little in marketing technology that's static or standardized. This shouldn't be confused with failure, but it's hard to adjust and refine during a period of hyper-growth.

Objectives

Integration is a huge issue. As an analyst, I've surveyed marketers on what enterprise software they want and need marketing technology to play nice with. Responses stray far from just marketing -- I've heard everything from financial software to telephony. But we're still at a stage where, for example, content software, social media software, and advertising technology exist in very separate silos. So, too, does digital asset management. And that's to say nothing of the need to integrate with outside vendor and technology partners. Other issues include marketers investing in one solution to solve a problem, then acquiring another software package with duplicative functionality. There's such quick evolution that basic education and understanding of the space is problematic.

Consumer trends and expectations

Consumers complicate the marketing cloud landscape even more. CRM, for example, is a function that exists outside of marketing, replete with its own tech solutions. Mobile, too, is often in a corporate silo -- enterprise organization certainly plays into this to reach the right consumer with the right message at the right time not only requires technological integrations, but also an orchestrated waltz between the CMO, CIO, and CTO. Throw in customer service, HR, and various and sundry other departments and you've got geometrically multiplying layers of complexity.

That's to say nothing, of course, about not creeping consumers out by acting snoopy or Big Brotherish. (And please, no data breaches!)

Consumer expectations are high when it comes to marketing. It's incumbent on brands to deliver the experiences they expect -- and even to exceed those expectations. Consumers have the power to go elsewhere now more than ever. That's exactly what they will do with ever-increasing levels of transparency, trust, service, experience, and pricing.

The marketing cloud can go a long way in helping to unify and connect the dots between marketing and advertising, between paid, owned, and earned media, as well as data and other functions. But we're far from resolution and standardization.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Rebecca Lieb

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

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