Rebecca Lieb's blog

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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.

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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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The Three Types of Content Marketing

squattypotty

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

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Rebecca Lieb

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

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