Rebecca Lieb's blog

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Discussing Ad Blockers on NPR's On Point

I was on NPR/WBUR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook radio this morning discussing ad blocking, ad fraud, and other nefarious goings-on in the digital area.

Here's a link to the interview.

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Leveraging Content For In-Store Sales

It’s a little-known but impressive fact: Despite the rise and seeming ubiquity of e-commerce, a stunning 90 percent of consumer purchases are made in-store. That’s feet-on-the-street, brick-and-mortar, shopping cart, cash register, old-school type buying.

Yet retailers and CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands still rely largely on print circulars to spur traffic and sales, despite off-the-cliff print media circulation.

This week, I published research on the topic of how forward-looking retailers and brands can drive in-store traffic with digital media, most specifically with content marketing in digital channels. The full report, “From Web Traffic to Foot Traffic: How Brands and Retailers Can Leverage Digital Content to Power In-Store Sales,” is available here as a PDF download.

Retailers and CPG brands aren’t having an easy time adapting digital marketing to their goals, particularly when it comes to creating seamless omni-channel customer experiences. We learned that only 60 percent of them have implemented strategies that are geared toward creating a local or in-store outcome, such as making a brick-and-mortar purchase.

In fact, only 59 percent say driving an in-store sale is a goal.

While nearly all of the 200 executives we surveyed recognize mobile’s growing importance — in fact, dominance — just half (51 percent) use mobile to bridge the online and offline customer experiences. Far fewer (37 percent) plan a seamless experience across channels, e.g., mobile, the Web, social media and in-store.

What’s to blame for these strategic shortcomings? Measurement is one big problem. Most retailers and CPG brands still measure traffic and clicks in digital, rather than linking metrics and KPIs to desired outcomes, such as foot traffic and purchases.

Their budgets are limited, and they’re unsure of where to invest the digital dollars they do have.

Local” is insufficiently defined, and it can be so much more than a ZIP code. It can mean proximity messaging via beacons and sensors, or it can be tied to a customer loyalty program to generate personalized offers or promotions on-site, such as coupons for items consumers repeatedly purchase.

Additionally, retailers and CPG brands lack content strategy, as well as skilled digital talent and the interdepartmental ability to coordinate promotions, offers, content and advertising across paid, owned and earned media teams.

So how can retailers and CPG brands make a shift and leverage their digital content to bolster in-store sales?

Here are the recommendations that emerged from my survey of more than 500 retail executives, as well as interviews with close to two dozen senior retail and CPG executives. (I conducted the research, which was sponsored by Cofactor, for Altimeter Group.)

Tips For Using Digital Content To Drive In-Store Sales

  • Incentivize visits to retail locations, with features such as order online, pick-up in store and store returns. These can be used in addition to sales, coupons and other promotional activity designed to attract foot traffic.
  • Be mobile first, or at least primary, when it comes to formulating a content engagement strategy. When it comes to reach and opportunities for right-time and location targeting, few channels are better than mobile.
  • Leverage the mix of paid, earned and owned media to maximize value from the budget, and engage customers outside the usual realms.
  • Think online-to-offline when mapping the customer journey.
  • Rethink the print circular. While it can’t yet be wholly discounted, the circular can provide more value when used in conjunction with other modes of communication. Circular content can be amplified across online channels to reach customers where they are actually gathering information to make a decision, rather than remaining static in one medium.
  • Plan for online cross-channel content with similar teams and processes that are in place for delivering offline content. This enables a coordinated strategy across paid, earned and owned channels, without having to start completely from scratch.
  • Eliminate silos. The biggest challenge is to break down silos between departments and between channels. This makes it easier to get a unified effort for the best customer experience.
  • Reconsider budget allocation to devote more towards digital spending, and identify the digital marketing tactics that give the most return on investment.
  • Implement a measurement plan to track the effectiveness of local multi-channel campaigns. Discard vanity metrics like impressions to focus more on customer actions.
  • Leverage loyalty data to personalize/contextualize offers.
  • Define local at every stage. Does it refer to 
a region, city, state or ZIP code? This can vary by the business, but also on a campaign level. More importantly, is “local” restricted only in the geographical sense, or can it be applied to Who, What and When, in addition to Where?
  • Remain sensitive to customer privacy by not bombarding them with overly personalized messages. It’s important to balance relevance against creepiness.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

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Why Content Budgets Are So Hard to Quantify

There's no debating the fact that content is not only a hot topic, but an essential part of digital strategy. Advertising effectiveness is on the decline, a trend fueled by a myriad of factors ranging from consumer control (and a subsequent unwillingness to be interrupted) to banner blindness, click fraud, and ad blocking software -- very much in the news currently thanks to Apple's new iOS 9.

As ads in paid media diminish in effectiveness, marketers are forced to confront new ways to connect with customers. This can be via owned media, i.e., pure content marketing; earned media, defined as social or PR, when sharing and/or input is requested from the audience; or forms of converged media, such as promoted posts in social or native advertising on publisher channels; or paying influencers to promote owned and earned content.

Regardless of the channel or medium, content is the one element that cannot be absent from the marketing equation. Paid, owned, earned -- without content, there's nothing. Advertising without content is empty time or space. What else is advertising, after all, than renting time or space from a publisher or broadcaster to inset a message in the form of content?

Social platforms, search, email, websites and microsites, apps, all are mere containers for content. If there's no content in these channels, it's the digital equivalent of dead air.

Where things get murky, however, is the cost of all this content. It's surprising how many in this industry see cost as a straight apples-to-apples comparison. The prevailing fallacy is if you take a dollar out of the advertising budget, and that means an extra dollar for the content budget. But it just doesn't work that way. That dollar gets reduced significantly. What trickles down to content is only maybe five to 15 cents.

Content is just plain cheaper than advertising, which is why that dollar is subject to a hefty exchange rate. Both content in earned and owned media require an investment, just as does creative (which is, let's face it, just a fancier word for content) in advertising. But strip away the cost of the media buy -- the highest-ticket item in marketing, and there's most of your budget right there.

Content isn't cheap. "Just hire a blogger" has long since ceded to videographers, developers (both web and app), graphic designers, photographers, and others skill sets more technical and specialized than basic writing ability. But absent that media buy, content will almost always, without exception, be cheaper than advertising.

Content requires tools, however. I've mapped the vast vendor landscape. However, this investment, which can be significant, isn't generally part of a budget line item for content. Instead, it's filed under marketing technology or a similar line item.

Few organizations have content departments or divisions, another reason it's so difficult to tease out those content numbers. Jobs with "content" or "editor" in the title are sharply on the rise, but they tend to hover at the manager or director level. That will change, and roles will become more senior, but not for another year or two.

Content remains more everything than it does its own thing -- in other words, until it's cordoned off into a defined discipline with a budget, a staff, and its own line items, it will remain extremely difficult to quantify what content budgets really are. From company to company, sector to sector, budget to budget, your mileage will vary.

Still, no matter how you slice it, more and more marketing dollars are pouring into content. Less into paid, more into owned and earned. And there's no end in sight to that trend.

This post orginally published on iMedia.

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New Research: From Web Traffic to Foot Traffic

My most recent research published today.

From Web Traffic to Foot Traffic: How Brands & Retailers Can Leverage Digital Content to Power In-Store Sales [PDF download] is the result of a survey of over senior 500 executives at leading national retailers and CPG brands, as well as qualitative interviews with marketing leaders from brands such as PepsiCo, McDonalds, The Home Depot and Staples.

Some of my most noteworthy findings indicate that personalized content and localized digital activation must be a priority for brands looking to create fluid cross-channel relevancy with consumers and influence in-store sales. The work contains recommendations for marketers working to tie together the online/offline customer journey and create a seamless omnichannel experience with a strong emphasis on local.

Thanks for sharing your reactions! I'll be presenting the findings over the coming weeks at IAB MIXX, and other digital marketing and retail-focused conferences.

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Research as a Content Marketing Component: Process & Needs

Research. It's a tried and true component of many a content strategy. Well-crafted, informational, and analytical research is a solid lead-gen tool. It can created publicity, awareness, and has the potential to be amplified in shared media channels including social and news media.

Research can be sliced and diced into numerous shareable, reusable artifacts: a PDF report, a webinar, speech, PowerPoint deck. Resultant frameworks and infographics are highly shareable in snackable social channels. And finally, research can be built upon year after year, updated and refined.

As a research analyst, I've conducted a good deal of research and have also authored research for clients ranging from brands (Facebook) to trade organizations (the IAB). In discussing more and more potential projects with clients, it's become clear that research requirements, and processes, are somewhat opaque to many in the marketing department who want to commission research but don't know where to start.

So let's unpack what's required for a solid and credible research report, whether independent or commissioned.

Research report elements


The hypothesis is the idea a research report sets out to test. It's the Big Idea, e.g., CPG brands should invest more in mobile advertising; digital media can drive in-store traffic; or as ad effectiveness diminishes, content becomes more important.

Report outline/proposal  
Like the outline of those papers you wrote in school, this document maps the story the research will tell.

Will the research be qualitative? Quantitative? Or a combination of both? Qualitative research is based largely on interviews and observation, e.g., case examples or case studies. Quantitative research tends to be survey-based. In either case, determinations must be made as to who and how many people meeting which qualifications (title, job function, tenure, industry, etc.) are required to make the study legitimate.

Research process requirements


Lots of confusion exists as to the difference between a researcher and an analyst. The best analogy might be that of professor and grad student. The researcher is highly trained and qualified, likely almost a PhD. The researcher is the grad student. They conduct a lot of the leg work, for example: finding case studies, obtaining permissions for materials to be used, ensuring process is adhered to and act as liaison between all parties contributing to the research project. The analyst is the author of the research. It's their analysis of the results that determines the findings. Analysts and reearchers share the balance of work differently, but in all cases the analyst enjoys "final cut."

If a researcher is part of the project, an initial job is to construct the project timeline. This is basic project management.

Interview and survey questions  
Arguably the most important component of a research project other than the hypothesis are the questions asked of stakeholder. Research is based on findings and analysis of those findings, not opinions. So if you don't ask, you won't have answers. Questions must be thorough and address the hypothesis completely. At the same time, they must respect interviewees' time, so questions must also be concise.

Survey tool and/or company 
For quantitative research, support is needed. It may be a simple and free or low cost tool such as SurveyMonkey, or must more substantial support in the form of a research firm might be called for. A report I'm about to publish required a survey of more than 100 retail executives with very strict and selective parameters -- respondents' title had to be VP or higher, their role had to be in marketing, the retailer had to have at least 200 physical stores in the U.S., etc. Qualifying questions had to be crafted in addition to the interview questions to ensure respondents conformed to our requirements. This creates much more statistically sound and valid research, but these criteria come at a cost, often of tens of thousands of dollars.

Everyone needs an editor. Even editors need editors. Research reports require a supervising editor to keep tabs on the big picture, the validity of the analysis, the flow of the writing, and the overall quality of the document. A copy editor is also required to dot the i's, cross the t's, and take care of overall quality and often, fact-checking (attribution, titles, footnotes, etc.)

Design and production 
Research will almost invariably involve frameworks, charts, graphs, and other forms of visual information and storytelling. You'll also want a handsomely designed final artifact (usually a PDF). Daughter artifacts might include infographics and slide decks. Design matters, as does bringing in the appropriate talent and allotting ample time for design and revisions.

This list of research report requirements and elements is by no means exhaustive, but certainly covers the basics. It's also intended to give marketers a sense of "How much does a research report cost?" Like building a website, or a house, there are many, many dependencies. Smart scoping is everything.

This post originally published on iMedia.

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Five Content Trends To Watch

Five Content Trends To Watch

It may not technically be the new year, but for anyone who’s ever attended school, the annual September entry into fall — and a new business and social season — brings with it the tendency to look forward and ask what’s next.

In that spirit, here are the five Content Marketing trends I’m going to be keeping an eye on over the next few months, both as a research analyst and on behalf of my clients:

Content Around Things

This first trend isn’t so much content marketing as it is about content strategy and user experience.

We’re witnessing rapid growth in both the wearables sector and the Internet of Things (IoT). This leads any marketer — and more frequently, product groups — to ask what kinds of content should exist around what types of things.

Fitness trackers, smart clothing, appliances that communicate with service centers and retail locations (my car needs tuning, the printer is out of ink) — what content needs to be there? For whom?

What’s the value exchange for consumers? What about privacy and data protection? (Samsung’s smart refrigerator was recently outed as a possible Gmail security leak.)

Machine-Generated Content

All credit goes to the 4A’s Chick Foxgrover for piquing my interest in content generated by algorithms.

I’ve long known that wire services are using machines to “write” routine copy: stock market updates, sport scores and the like. We also know media empires such as BuzzFeed use algorithms to optimize their stories for maximum virality.

But did you know that a marketing professor authored an algorithmic system that’s written over a million books?

The mind boggles in considering the impact that algorithms will soon have on all the content produced by brands and publishers alike.

Contextual Content

Speaking of publishing and journalism, I’ve been following what I like to term “contextual content,” content that isn’t journalistic per se, but that follows those “five Ws” often mentioned in journalism: who, what, when, where and why. With contextual content, the most relevant content is displayed to the user based on those five Ws.

So when you walk into a resort hotel chain, for example, your phone isn’t just your room key; it’s associated with your loyalty number and uses proximity signals around the property, triangulated with personal preferences and purchase history to shoot you time- and place-specific offers. I may get discount tickets for the show that evening, while you might get a twofer offer at the seafood restaurant.

Increasingly, the places we visit will “know” us via beacons, sensors and mobile devices, taking content to a much more immediately contextual level.

Content Convergence, Continued

Content, which is owned media, continues to co-mingle with its paid and earned brethren in new and surprising ways.

Paid search, native advertising, recommendation engines, asking users to share, paid promotion on social networks — these are all examples of ways in which owned media are combining with paid and earned to create new marketing tools, tactics and media.

We’re a long way from seeing the end of this trend. As new platforms and innovative devices emerge, so too will new ways to combine paid, owned and earned media.

Ad Spend Vs. Content Investment

The topic of a research project I’m about to embark on, the issue of the dwindling efficacy of display advertising versus the rise of content marketing, is one that cannot be ignored.

Certainly, after years of hockey-stick growth, digital advertising wasn’t going to soar forever. (That’s the law of the disruption curve in effect.)

But banner ad growth is flat, and the cost of banners has been decreasingly steadily for several years now. Meanwhile, marketers are moving spend into content, social and forms of converged media.

Many observers are looking for one-to-one parity in this trend, which is an inherent fallacy. One dollar removed from a media budget in no way equals one added to a content budget.

Content is far from free, but it’s much cheaper than paid media, which necessitates a media buy.

This makes research in the field frustratingly difficult; you have to account for “lost” spend, which really reflects savings when investment is reallocated between disparate channels.

What was spent on media (a fungible resource) is often reinvested in a longer-term spend in a different budgetary category, e.g., staff or software to enable or facilitate content creation, distribution, dissemination, measurement, and so on.

Content is far from having reached maturity in digital channels, and it continues to evolve and change as quickly as the digital landscape. What trends are you watching, and which ones did I miss?

This post originally published on MarketingLand


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The Content Software Awareness Problem

The Content Software Awareness Problem

Part of content strategy work is ascertaining what tools are needed to create efficiency. Content creators and managers require repeatable processes for the creation, dissemination, and management of content marketing. As with just about everything else, it's critical to have the right tools for the job.

Deep research I've conducted around the content marketing software landscape revealed no less than eight different use cases for content marketing, each encompassing several sub-categories. There are tools out there that address each and every one of these scenarios.

Yet while vendors (and solutions) in the content marketing space proliferate, there's fantastically low awareness on the brand side -- among the organizations committing content marketing -- that these solutions exist. Too often, when I work with clients to craft content strategy and conduct stakeholder interviews, the answers to my questions around tools and technology belie utter ignorance of how tools can make their jobs easier.

Answers to questions such as, "What tools do you use in your content marketing initiatives?" most often are either absurdly general ("email") or not marketing-specific ("PhotoShop"). There's a real lack of awareness that there's stuff out there that can really help move initiatives forward.

The vendors behind these solutions don't have it much easier. Because content marketing is an emerging discipline that still lacks infrastructure, it's not clear who to approach internally with solutions. The CMO? The head of digital? Rarely (even if this is changing) is one individual charged with overseeing content, unlike parallel disciplines such as social media, communications, or advertising.

What if?

That's the question OneSpot (disclosure: I'm on the company's advisory board) asked top marketers in a survey. What if you had a tool that solved your content marketing problems?

Here are some desires they expressed.

Creating content without first crafting a content strategy that answers two critical questions -- why are we creating content, and how are we going to go about doing it -- is an express ticket into scattershot efforts and inefficiency.

It's time to close the awareness gap when it comes to the tools and technologies that support content marketing, as well as integrate content with other marketing and enterprise initiatives.

This post originally published on iMedia.

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The Speculator: An Interview with me in Content Magazine

I’m honored to have been featured in an interview in the Summer, 2015 edition of Content Magazine

Rebecca Lieb sees a rosy yet crowded future of content marketing through the lens of her exhaustive research.

Content: A year ago you said that the future of content marketing tools will be in stacks that accommodate everything from content creation to compliance. Teradata provides software for these types of solutions. Where are we at now in that evolution?
Rebecca Lieb: When I started doing this research in 2014, in the six months it took me, I saw the software landscape increase from about 80 companies to about 150. Now there’s well over 200 companies in the content marketing software space—and there would be even more if the big players like Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce weren’t buying some of them up. So there’s tons of activity on the product development level and we’re seeing some of these players get very, very successful.

You also said at that time that no vendor has an end-to-end solution but you did mention that Adobe was best poised to do that.
We identified basically three main buckets of content workflow and eight separate workflow scenarios: everything ranging from creation to curation and aggregation through to governance, legal and compliance. Nobody’s got an end-to-end solution, a content stack in the sense that there are advertising stacks that do it all. Integration is very hard when you’re a company like Adobe building software and then getting it to play nice with all the other software. So, Adobe has the most pieces of the puzzle but nobody has integrated these eight different workflow scenarios into one seamless software solution yet.

IBM has not gotten involved. Can you speculate as to why they haven’t?
I think IBM is the proverbial 2,000-pound gorilla in this space. I can’t tell you why but if they wanted to do it tomorrow they could. One thing that IBM has invested in very heavily is the social marketing software space: we call it the SMSS. I’m predicting that over the next couple of years the content marketing stack is going to absorb the social marketing software space and we’ve already seen very big players in social media marketing, like Sprinklr, move very aggressively into the content space and that’s just because social media is really just a platform for content. Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn: they’d all be empty if it wasn’t for content. So that can be applied to IBM. You could argue IBM is in the space in the social respect if not across the entirety of the stack.

Between ad agencies and PR agencies, which do you think has the biggest challenges when it comes to storytelling?
I think they both have equal challenges and the reason is converged media. We’re seeing PR agencies, for the first time in history, make media buys; but, by the same token, advertising agencies are terrific at media buying but really don’t look at content as content. They look at content as creative: something to fill space or time in the context of advertising. So, all of these agencies are learning new skill sets and nearly all of them, certainly all of the major ones, have opened up global chains of newsrooms and grand storytelling plays. At the same time we’re looking at publishers trying to be a content marketing agency. This is a way for them to get incremental revenues and they’ve always done this in the context of advertorials, haven’t they?

Please read the full interview on the Content Magazine website

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Five Content Strategy Shortcuts That Aren’t Shortcuts At All

According to my research, corroborated by other studies, while virtually every company is now practicing content marketing, a full 70 percent of them are doing so without first constructing a content strategy that addresses not just why, but how, they will create, disseminate, measure and apply business-related goals to their content.

Anecdotally, I find that’s changing. I’m getting more and more inquiries from companies that need help building content strategies, and so are my peers in the industry. But with those inquiries often come requests for shortcuts and cut corners.

Clearly, everyone has to work within budget and time constraints. But it’s also true that strategy doesn’t just happen. It’s based on business goals, resource requirements, and other marketing and branding activities.

When organizations ask me to work with them to create a content strategy, some will understandably push back a bit on the scope of the engagement. Here are some of the most frequent asks for shortcuts — and why they often aren’t shortcuts at all. And also, as a sort of bonus, the one ask I hear most often that’s a shortcut in and of itself.

1. Content Audit

“We don’t need a content audit” is an all-too-frequent refrain from clients. Sorry, but unless you’ve been conducting content audits yourself (which I’ve only once encountered), you do.

A baseline audit is a cornerstone of a content strategy. You can’t chart where you’re going unless you know where you are. A content strategist needs to study the content, the channels it’s published in, the metrics and analytics around it, and learn how it’s created, approved, produced, reused, stored and interacted with.

An audit is not only about what’s there, it’s equally about what’s missing; gap analysis is a huge part of the process.

Audits should be conducted, at minimum, twice per year. Once the baseline audit has been conducted, you’ll know how to move forward with future audits that adhere to the same template. In that sense, an audit is a gift that keeps on giving.

2. Process

I also often hear: “We already create content, so process isn’t a problem.” I hope not. But it might be. Content strategy is in large part about process. It’s not just establishing goals and benchmarks for content. Content strategy is equally about how those goals will be achieved with repeatable, governed processes.

This often involves numerous organizational divisions, staff, approval trees, legal and compliance, many steps of which can be overlooked or ignored. Efficient processes lead to substantial savings of both time and money. Ignoring process when establishing a content strategy is a surefire way to building time and money inefficiencies into process.

3. People

“We don’t have budget to hire new staff, so there’s no point in evaluating roles,” is another frequent refrain. I feel your pain. But like processes, people can’t be ignored in content strategy.

Often, tasks will be uncovered that can be filled by a temporary contractor, or even an intern, such as tagging assets for a digital asset management system (DAM). It can be the case that with additional domain or tools training, existing staff members can assume new responsibilities, creating greater career satisfaction and filling much-needed gaps.

Just because increased headcount isn’t an option doesn’t mean staffing needs go away. These needs can be dealt with as part of the content strategy.

4. Tools

Like people, above, there’s frequently pushback in the form of, “We’re not going to invest in it” (or “My department doesn’t make technology determinations”). As with people, audits and processes, ignoring tool and software needs doesn’t make them go away.

I attempt to work through this with my clients by taking a two-pronged approach. I’ll make broad recommendations (consider investing in digital asset management or a content creation platform), or I’ll take a much deeper dive, conducting stakeholder interviews and scrutinizing workflow scenarios and integration needs to make highly specific recommendations (consider these three software solutions).

Content doesn’t create itself, publish itself, measure or optimize itself, or make determinations about what channels and audiences it should connect with. Tools are a must-have, not a nice-to-have

Finally, that bonus “ask.” I hear this one a lot. It’s a shortcut in and of itself.

5. “Just Tell Us What Content Will Work For Us”

I wish I could; really I do. And I can probably tell you, from a strategy standpoint, what content will work this week, this month, or this quarter. Longer term, no one has a crystal ball that can automatically conjure the best content (and place it in the best channels to reach the right audience).

“Tell me what content will work” is a request akin to “Make me a viral video.” There will always be someone out there who will promise the moon (while cashing your check), but that’s not what a content strategy does.

What a content strategy will do is teach you how to learn what content will work against your goals and how to realign and readjust that content for different channels, audiences, projects and products, as well as external forces. What content works during the winter holiday season? When there’s breaking news around your industry? When consumers are talking about your brand or your product category?

Content strategy isn’t magic hocus-pocus. Instead, it’s “teach a man to fish.” The purpose is to develop sustainable, repeatable processes aligned to higher business goals. The content will invariably change. The bigger strategy? Not so much.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Weaving Influencers into a Content Strategy

By definition, content marketing means working with owned media. Media you own (or largely control) can include properties such as a company website, microsites, blogs, and social media platforms. The idea is you build it and hope that they will come.

Often, they (i.e., a target audience) will come, enticed by compelling, well-crafted, search-optimized, useful, funny, clever, delightful content. And sometimes, all best efforts to the contrary, more reach and more subject matter authority are required to meaningfully connect the message to the desired audience.

This is where an influencer strategy often comes in for many content marketers. Influencers are domain knowledge experts in a field. That field could be enterprise software, beekeeping, baking, or national defense. No matter the topic, the influences are the go-to subject matter experts. Their writings, videos, tweets, and/or blog posts enjoy broad followings with what’s likely your target audience: the people who follow that given topic.

Influencers can be leveraged in a wide variety of ways. They can be interviewed for your own owned media (e.g., an e-book or a blog post). They can be briefed on company news in the hope that they will share it with their networks, which is good old-fashioned PR, updated for a world in which journalists no longer have a corner on the media influence market.

Influencers can also be commissioned to create and share content on a relevant topic with their followers, providing ethical guidelines and disclosure protocols are followed. A large technology company recently commissioned a dozen technology influencers to create a total of 120 pieces of content (mostly blog posts) which enjoyed, in aggregate, over a million views. In B2B, that’s paid media reach for an earned media investment — not too shabby.

The basic steps for connecting with and working with influencers are fairly simple, yet frequently overlooked by harried, deadline-driven marketers.

This checklist should help.

Identify the influencers
Media, analysts, researchers, and academics are all obvious choices. So are the people active on social media with the biggest and most passionate followings on the topic in question. They post frequently and reliably on the topic, and their messages are amplified by readers and followers. Find influencers via search, hashtag research, or through social listening software. Influencers can also be located the old-fashioned way: who’s quoted in articles, cited in research? Those are the names to get.

Weave an introduction into the initial contact
Genuine influencers are frequently courted and receive a great many “asks.” Don’t assume influencers you reach out to know your company/product/strategy. Provide background information, with an offer of more. They’ll want to know who they’re dealing with. Communication is a two-way street.

Craft narrow, highly specific requests
Influencers are often asked for quotes, or to respond to interview questions via an initial contact email. Nothing wrong with that, but a response is more likely if that ask is laser targeted. Instead of requesting a quote about “content marketing,” go straight to the specifics. “What are three best practices for using curation in content marketing?” or “What’s the difference between content marketing and content strategy?” Providing direction is more likely to elicit not only a response, but a good response.

Deadlines matter
Always, always, always provide a deadline for response. If there isn’t one, make it up. There’s a world of difference — and responsiveness — between asking someone to do something whenever, and requesting that they do it by close of business on Thursday.

Ask for everything upfront
Need the influencer’s headshot? Bio? These aren’t afterthoughts — they’re part of the content plan. Request all deliverables upfront. It’s polite, considerate, and saves everyone a lot of time and email traffic.

Be easy to work with
Really, this is the cardinal rule of everything stated above. Are you requesting a call with the influencer? Providing three or four available timeslots in the initial request makes their life much easier than throwing the ball into their court with a “When are you available?” So does providing options, e.g., offering to conduct an interview either by phone or by email — their choice.

Follow-up is essential
It’s not just what an influencer contributes, content-wise. Distribution and amplification are huge components of an influencer strategy. Ensure the influencer has access to all published artifacts (e.g., the interview, the e-book, the webinar link). Mentioning their contribution or participation on social media makes them more likely to reciprocate and broaden the reach of that tweet or post. Using their Twitter handle or favored hashtags also helps get the message to their following.

Working with influencers needn’t be difficult or complicated. It’s easier than it ever was not just to find the important voices in the field, but to easily connect with them, too. The rest is basic Golden Rule territory: do unto influencers as you would have them do unto you.

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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