content strategy

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content & Converged Media Predictions for 2017

crystal ball

It’s that time of year again, in which columnists dust off their crystal balls and peer into the next year to discern the trends, directions, and probabilities of the coming year.

I’ve got five trends on my list, explained below.

1. Contextual Content: Context will be the foundation of the next phase of content marketing. Content is moving beyond screens, and also far beyond mere personalization. Beacons, sensors and IoT enabled devices mean content is more contextual, and hyper-relevant messaging can be delivered in the "phygital" (physical + digital) world at places, times and under circumstances that are meaningful, valuable and helpful to individuals (I recently published research around this topic). Enterprises are beginning to investigate with contextual campaigns and content. They will develop methods for making highly personalized and relevant real-time messages based on triggers such as purchase history, the weather, physical location, and myriad more factors. Such campaigns are highly complex and technically demanding, but as one Disney executive once told me, “The more context there is, the higher the ROI.” Next year will be an experimental year, when trials are floated in this very new and potentially very lucrative arena.

2. Global Campaigns Enterprises are investing heavily in creating global content strategies. Content in diverse countries and regions must both ladder up to central messaging and goals while at the same time containing enough local relevance to resonate with audiences. People, processes, and technologies must be coordinated and synced - easier said than done. Moreover, doing so creates efficiencies and cost-savings, as well as just plain better content. I’ve got research on this topic publishing in early 2017 that was largely generated from work I’ve been doing for clients recently. Over the past year I’ve seen a spike in this type of planning among my clients. I’ve worked on global content strategy for both a major technology firm and helped a global non-profit shape a content strategy that encompasses 93 countries. This trend is already gaining serious momentum.

3. Content Grains Traction in the Enterprise Organizations are looking more seriously at issues surrounding content marketing, whether it be creating a global content strategy as mentioned above, or assessing needs and investments in tools, people, and other resources to ‘get content done.’ Then there’s the importance of gathering stories and assessing content needs beyond marketing into functions and lines of business ranging from sales, research and development, human resources, and other areas. To this end, content is becoming more deeply institutionalized. A fixture of the Fortune 100 list recently hired (but has not yet announced) a global content lead. Expect more formalized content positions and departments in the enterprise in the coming year.

4. Native Advertising Growth Native advertising, a form of converged media that marries content marketing with paid advertising, will continue to burgeon in 2017, providing desperately needed revenue to publishers who are investing in this more premium and customized service to advertisers. The New York Times’ content group T Brand Studio now employs 110 people. In 2015, revenues increased from $14 million to $35 million in 2015, and it now represents 18% of the company’s total digital advertising revenue. Time Inc. employs 125 people at its content group, the Foundry, and the Washington Post’s BrandStudio branded content unit also is growing quickly, as is The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Custom Studios. This trend will be driven by the continued eclipse of more traditional forms of digital advertising (see below), as well as brands’ growing sophistication with and confidence in content marketing. It’s a win-win for everyone but ad and media agencies, as brands partner directly with publishers on native advertising campaigns.

5. “Traditional” Digital Advertising Continues Its Decline Ad blockers. Ad fraud. Set-it-and-forget it programmatic campaigns that push horrible ads to unwilling consumers. Missing frequency aps that run the same ad again, and again, and again. Long load times that eat up consumers’ data plans. Adjacency issues, now particularly with the recent explosion of fake news. Platforms like iOS that block ads completely. Falling rate cards. It seems that display advertising an’t catch a break, and video advertising isn’t far behind (most consumers don’t make it to the 5 second mark. Advertising on the web isn’t going away any time soon (if ever), but it has certainly been regulated to ugly stepchild status, both by consumers and now increasingly by brands, too. In fact, it’s this decline in the efficacy of online advertising that in large part is spurring the shift to content and to other forms of marketing in owned and earned (rather than paid) channels. While it sometimes hardly seems possible, “traditional” forms of digital advertising will get worse before they get better. That, at least, is in my crystal ball for 2017.

Happy holidays and happy new year to all.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Global Content Strategy: It’s Gonna Be Big!

 

For the past few months, I’ve been interviewing content marketing executives at global enterprises about the challenges and opportunities they face when trying to scale up single-country or regional content marketing efforts to take them worldwide. (I’ve also been helping some brands build the strategies to make this happen.)

Here’s an advance look at some of my research findings. The full report publishes soon.

Five top global content strategy goals

When I asked global content strategy leaders what their top goals and responsibilities are, five clear themes emerged.

1. Creating a global content strategy While about half the organizations I interviewed said they have a global content strategy, the rest admit they don’t yet have that aspect of content marketing formalized. Some have domestic strategies or have worked out strategy on a country-by-country basis, but tying it all together is complex — from strategic and logistical standpoints, as well as from the perspective of convincing diverse stakeholders, groups and regions to get on the same page. If 70 percent of organizations in the US don’t yet have a documented content strategy domestically (according to numerous research studies, including my own), looping in over 93 nations is geometrically more complicated.

2. Evangelizing and socializing content strategy (and content, period) As one executive I interviewed put it, “A content strategy is just a piece of paper. The really difficult part is implementation.” “Evangelism” is a term I heard over and over. Convincing senior management to allocate budget. Determining who spearheads initiatives. Making certain numerous voices are heard, but that overarching rules and guidelines are enforced. Developing training programs, perhaps establishing a Center of Excellence. Small wonder that when asked what their principal duties as global content leaders are, “change management” was the most-cited term.

3. People Content can’t happen without people, one of the three lynchpins of enabling a strategy (the other two, process and technology, follow). A global content strategy requires buy-in from senior leadership. It also requires content leaders, often in central command roles, as well as regional leaders who can help oversee efforts on the ground in, say, Europe, Asia or Latin America. People in lines of business other than marketing have to be involved in content initiatives, too. IT is one obvious area; so, too, is legal. But the really good content leaders know looping in divisions where stories and customer-facing issues lie is also critical. This means establishing relationships with customer service, product groups and internal thought leaders, not to mention sales divisions and often even HR and recruiting. Content strategy relies on strong relationships, consensus building and the ability to tap into diverse skill sets.

4. Process The components that enable and streamline a global content strategy are, by definition, more complex than what keeps a single-country content strategy chugging along. As a content leader in Scandinavia puts it, “Process and governance are where it gets complicated and expensive. But leave these out and quality is the first casualty.” Overwhelmingly, I’m finding process is driven top-down. Most organizations have a central, overarching content strategy or, failing a formal strategy, governance on levels such as brand and/or legal. But at the same time, process must also be driven bottom up, with countries and regions given enough leeway to develop their own initiatives, and also granted sufficient resources to allow that to happen. Establishing process also means developing training. Nearly every organization I interviewed has initiated formal training, ranging from mandatory courses in topics such as Digital 101 to highly specialized modules on discrete disciplines. Finally, process encompasses metrics and KPIs, broken out for global, as well as regional and local initiatives.

5. Technology Clearly, no digital marketing initiative occurs without technology, global content marketing being no exception. Technology’s role is to enable, centralize, streamline and optimize. The number one need I heard in my interviews (as well as from companies I’ve worked with in this capacity) is centralized assets — a digital asset repository where creative elements can be easily stored, accessed and retrieved. Not only does this require the usual tool assessments, but also carefully designed taxonomies and tagging that will work across languages and cultures. Shared assets are just part of the call from collaboration tools. Unilever has saved millions of dollars worldwide by enabling shared assets and collaboration, so multiple agencies and internal stakeholders can drink from the same well, so to speak. Knowledge sharing is another important role of technology, as well as the ability to share work and results. Nestlé has built out an extensive internal social network for content creators for exactly that reason. Finally, while it’s important to assess tools for global accessibility and fluency in multiple languages and alphabets, it’s essential to understand there will be exceptions in regions like China, where firewalls create a need for separate systems.

Final thoughts

As I finalize this research, I look forward to sharing more findings.

In the meantime, if you’re conducting content marketing on a global scale, please share your successes and challenges with me.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

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

Rebecca Lieb's picture

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.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

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.

 

Rebecca Lieb's picture

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

Rebecca Lieb's picture

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

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
 

Rebecca Lieb's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Confine Content To A Single Unit Or Vertical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Avoid Content Audits

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

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

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

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

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

5. Measure Only Sales

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

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

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

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb

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

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