content marketing

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content Metrics 101

In digital channels, everything can be measured, and content marketing initiatives are no exception to that rule. Without measurement, there’s no way of knowing what’s working and what isn’t. You won’t have any information upon which you can refine or improve results, or jettison the stuff that’s less effective.

In short, you should never begin content marketing until you have an ongoing plan for measurement and analysis. Not only will it continually inform endeavors as they move forward, it also justifies the time, energy, resources, and budget required to get those endeavors underway to the people in the corner office.

Establish a measurement plan
The first step is determining what will be measured. Yet when you can measure practically everything, narrowing that list down to the essentials is a daunting but necessary task. Skip it and you put yourself at high risk for what web analytics pros call “analysis paralysis.” Confronted with mountains of web analytics data throws even the most stalwart people into deer-in-headlights mode.

So the first step in setting up a plan for measurement is establishing key performance indicators (KPIs), perhaps five or so. These are the core goals that are foundational to success. KPIs vary depending on goals. Examples might be newsletter sign-ups, white paper downloads, leads from a contact form, increased site traffic, higher search rankings, inbound phone calls, increased online orders, higher brand (or product) awareness, more inbound links, and keyword value. It’s your call, so long as KPIs are relevant to business and marketing goals and are measurable.

Let’s examine some of the top content marketing KPIs.

Web traffic and engagement
We’ve evolved well beyond the early internet era when “clicks” or “hits” were the ne plus ultra of site owner goals. It’s not just traffic that counts, it’s what the traffic does that matters — users exhibiting desired behaviors, such as downloading, sharing, commenting, signing up for a newsletter, or calling a call center. Use an analytics package to track behaviors (Goals in Google Analytics) helps to answer these questions.

Where the traffic goes is equally important to when they consume a piece of content. Do they stick with it to the end or bail off the page after only a few seconds? Are they visiting the pages or site sections you want them to?

Others use website analysis to assess that very elusive (but oh-so-desirable) goal of user engagement. To measure engagement, you have to define it (which no one really has). That’s not stopping you from developing a working definition of your own. Perhaps it’s someone who viewed three or more pages, or spent three or more minutes on the site, or a visitor who returned multiple times. Traffic is a metric that can also be applied to social media (e.g., “likes” on Facebook).

Search keywords are also a value that can be very effectively tied to traffic. What keywords are visitors using to find your content? What are the highest-converting keywords (e.g., the ones that lead visitors where you want them to go, or that make them stick around longer and consume more)? You ought to create more content for them! Keywords are worthwhile for almost any content marketer to measure.

Bottom line? Slice traffic measurement any way you want to, just so long as what you measure is in consistent, pre-defined units.

Sales
A survey conducted in 2010 by Bazaarvoice and The CMO Club shows CMOs aspire to move beyond engagement (number of fans, site traffic, etc.) to tie social media more closely into hard business metrics such as revenue and conversion.

Sometimes it’s easy to tie content directly into sales. Yet very often, no matter how effective the content, there are still secondary and often tertiary steps in the sales cycle (most often, long- or short-term cycles of lead generation and consideration).

This is where it’s important to build attribution methods into content marketing initiatives to get credit where it’s due. Online registration forms are one method (e.g., prior to downloading a white paper). Other companies assign discrete 800 numbers to different pieces of content to learn what generates calls. In some cases, definitively demonstrating content marketing shortens a sales cycle and can be an effective proof of its worth.

Qualitative customer feedback
Friends, fans, “likes,” comments, reviews, survey responses — everyone likes to be liked, and being liked does impart value. The question, of course, is how much value? A “like” on Facebook from a member with a closed profile or with only a dozen friends in their network is clearly not worth that same “like” from a member with an open profile — and thousands of friends who see that message.

Feedback serves other purposes than the network effect. Comments on content, product reviews, and tweets can lead to improvements and refinements in products, customer service, and research and development. Recommendations and becoming a fan can aid in branding and awareness, or in the perception of your company or its executives as credible thought leaders. Positive Twitter mentions serve much the same purpose.

Once again, this may be an area essential to your own KPIs, but it requires analysis and refinement before deployment.

Sales lead quality
Content-oriented marketing initiatives crafted to engage and educate a target audience are the most effective at driving “high value leads most likely to convert to sales” (Lenskold Group/emedia Lead Generation Marketing ROI study, 2010).

Yet to implement sales lead quality as a metric, you must first define a “quality lead.” Perhaps it’s by job title (e.g., parsing out VP and above titles from the average site visitor). Bear in mind, however, this depends on the type of offering and sales cycle. It’s hard to define a quality lead for toothpaste because everyone buys it. In large enterprises, a VP may not be as important a qualifier as someone from procurement. Alternately, a high quality lead may be someone who watched an online demo and downloaded a white paper prior to getting in touch. (My recently published research report on content marketing, available as a free download, contains a full case study of this example.)

By all means, measure sales lead quality. First, ensure you can define and identify it!

Search (and social media) ranking (and visibility)
Increased search awareness is often the primary goal of content marketing. It’s not just getting the company or product name to rank high in organic search results; it’s also ranking for the relevant keywords and phrases searchers use to find what you’re offering — at all stages of the sales and lead development cycle. Web analytics help gauge this. So do services such as Alexa.com and Compete.com, which benchmark search terms for you as well as competitors.

Boosting SEO ranking is more than mere visibility, however. Judiciously optimizing for the right keywords helps connect with the right visitors who are most likely to engage with content, and ultimately convert.

Similarly, social media visibility boosts search rankings and can also increase awareness, buzz, branding, and other key metrics around a brand, product, or service.

Conclusion
An attractive aspect of content marketing is that it’s a highly creative, right-brain discipline. Content marketers tell stories, use images, produce videos, and are wordsmiths. Yet all that creativity must be governed by discipline, measurement, and a strong degree of precision. Choosing what metrics matter, why, and how to actually measure them is just as critical as the creative element of content marketing.

Image: Medicalengineer.co.uk

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content Marketing. Content Strategy. What's the Difference?

So content is the new black (and some 270,000 exact-match results for that phrase on Google suggest it's at least a deep, deep indigo). Inevitably, that's meant an escalated level of chatter, talk, and pontificating about content's role in the digital mix.

As more and more marketers consider how content can work for them in the digital mix, a certain degree of confusion is beginning to obfuscate discussions and debates. Two very distinct disciplines, content strategy and content marketing, are beginning to blur. And if they're not blurring, too many people are too carelessly using the terms interchangeably.

As with many marketing-related terms, it's tough to nail down precise, etched-in-stone definitions for either term. But it's nonetheless clear that content marketing and content strategy are not interchangeable concepts, nor do they refer to the same thing. There is, as we'll soon see, a huge degree of interdependence.

Let's throw some existing definitions out there for considerations, shall we?

Content strategy

  • Content strategy has been described as "the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance" and "a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project." And also "achieving business goals by maximizing the impact of content." (Wikipedia)
  • "Using 'words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.'" (Rachel Lovinger, "Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data")
  • "Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content... The content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we're publishing it in the first place. Otherwise, content strategy isn't strategy at all: it's just a glorified production line for content nobody really needs or wants. Content strategy is also -- surprise -- a key deliverable for which the content strategist is responsible. Its development is necessarily preceded by a detailed audit and analysis of existing content." -- Kristina Halvorson

Content marketing

  • "Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant, and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty." (Wikipedia)
  • "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action." -- Joe Pulizzi

Content strategy is what makes content marketing effective. I like Ahava Leibtag's take on the issue. She says content strategies are about repeatable frameworks, and content marketing is about building relationships. Marketers, she says, don't necessarily create content strategies, but rather implement them.

Evolution, on both sides

Back in the day, content strategy was primarily relegated to the user experience and website development processes. Small wonder. In the Web 1.0 era, your own site was pretty much the only thing online you could control or influence, content wise. Content strategy has blown beyond the walled garden and expanded to embrace auditing, analyzing, creating, disseminating, and governing content in a myriad of channels, ranging from more dynamic websites to the entire scope of Web 2.0 options out there in the wild (and often, how those same rules and processes should be applied to offline channels, as well).

Content strategy underpins content marketing. Without examining the competitive landscape, current assets, gaps, resources, the market, and plenty of other aspects, content marketing barely has a leg to stand on. Without a strategy, content marketing turns into one of those classic, eye-rolling imperatives all too familiar to digital marketers: "We need a Facebook page!" or "We ought to be blogging!" or "How come we're not on Twitter?"

The obvious answer, of course, is because we don't have a strategy. Content marketing is all very well and good, but the reason to do it isn't because all the cool kids are doing it. Without a strategic foundation, a structure, an analysis of resources and needs, and a system in place to measure results, all you're doing is Facebooking. Or blogging. Or tweeting.

More of both
Interruption-based marketing will never go away, but it's receding -- quickly. Research I published yesterday, for which we interviewed over 56 marketing leaders, found literally all of them are increasing their investment in content marketing and content strategy alike. Moreover, they're investing in increasing more complex and technologically difficult content channels, which makes a strategic framework all the more essential.

If not today, then soon -- very soon -- your marketing spend will shift away from advertising and direct response campaigns and into content initiatives that strengthen ties and deepen relationships with customers and prospects.

The best way to prepare is to start developing content marketing initiatives. And the only way to do that is to first do the research and the homework by developing a solid content strategy framework around these content marketing efforts.

This post was adapted from a column that originally appeared on iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Rebalancing for Content - The New Marketing Equation

There's been a rash of news stories recently with headlines so misleading it's hard to believe they passed editorial muster. Yet a quick search of Google News reveals no less than five articles with ledes very much like this one: "P&G to cut 1600 staff after CEO discovers digital media is free".

Any serious marketer knows "free" is nonsense. As with SEO, content marketing shakes marketers loose from the expense of the media buy. But budgets, staffing, skill sets, education, agency relationships, investments in technology and shifting strategy to align content with other marketing initiatives (yes, even advertising) all require substantial investment, and require marketers to rebalance both strategies and tactics.

That's what Content: The New Marketing Equation examines. Following on the heels of my book on content marketing, which looks at why content marketing matters, this research report examines how organizations are adapting to the challenges it presents: the need to think like a publisher rather than an advertiser; moving from episodic campaigns to sustained content initiatives; and creating a genuine culture of content throughout the organization because stories don't reside in the marketing department.

The report identifies the five stages of maturity an organization can achieve as it becomes more proficient at content marketing, including a self-assessment tool to score your own level of content proficiency. We also look at the content channels marketers are using now, and those they say they will in the future. As they move away from text-based channels, e.g. articles and blogging, into more technologically sophisticated areas such as video, mobile and image-based information, it's clear "free" does not enter into the equation.

For the report, we conducted 56 interviews with subject matter experts and companies as diverse as Coca-Cola, American Express, GE, IBM, Adobe, Ford Motor Company, Wells Fargo, and Intel. Below, the questions we asked each interview subject.

  • How much of your/your clients' content creation is outsourced vs created in house? (rough % question)
  • Have you run into any problems with outsourcing content creation to agencies?  Have they been able to effectively align the content they create with your brand ?
  • Can – and should - content marketing initiatives be reconciled and integrated with advertising?
  • What are the most effective types of content you've used to promote your brand?
  • How should organizations rebalance? How should internal and external resources be aligned? How do they integrate silos for more effective messaging and spend?
  • Have you needed to hire new employees or create new teams?  How many did you have to bring on?  Which teams did you have to create?  What drove you to the conclusion that this rebalancing was necessary?
  • Where are these new resources coming from? Should they be assigned to the same agency that handles advertising? Outsourced to PR firms, digital consultancies – or staffed in-house? Can they – and should they – be integrated with or otherwise reconciled with “classic” advertising?
  • How are internal staffing needs changing? How much content creation can realistically be outsourced – does this lead to a “clueless handler” situation?
  • How are determinations being made regarding when it’s better to buy vs. create or earn media?  Who ultimately makes that decision?
  • How do you determine the optimal mix between bought vs earned media?
  • What types of agencies (advertising, PR or new breed) can walk the walk and support content marketing initiatives? (Lord knows, everyone and their brother is talking the talk.)
  • What qualities do you look for when evaluating these agencies?
  • What are the most common 'red flags' you look for when deciding to work with an agency?
  • How do you get management buy-in and measure content marketing initiatives?
  • What new types of content do you anticipate adding to your arsenal in the next year?  Three years out?
  • Which types of content do you plan to phase out or found ineffective?
  • How is your organization adapting its structure to accommodate content marketing?
  • Are there any questions that you wish we had asked you/we should have asked? And who else do you think we should speak to for this research report?

Many thanks to the numerous people who tirelessly contributed their time, knowledge and expertise to making this research happen. We'd be delighted to hear your reactions and to provide direction or guidance on your own content marketing or strategy needs.

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

Thanks to the media and bloggers discussing this research:

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Mobile Strategies for Retailers (and Marketers)

There are three types of content marketing: the two types everyone immediately 'gets' (entertainment content and educational content), and #3, which generally takes a while to sink it. I call it utility content. It's not narrative. It doesn't tell a story or teach you how to do something. Instead, it does something for you.

Think online mortgage calculators, or those forms that figure out what you should weigh based on height, age and gender. They're wonderful content for sites that sell financial instruments or diet-related products. Yet increasingly often, utility content is mobile. Apps help consumers find goods and services on the go, deposit a check in the bank, and perhaps first and foremost, to shop.

My colleague Chris Silva has just published a research report "Make An App For That: Mobile Strategies For Retailers" (embedded below). Marketers can learn a lot from reading it, too. Outlining successful mobile strategies from the likes of Best Buy, Starbucks and Zappos.

The report divides retail mobile app strategy into two umbrella channels; Enrich, or drive transactions; and Engage, to improve user interaction and brand affinity. It then walks readers through the strategy and development steps for turning a concept into an app.

If you're a retailer, you need to read this report. If you're a marketer working in, or considering mobile channels, you really ought to. Make An App For That: Mobile Strategies For Retailers

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook’s IPO: What Does It Mean For…?

Me, visiting Facebook HQ the week before their S-1 filing

Over 800 million active users - more than half of whom log in on any given day and interact with over 900 million "objects" (pages, groups, communities, etc.). Over 250 million photos uploaded every day, over 70 languages on the site. The stats go on and on, and any way you look at them, the numbers are huge.

How can Facebook grow bigger still? That's what we're waiting so see as the tech world - heck, the world at large - holds it breath for the biggest IPO since Google went public in 2004.

There's practically consensus that Facebook will go public in June, meaning an announcement (and a prospectus) are almost imminently forthcoming. This has naturally sparked conversation among Altimeter Group analysts (notably Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis and myself) as we discuss and debate the implications of the Big Event, and work to come up with clear answers to the many questions we're being asked by journalists working on what, outside of the presidential election, will be one of the biggest stories of 2012.

Here are some of our answers to the many "will this happen?" and "what does it mean..?" questions we've been fielding from the media regarding Facebook's IPO:

 

 

What does it mean….to Facebook employees? There will most certainly be retention issues. Some key employees will quit. They'll travel, or buy houses and cars with newfound wealth.  It will also increase the already fierce talent war with tangible value. Facebook will attract different employees, while early innovators who value a start-up culture will go elsewhere.  Expect to see a Facebook Mafia of investors begin to emerge.  Still others will spin off and form new companies. This has big implications for future innovation. Facebook may face some short term losses, but the tech industry will see an infusion of new capital and new ideas.

What does it mean….for future IPOs? Will Twitter and [fill in the blank] go public right away? If Facebook's IPO is successful, a rising tide will likely raise all boats. But Facebook has built a real business and has a solid advertising model. It's already an enormous company. Twitter (and others) is at a very different phase in its lifecycle.

How is Facebook's IPO different from Web 1.0 and the dot-come bubble? There are real business models here, with real revenues.  

How will Facebook's IPO be influenced by recent, unspectacular IPOs, such as Groupon or Zynga? Facebook is an enormous, global company,  the proverbial 900-lb. gorilla. Facebook's IPO is more analogous to Google going public and not at all comparable to smaller players in the tech space. It is, however, important to note that many, many smaller companies are part of a much larger Facebook ecosystem. This includes ad agencies, technology firms, analytics firms, mobile players, brand marketers, social commerce providers, media companies and a myriad of players (such as Zynga, itself a Facebook partner) with a business model directly coupled with Facebook's API. When looking at Facebook's revenues, it's critical investors understand the difference between advertising revenues, that flow directly into Facebook's coffers, and marketing spend that benefits the Facebook ecosystem, but not directly into Facebook itself.

What's to stop Facebook from imploding, as MySpace did? MySpace remained static. Facebook continues to innovate, and to push audience beyond where they are comfortable, often to great success. Not so long ago members had to have a .edu address to join, remember? A hue and cry was raised when Facebook opened to everyone. In a conversation today at Facebook headquarters, spokesman Brandon McCormick said the more users complain about new features, the more data reveal they're actually using those features more. "We're a social network," he said, "we have a natural feedback mechanism. People use our product to complain about our product. People hated the Newsfeed when we launched it, now it's the core of how they use the product. If we changed everything the second they started complaining, we wouldn't have the data."

Courageous -- and based on hard data.

It's never uninteresting to keep an eye on Facebook, no more so than now. We'll continue to watch and to share our thoughts on Facebook's IPO. And we're always happy to share our observations with the media. Get in touch with us at press[at]altimetergroup.com

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Learning in 2012: My 10 Top Digital Marketing & Media Topics

Another year, another stream of predictions. Not that predictions aren't interesting, mind you, but I've never been one to focus on them. Sure, I avidly follow trends in digital marketing and media, but what really jazzes me about following the sector for a living is the surprise factor. It's not knowing what comes next because next can be so out-of-left-field disruptive.

The other cool thing about this job is it's like being permanently enrolled in grad school. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I happen to love constantly watching and learning. So rather than share predictions for 2012, it seems more grounded and sensible to share a list of the top things I plan to study more closely and learn more about in 2012. Perhaps one or two of these topics will turn into a formal research report, perhaps not (oh, to be able to deep-dive into everything!).

  1. Behavioral Targeting: Not to begin on a negative, but I'm becoming increasingly convinced BT plain doesn't work. That's why I'd like to examine it more closely. Having done all my holiday shopping online, as well as extensive research and buying for a home remodeling project, it's appalling how many wasted BT ads I see, most for the selfsame products I actually bought from the advertiser. "This can't be right," says my consumer persona to my analyst persona. "Look more closely at the methodology of all those studies out there that 'prove' BT's effectiveness."
  2. Personalized Search This has been going on a while now, of course, but more and more, your search results differ significantly from my search results. Location, time of day, social graphs, search history -- a zillion factors figure in to what search results are displayed, and as a result, what ads and data appear in your browser. Need to keep up with this continually moving target.
  3. Social Media Fatigue Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Foursquare, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Miso - and that's just a few off the top of my head. Just as consumers never watched all of the 200 or so cable channels bundled into their subscription packages, there's only so many hours in the day to update where you are, what you're doing, what you're watching and eating and with whom. This space seems primed to shake out, doesn't it? How will consumer behavior and adoption change, and how fast can new social plays keep launching?
  4. Big Data Collecting, crunching and making actionable data from disparate on- and offline sources will require significant investments in technology, manpower and learning for companies. Big data is all the buzz, yet many marketers still don't know precisely what it is. Everyone needs to bone up on this topic in 2012.
  5. Real-Time Marketing Top consumer brands, notably Pepsi, are starting to take this topic very seriously, and even some B2B giants such as GE are looking at the space. Monitoring, assessing, triaging, assigning, and responding to real-time conversations, events, posts, tweets and other digital information increasingly matters. And like Big Data, the challenges and resources it requires are formidable. A fascinating area to keep an eye on.
  6. Regulated Industries It's fascinating to watch highly regulated industries, such as pharma and banking, attempt to embrace digital marketing in general, and social media in particular. They face formidable barriers and more interesting challenges than most. I'm hoping to speak with more marketers from regulated sectors to learn more about how they're coping.
  7. Internet of Things When everything has an IP address, everything gets a lot more interesting. Once devices from cars to refrigerators and the dog's food bowl are connected, the implications for marketing, communication and even society will take surprises turns. This space is quite simply mesmerizing.
  8. Effects of Social Movements Occupy Wall Street fallout, the presidential election in the US, societal shifts in the Middle East. Social change resonates in digital channels (and vice versa). It's going to be a big year for social change, and that will inevitably impact digital.
  9. What's Starting Up? As always, I'll be keeping a close eye on start-ups. What's launching trend-wise? Who's getting funded? Who isn't? Following the money and the technology is not optional - it's integral to watching this space.
  10. Content Marketing A pet topic, the subject of my most recent book and my forthcoming research report. Keeping a close eye on how marketers are moving into content, which requires a rebalance of thought processes (ongoing, not episodic, campaign-based thinking), as well as new budgets, agency relationship and staffing requirements - not to mention a shift in corporate culture.

That's my 2012 syllabus. What's yours?

Please reply in the comments. And if you're behind a company active in one of the above areas, perhaps we should arrange a briefing sometime this year.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

A Content Marketing Conversation at Digiday Agency

It's always a good thing when industry conferences share their content, speakers and insights with the wider world. We can't all be in the same room at the same time, after all.

This week at Digiday Agency, Pulsepoint's razor-sharp CMO Rose Ann Horan and I kicked off the day with a half hour chat about content marketing. Because my upcoming research examines how agencies and enterprises alike are shifting resources and strategy to meet new demands in a world shifting from media buying to content creation, it was exciting to take the discussion into an agency context.

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Content Marketing: How to Play It Forward

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

One essential difference between content marketing and episodic, campaign based advertising is the former is a continuum. It has a beginning and a middle, but the end should ideally recede somewhere over the horizon.

It’s therefore essential to plan for continuity in content marketing. Without a story, characters, a theme or a hook that has legs over time, the well will run dry awfully fast and marketers will find themselves staring at the proverbial blank page, puzzling over how to fill it.

What strategies and tactics can marketers adopt to ensure longevity? There are several, and they fall into fairly neat categories. The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but instead aimed a getting you thinking about the themes that make content sustainable.

Character: Marketing is rife with mascots, from sock puppets to Mr. Clean, from Mr. Whipple to Madge the Manicurist (“You’re soaking in it.”). A strong character drives narrative. JWT’s “Believe” campaign for Macy’s is centered around a fictionalized version of Virginia O'Hanlon, the real-life girl who wrote the letter resulting in the famous editorial “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Virginia (pictured above) appears in animations on the store’s website, as an augmented reality character in certain points of the store itself, and even stars in an animated television special. There are supporting characters in her story, and licensing agreements are underway for a line of dolls and toys.

Yes, Virginia, characters can be a content marketing tent pole.

Curation: Just as Virginia existed in real-life, so does a lot of useful content in the wild. No matter your product, service or industry, there’s lenty of content about it out there already, and likely more every day: news, trade publications, conferences, blogs, online videos, interviews and much more – more than your target audience is likely willing to wade through without guidance.

That’s where content curation comes in. Rather than reinvent the wheel, curation is a continual approach to judiciously finding and presenting relevant, topical and current content on a given topic, industry or area. It’s a common tactic. Nearly half of marketing executives (48%) are using content curation according to a 2011 survey from HiveFire.

People inherently rely on trusted sources: friends, family, brands, companies, experts, you-name-it, to help keep them informed, educated and even amused. Just as you probably have one go-to friend for car advice, another who can tell you what new books or films are worth seeing, or another who’s got the lowdown on the latest places to eat, business are collecting, organizing and filtering content around their own fields of expertise.

Community: Build it and they will come – and create content for you. OK, maybe it’s not that simple, but plenty of companies have benefited tremendously from creating communities in which consumers can gather to discuss given topics. This holds particularly true in the tech sector, where brands such as Apple, Microsoft, IBM and any number of major electronics manufacturers run forums in which members can discuss business problems and product issues, offering one another help and support.

The benefits go far beyond ongoing content creation. By listening and participating in discussions, the sponsoring brand has an early-warning system regarding problems, issues and often, competition in the field. Monitoring discussions can lead to advances in product development, and customer service expenditures can be dramatically reduced when customers are empowered to help one another.

Rubrics: News isn’t predictable, but newspapers are (magazines, too). Pick a periodical, any periodical, and you’ll find a wealth of regularly scheduled features and columns: the editorial page, a daily horoscope, or a weekend “What’s On” section. Wednesdays may be devoted to cooking and recipes, Thursdays to cars, or home design, or science. These regular features anchor the publication. They give readers something to look forward to (and return to).

Content marketing can work on the same principle. Develop regular, repeatable content units: an events calendar, expert opinion columns, how-tos, a video of the week. Make it original, repeatable, and schedule it to appear regularly. Rather than re-invent the wheel, these editorial calendar foundations drive their own momentum while providing the audience with both new material and a reassuring sense of familiarity.

The above is only the beginning of ways you can play content forward. We haven’t even begun to discuss user-generated content (hey, why should you do all the work!), or ongoing initiatives in how-to, utility or educational content.

But by now, you should get the idea: sustainability. It sure beats looking at a blank page and wondering how to fill it, day in and day out.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content Roundup

Most of my writings on digital marketing, advertising and media don't make it to this blog. Instead, they're published elsewhere - and a girl can do only so much typing sometimes.

So herewith, a roundup of recently published thinking that's appeared elsewhere over the past month or so:

My new book! Obviously, this is the big one.  Content Marketing published in late October. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you read it. And thanks for waiting at least a couple of months before asking when I plan to write the next book!

The Altimeter Blog Some topics I've address on my company's blog include covering a Pilot Event at company HQ on the future of media at which I spoke with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang; Occupy Wall Street: Disruption & Leaderless Leadership; and thinking about how content marketing is impacting the advertising ecosystem, the topic of the research report I'm currently working on. It will look at how organizations are rebalancing to incorporate content marketing into their other marketing activities.

TopRank Blog I was honored when my friend (and interview subject for the above-cited research report) Lee Odden) asked me to guest post on his TopRank blog on Mastering the Content Workflow. It's a bit of tactical advice for getting a marketing operation running like a newsroom.

iMedia Connection For the better part of the year, I've been writing a fortnightly column for iMedia Connection. My editors there just invited me to write my first feature (or as they call it, "cover story") on mastering geek speak. It's practical advice for marketers struggling to communicate with their developer and programmer and generally more techie colleagues. Never have left brain/right brain schisms been deeper than in digital marketing disciplines, but there are ways to bridge those two hemispheres of the brain.

Other recent columns for iMedia include a guide to getting started with content metrics (based on a recent talk I gave at eMetrics New York); and avoiding brand embarassments in real-time.  

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Transmedia Storytelling: Once Upon a Time

Transmedia storytelling. Quite the buzz term of late, particularly in content marketing circles. In case you're not au courant, Wikipedia define the term as "the technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchisessequels or adaptations."

If you haven't already heard the term bandied about, you will. With the decline of any real form of mass media, a fundamental strategy of publishers and broadcaster, not to mention brands, will become getting consumers to follow stories across channels, media and devices, each bit a stepping stone toward the total brand experience (even if some of those steps are skipped or eliminated).

It's a concept I've been discussing in interviews I'm conducting for my in-progress research report on the impact content marketing is having on the advertising ecosystem. It popped up several times in discussion just today. Yet transmedia storytelling is at this juncture more likely more aspirational than it is a reality.

Print brands such as Hearst, Rodale, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Motor Trend, Vice, Slate, Thompson Reuters and The Onion have signed on to become programmers. Each will run one of the 100 or so original, branded channels YouTube is on the verge of launching, primarily with media companies and celebrities (Madonna, Jay-Z, Amy Poehler, Ashton Kutcher and  Deepak Chopra) but also with brands such as Red Bull.

Sure, it's a way of extending the brand, and hopefully of raking in some additional ad revenues. But when a traditionally print brand extends its reach into video, is it transmedia storytelling?

Don't bet on it. Indeed, many of these publishers have dabbled in video already, from running their own YouTube channels to adding video elements to digital stories.

We won't know until we see it, but it's more than likely these new YouTube channels will read as brand extensions, not extensions of the stories the brands are telling in other digital or analog channels. It's a gut instinct, but it seems likely that the considerable editorial talent at these brands has yet to acquire the skills, the thinking and the mindset to arc their stories across multiple channels, in multiple places. Print, digital and video departments aren't yet tightly integrated, not to mention orchestrated. Writers aren't necessarily telegenic. Eloquent as they may be in print, their storytelling skills don't always translate into talking to a camera (nor is that what they were hired for).

Real transmedia storytelling is something we've barely seen in digital yet. It borders on aspirational. Achieving it may require a new generation of storytellers who are digital natives with mad storytelling skills and production know-how who are really, truly platform agnostic.

We're not there yet, and it's much, much too soon to be calling print publishers' experiments with digital "transmedia," interesting as they'll be to observe.

Image creditdeanashour

Rebecca Lieb

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

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