Companies have gotten the message that content is king, and they’ve been churning it out like crazy. Every company wants to achieve thought leadership and turn the brand and the CEO into household names, but it's getting harder and harder to be heard above the noise. In the Martech category for example, there are now over 7,000 vendors trying to grab mindshare and have some influence over buying criteria.
During this moment of global crisis, it’s more important than ever for companies to be able to connect with prospects and customers on an emotional level, yet many are already struggling to get their message across. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s “B2B Content Marketing 2020: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends,” just 26 percent of B2B companies said their content marketing was very or extremely successful.
Not only that, with all the different channels and platforms you have to feed, the scale has become very challenging. The idea that content marketing is writing only no longer applies; it’s also infographics, Instagram stories, podcasts, videos and social posts. And, now that we're moving to this age of personalization and hyper-targeting, you have to iterate these for many audiences across all these platforms. An explosion of content is required.
The good news is that in the rush to create content and more content, many content creators are neglecting some of the foundational elements. Companies willing to invest in these fundamentals may be able to stand out from the crowd and significantly improve the performance of their content. Here are five areas to invest in:
1. Get your messaging down.
It seems to be a rare company that dives into their branding and messaging to craft an aligned strategy before generating a bunch of content. But, when you don’t have a positioning strategy, you often don’t have a clear and compelling story to tell — one that sets you apart from the competition. You also may not have a handle on exactly who your audience is.
It’s tempting to skip this step, because it takes time, and that delays execution. However, having those positioning and messaging documents, along with brand guidelines and perhaps buyer personas, can make design and content creation so much faster and easier. The communication effort, including back and forth over revisions, will be much lighter, because everyone is already aligned. Without these elements, you may well end up with content that has no clear focus and sends mixed messages — or sounds the wrong note.
In light of the pandemic we’re living through right now, almost every company creating content needs to take a pause and reevaluate their positioning and messaging. Everything has suddenly changed, and your talk track and content calendar may need to change with it.
2. Be proactive with SEO.
SEO is often afterthought; it seems that a lot of people still think of it as what you do after your writer and your designer are all done — just a final tweaking to splash in some keywords and tags before it goes live.
Along with positioning and messaging, keyword research should be used to inform the content strategy up front. It's what should help you identify the green field opportunity, the space in the conversation that no one’s claimed yet. It should help you prioritize what content to create first, second, and third.
The days when a short, keyword stuffed blog post could leap to the top of page one is long gone. Search algorithms have gotten much smarter about identifying high quality content, and how much people interact with and share content carries a good deal of weight in determining that.
That means creating content people really want to consume. Long, technical white papers are being replaced by shorter technical briefs, e-books with a lot of pictures and graphics, or reports supported by data, preferably the company’s own.
Creating some kind of proprietary, research-based report that you can release on an annual basis is another opportunity. These can give you a ton of mileage. It gives you credibility and positions you as a thought leader because people re-share it and cite it. And, it generates backlinks and enhances domain authority.
3. Democratize content creation.
Corporate marketing, the idea that you can push a corporate message out there and make it stick, or that only the CEO or a spokesperson should speak for the company, no longer applies. People want to hear from the people who build the product, or work in customer service. You can elevate anybody in the company. It's the democratization of authorship.
Of course, not everyone in the company can write, make a podcast or a video, or has time to, so you may need writers, editors and producers to support the “talent.”
In that same vein, the idea that you have to hire a big, name brand agency to get traction in a market also no longer applies. A while back, we worked with a client launching a consumer service in a few markets. Their first pass was to bring in a large, venerable firm which created ads that cost six figures and didn’t bring in even one customer.
Their next pass was to hire some people who went around taking pictures with their smartphones, showing the cars and blogging about fun things to do in various locations they had driven to, and those were much more successful.
4. Hire pros.
One way to stand out is to elevate the writing, design and production values. Some companies are going in the direction of having writers, designers, videographers and producers on staff, or on retainer, for a couple reasons.
One is that it’s just hard to be really good at these things unless it’s your full-time job. Plenty of marketers can crank out a blog post or whip up a graphic using an online template, but they struggle to fit it into their day. There's also a lot of intimidation and paralysis, especially around video. Companies know that they should be doing something with video, because they keep hearing how effective it is, but it feels like a heavy lift.
Professionals can do these things more effectively than classic marketing or product people might, and they're also a lot faster. They do this all day, every day, and can really give it the time and attention it needs.
5. Consider outsourcing.
For startups, outsourcing all the content creation can be a great move because they often don’t have headcount for a writer, designer or videographer. Even though these might be part of someone’s job description, in many marketing organizations, everyone’s wearing six hats and there is a need to create much more content than they can squeeze out time for.
With larger companies, it can be helpful to outsource when you’re doing something big that can strain the capacity of the team. Let’s say a company sells to eight different verticals, and they want to have industry solution overviews for each, along with sales enablement. Before you know it, you have 30 pieces of content you need to create. It works well to have an internal person create the first version for one vertical, to set the style and the tone, and then bring in a team of consultants to scale the effort.
Ditto for campaigns, product launches, and events. These require a burst of activity, a rush to deadline, and typically a lot of different assets need to be created — landing pages; blogs; maybe a piece of anchor content such as a report or presentation, and then ads and social posts. It can be really helpful to have people who can just go to town on all that while the internal team stays focused on their day job.
6. Put tracking in place.
Despite all the talk about data driven marketing, many companies still do a poor job of tracking and reporting on content performance. It’s usually an afterthought, when they’ve been investing in content for a while and someone inevitably asks if it’s working. Then they pull a report and find out the data’s not all there, and what data is there is not quite the way you'd want to look at it.
The ultimate goal is to tie content to sales, but that is not always an easy task. At the very least, you want to be able to tell how many people read a particular article or watched a video or listened to a podcast. You want to know how many people liked, shared, and commented on your social posts. Track these over time so you can spot the patterns that emerge and use that data to further inform your content creation effort.
Use Google Analytics for basic tracking, such as traffic to different pieces of content over time, and by source (organic, referral, etc.). You should also track engagement metrics such as time on page, bounce rate, and percentage of people exiting your site from that page in GA.
If your content is incorporated into automation streams or nurture campaigns, track conversion rate (e.g., lead submit) and pageviews, which could boost prospect's lead score.
By putting in place a solid strategy aligned with your strategic positioning and messaging, creating high quality content, you’ll be able to stand out in the crowd. By following up to see what people really respond to and then iterating on that, you’ll be well on your way to the real purpose of content marketing — genuine customer engagement.
Charlie Mock, EM Head of Growth & Data Analytics, also contributed to this article.