Content is (once again) king.
Everywhere you look, the marketing discussion centers around using “content” to drive marketing results. For all the buzz, two key facts are consistently overlooked:
- Building effective content is hard.
- Doing it consistently is very hard.
I’m not going to pretend to have the all the answers to make it easy. But I’ve been giving the matter a lot of attention recently. I’ll be facilitating a class on content marketing for Demand Metric next month, and, as my Dad taught me, a deadline helps focus the mind.
Here’s my top 5 conclusions:
Content is, in Fact, Critical
Beyond the buzz, content is a critical element of the modern marketing engine. The B2B customer acquisition process is evolving quickly from a seller-push to a buyer-pull model. Engaging, informative, compelling, and even humorous content has huge role to play in greasing the buying process. If we don’t have a strong content strategy, our competitors will fill that void — and reap significant advantages in the buyer education process.
To Work Well, Content Must Be Very Good (and Most of it is Crap)
As I’ve said before, all marketing is an interruption. To cut through, great content must be clear, compelling, and have real value to its intended consumer. Unfortunately, most of what we see is salesy blather or obtuse technical material. Both are generally ignored. Bob London even gave it it a fitting name — content pollution.
Great content persuades. But it does so tastefully. It informs, educates, or entertains. I’m a firm believer that prospects buy things, they are not sold things. In other words, they convince themselves that ours is the right solution. It’s our role as marketers to help them reach this conclusion.
Like Success, Great Content Has Many Fathers
A lot of marketers I talk to seem to think that they must bear the entire content marketing burden. Wrong. Great content and great content ideas come from a variety of sources inside and outside the company. It’s our jobs as marketers to foster a culture of content generation and to ensure that good ideas are translated into great execution.
Too often, content development are one time, herculean efforts. We spend weeks developing a 12 page whitepaper (does anyone read 12 page whitepapers anyway?), complete with fancy diagrams. Then we heave it over the finish line, sigh a deep sigh, and move on the to the next project. Very obviously, this does not scale. Instead, we need to build content for maximum reuse.
Here is an example from my company, Sonatype. For the last two years, we’ve conducted an annual survey of our community to develop a deeper understanding of issues and opinions related to the products we offer. We’re fortunate to have a large and engaged community, so we were able to collect more than 2,500 responses to a fairly long-form survey. We had a tremendous amount of information and myriad ways to slice and dice it.
The survey effort is huge — but the content is compelling and the payoff is beyond huge. From our survey, we produced more than 20 infographics, multiple whitepapers, a press release, a widely shared Prezi presentation, several blogs posts, and content for a number of analyst presentations. We also garnered a ton of media attention. And it’s only April; we’ll continue to leverage our survey findings and content throughout the year.
Process is Good. In Moderation.
To scale, the content factory must rely on a variety of contributors. At the same time, it’s critical that your message remains somewhat consistent. I don’t mean scripted and robotic — just thematically consistent.
To achieve both objectives — a variety of contributors and consistent messaging — it’s important to implement a modicum process. Every organization is different and must determine its own rules. But my recommendation is to develop bands of content — ranging from totally uncontroversial technical materials to potentially explosive strategic announcements. Each band should have its own process and its own levels of approval. And each band should have the minimum possible bureaucracy to minimize misery and ensure you can move quickly. More than one content effort has floundered due to old school ‘control the message’ marketing management.
Like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about content. Anyone interested in attending my Demand Metric session, can register here.