Where are you in your journey to maximize your content marketing investment? As your team plans for the year ahead, this article to content marketing will support your brand storytelling efforts from ideation to execution and all the way through to measurement and optimization. It’s time to bring your PR and marketing teams together for a content program that reaches customers across all media channels.
The need to listen, evolve, and transform is more apparent than ever before in our marketing lifetime.
In a world shaped by movement, uncertainty, and confusion, your content strategy could make or break your brand’s reputation. Now is the time to audit your creative storytelling to ensure it’s consistent — from the digital DNA right through to amplification.
This involves assessing your content lanes for alignment with brand pillars, allotting resources to subject matter experts deep in your product or services base, and connecting with the middle of- the-funnel activities to pull prospects from consideration to intent to purchase.
Many are struggling with building the right framework for maximizing their content investment. That is, looking at the analytics of audience behaviors, evaluating content that resonates, building a compelling story, anchoring around a strong narrative, and mapping it to titles for lead-gen and pipeline growth.
Taken a step further, how do we monitor the RIGHT engagement and implement performance measurement to understand traffic-to-value and ROI? The new purchase cycle is no doubt a bit different, but the mechanics of the sale remain the same.
The question remains: Can your content replace the relationship side of the engagement? The short answer is no. But there is no question that it must align and support that buyer journey in this current age of “digital everything.”
At a time when the opportunity for content to move from an ancillary, nice-to-have feature of a broader marketing approach to a critical component of any marketer’s strategy, this article will discuss all-things modern content marketing as part of a comprehensive, digitally agile framework to serve as the cornerstone of your campaigns.
- Step 1: Discover & Assess Your Current Content Marketing Strategy
- Step 2: Don’t Just Write Content. Build Emotionally Connected Narratives
- Step 3: Enhance Your Content Distribution Strategy
- Step 4: Measure Your Content’s Impact, from Ideation to Execution
The First Steps Toward Building Your Content Marketing Strategy: Discover & Assess
Back in 2015, Seth Godin, known by some as the godfather of modern marketing, made a bold statement: “Content marketing is the only marketing left.”
What he meant is that marketers should only create content that their audience genuinely cares about and wants to consume, rather than place brand messages in front of the general public in the hopes they might resonate.
We have come a long way in the last six years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the shift toward the need for brands to create content that is intentionally designed to attract and retain your target audience’s attention, gain their trust and convert into customers.
Forrester recently explained the fundamental change in B2B marketing: “It’s more than a combination of discrete trends such as rising bounce rates, declining open rates, or increasing churn; it’s that buyers now expect a fundamentally different relationship with your company.”
First things first: Take inventory of content assets
When developing a content marketing strategy for your brand, the first step is to ‘discover’ your current content assets. Evaluate their strength concerning your brand perception, competitive positioning, and impact on inbound efforts.
This is your starting point and marks a time to set goals. Only by gauging the breadth and quality of your content across multiple departments – sales, marketing, customer experience – will you know what to improve to more effectively map content to audiences you need to reach and influence.
As you take stock, determine the specifics about where you are and what you want to gain from a content marketing program.
- Who are your competitors?
- How does the market refer to your brand?
- Who is your ideal customer profile?
- What is your brand reputation now and how do you want it to change in the future, if at all?
Begin to build out your personas using the data collected. Integrate them with your sales team and conduct in-depth customer interviews to define the ideal customers for your business. Figure out how they consume your content and gauge sentiment.
Assessing your content marketing effectiveness
As you move through discovery, assess your approach to content marketing thus far to better understand what’s working and what’s not. Identify gaps to inform a strategy around the most consumable types of content, which messages resonate best and ideal timing for delivery of that message.
As part of this effort, assess who your brand champions are (and who could be). Did you know that customer experience is the number one priority for marketers in terms of brand advocacy and trust, but only 20% of marketers have implemented a voice-of-the-customer (VOC) program?
This stage of discovery and assessment presents an opportune time to activate a VOC campaign. Focus on bringing the success stories from those who know and trust your brand (and your products and services) to the forefront of your content marketing efforts.
In today’s experience-driven world, too many marketers move at the pace of change and fail to recognize the value of building a strategic customer advocacy program. This lifeline for brands can make or break your marketing program. Now is the perfect opportunity to assess who these individuals will be and put together a game plan for how you will engage them.
What are the key metrics to measure in the assessment phase?
- Website traffic and engagement
- Views & downloads
- Engagements on social media
- Conversions to trial
- Earned media success
- Use by sales reps
- Newsletter signups
- Word-of-mouth referrals
Once you have a good sense of what content assets you have and how they’re performing, you can start to use that insight to build trust with key audiences and execute your new strategy.
PAN was a driving force in the development of CloudBees’ podcast series, “DevOps Radio,” evolving it into a premier thought leadership vehicle. With PAN providing technical and logistical expertise, the series has aired more than 60 episodes featuring industry pillars such as Gene Kim and customers such as Fidelity, Accenture, and CapitalOne.
Marketers’ Top 3 Adjustments for Success:
- 78% Adjusting the tone of messaging & positioning
- 65% Assessing and auditing content strategies
- 57% Building better integration between content and demand gen
- Nearly 41% of marketers were planning to integrate a customer advocacy program in the second half of 2020
Building Content That Matters for Whom it Matters Most
Perhaps the most strategically valuable aspect of content marketing is context. When executed effectively, it reframes the everyday experiences, challenges, and opportunities of audiences in deeply personal terms. In this way, content marketing creates a stronger and clearer brand value proposition earlier in the buyer journey. Audiences have a clearer understanding of just how and where a new partnership or solution implementation can make a difference for their business.
All of this means little, however, without content built with your audiences’ experiences in mind. Empathetic content, that reflects a shared value system, and prioritizes trust will almost always resonate best. If your audiences don’t actually believe that your expertise is relevant to them, content marketing is basically akin to shouting into the ether — although a much more expensive version of it.
How do you actually build content that is actionable and taps into emotionally driven value for audiences? How do you map that content to micro-moments in the funnel? To build standout content that rises above the noise, there are a few necessities:
- Infuse Thought Leadership to Raise Trust.
- Rethink Personas to Ensure Consistent Value-Add.
- Ensure Consistency Across Assets.
- Use Creative to Move Your Storytelling from Verbal to Visual.
Infuse Thought Leadership to Raise Trust
When it comes to leveraging thought leaders for a content marketing program, there should be no separation of church and state. This might seem counterintuitive at first, given that the most effective thought leadership strategies are often the most vendor-neutral. But that is exactly why subject matter experts are such a powerful tool in your content marketing arsenal.
Created on the foundation of expertise, audiences are more likely to resonate with the voices of thought leaders when they appear in more marketing-friendly content like earned media articles or brand-owned social media. When they work together, they can have a significant impact at the awareness stage.
Rethink Personas to Ensure Consistent Value-Add
Premium content has long been a strong tool when audiences reach consideration. Assets like infographics, ebooks, or microsites are resources that can further personalize the journey and put brand value into greater context.
That said, buyer personas are not as static as they once were. Particularly within the B2B realm, the power dynamic has been shifting away from CIOs or CFOs toward the end-user.
Furthermore, external factors — remote work stress, economic tumult — mean that many different audiences can wear multiple hats, often at the same time.
Therefore, your content is a tool to help nurture leads with your core personas through flexibility, delivering exactly what they need the moment their priorities shift.
Ensure Consistency Across Assets
The best content marketing strategies are far from unilateral campaigns. They integrate brand-owned content and also bring in other tactics, such as VOC programs or other third-party validation from partners, analysts, or influencers.
Since these “external” factors are particularly effective at the point of the final decision, it’s paramount that messages align perfectly to the tune audiences have been hearing from your brand up until this point. Consistency reinforces themes your content has worked so hard to build and makes sure components are actually working together symbiotically.
Use Creative to Move Your Storytelling from Verbal to Visual
Creative and branding are often overlooked in the business world, but it gives your audience a clear sense of purpose, voice, and personality. Most importantly, creative visuals provide a greater sense of connection. Visual branding is important, but that is only part of it. In short, branding is the very essence of a business and it should be an essential tool in your content marketing mix.
People don’t fall in love with calls to action. They fall in love with stories, particularly those that are told visually. Competition is fierce. While data is important, creativity is what gives brands that competitive edge. Embracing creativity as a resource often means organizational change and a shift in thinking. It is as important to business growth as marketing and data. For brands where creativity works well, the design isn’t just seen as people making things pretty. It is valued as the way marketers make their ideas come to life. The importance of hardwiring creativity as part of your content marketing strategy can’t be understated.
Spotlights: Blumberg Capital
In partnership with Blumberg Capital, PAN supported the creation of a robust content program, including the development of the blog and LinkedIn posts surrounding data campaigns, blogs, bylines, videos, and press releases for portfolio companies.
- 26.5% of content marketers emphasized the emotional connection in their market in the second half of 2020
- >2x as many compared to those at the start of the year (12.2%)
- When asked what steps they are prioritizing to adjust their marketing team’s content strategy following COVID-19, 78% of content marketers said they were rethinking the tone of their brand messaging and positioning.
Enhancing Your Content Distribution Strategy
You’ve laid all the groundwork for a successful content marketing strategy. You’ve assessed past and present content deliverables identified the performance gaps and started building a library of assets that map to each stage of the buyer’s journey. Now that you know how to cut through the noise, what are you going to do to make sure your content reaches the right audiences?
Here’s where the real strategic work begins.
Creating engaging content starts the process, but it’ll only take you so far. You need to develop a plan to curate and distribute that content to ensure it’s landing in the right spots and delivering the value you expect.
- What content vehicles should you focus on?
- How often should you post?
- Can you distribute the assets in such a way that they amplify one another?
- How can you optimize your distribution strategy to ensure that it continues to deliver sustained value over time?
These are critical questions marketers should be asking as they progress through their own content marketing journeys. Here are a few steps they can take:
- Determine the Right Mix
- Establish the Right Frequency
- Promote Wisely
- Reassess and Recalibrate
Determine the Right Mix
Companies have many options when it comes to delivering content strategically. They could go heavy on owned media (high-value landing pages, blogs, newsletters), shared media (social media, partnerships with sites operated by a third party), and/or paid media (sponsored content). There are also different content vehicles — webinars, podcasts, multimedia, position papers, eBooks, etc. Every company has its own market, strengths, and style. The right blend for one might not be the best for another.
To determine the right media mix for your prospects, consider factors such as their audience’s characteristics, rules of engagement, and communication style.
- Where does your audience spend its time?
- How does it like to engage?
- Would your brand’s tone be a good fit for the platforms the audience prefers?
- And is your team – internal or external — structured to deliver content across the array of platforms you choose to target?
Establish the Right Frequency
A “spray and pray” approach no longer serves your brand. Posting too often can exhaust resources and turn off your audiences. Conversely, leaving platforms untouched for long periods of time risks losing an audience altogether. Pay close attention to whether communities are receptive to your messages and responding positively. Consider time-in-market as well. Does the schedule you install for your inventory allow enough time in the field to be consumed, and subsequently cultivate engagement that will have a meaningful impact on your business?
Once you figure out where to assign your content assets and when to deliver them, a successful delivery strategy needs promotion. In an ideal world, you can “sprinkle” pieces of content across channels, allowing one platform to steer an audience to another. The adage “create once, use many times” delivers value here at this stage.
For example, say you have a podcast you want to promote. While the more commonly known mechanisms include social media, your blog, and your website, there are other tactics at your disposal. Cut the audio up into a YouTube video, create a blog based on highlights from the Q&A, and partner with the podcast guest to promote it on her channels. You wouldn’t promote an eBook the same way – cutting 30+ pages into a video would be too time-consuming. An eBook focusing on similar content could be pushed through exit-intent pop-ups or paid social ads.
Speaking of social, it is important to understand your brand’s digital value. Social media is a key part of that and is oftentimes one of the identified gaps of a buyer’s journey. This is why understanding the role social media can play along the content marketing ecosystem is a must. Smart marketers know that social media can influence decision making from brand awareness to advocacy. A social media funnel mindset can help you create a strategy to build engagement with your audience and increase conversions at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Reassess and Recalibrate
Distribution strategies can — and often do — change over time. What works for a startup might not be the right approach for that same company as it moves upmarket in its growth stage. The key takeaway is this: Evaluate your strategy, then reevaluate it using analytics and measure against audience-specific KPIs you want to achieve.
Content marketing is a journey. Without a strategic approach to distribution, companies can lose direction — quickly.
Smartly.io is the leading social advertising automation platform for creative and performance marketers — automating every step of social advertising to unlock greater performance and creativity.
“A strategic thought leadership approach to owned content has allowed us to position our brand on the topics that matter most to our business and in the publications that reach the right influential audiences.” — Robert Rothschild, Vice President, Global Head of Marketing, Smartly.io
Marketers continue to hold the belief that content diversification in channels such as video, podcasts, and webinars can help mitigate uncertainty and reach new audiences via compelling visual assets
Measuring and Optimizing Your Content
Determining if your content strategy is performing as expected isn’t easy, and without understanding your content’s impact, you’re just making content for content’s sake. Mastering content analytics and identifying content’s specific effect on how you attract and convert new customers is challenging. It takes time to craft the right approach so that you truly measure the metrics that matter. The best rule of thumb is to measure early and measure often.
Look to the Data
Even if your content may be performing well, your content marketing strategy may still need adjustments. That’s where data comes in to help optimize your strategy. As you execute your approach and begin to gather analytics on your content, you’ll understand what your audience is responding to the most. You can then leverage this to build upon a strategy that’s already working well.
Critical elements of content analytics include:
- Consumption metrics: Page views, unique visitors, bounce rates, time on page, opt-ins, conversions, impressions, open rates, click-throughs
- Sharing metrics: Website, blog, and online assets shares, social shares
- Retention metrics: New and returning visitors, bounce rate, social media follower rates, unsubscribes
- Leads metrics: New titles in the pipeline, leads generated by specific content, existing leads engaged with the new content, conversion strength
- Sales metrics: Sales opportunities, revenue, pipeline, organic growth opportunities, shortened sales cycles, lower customer acquisition costs, increased customer satisfaction, higher win rates, strengthened word of mouth
More than ever, measurement, reporting, and analysis are key to a successful content marketing program. It’s important, however, that data is presented and interpreted in ways that marketers can effectively put to use in future pieces.
While “more” data can be helpful, “good” data is what you really want to take the right actions. For example, good data can illustrate click-throughs from your content deeper into your product pages, or demonstrate engagement rates by how many comments your pieces received or were shared. These are deeper insights that help guide your strategy.
The Metrics that Matter
But what good is data that you can’t understand? If you’re not clear on what certain metrics mean or why they are valuable, ask your content team to explain the rationale behind including them. This not only helps you get everyone on the same page, but it encourages your team to think through the purpose of each content asset as it relates to your specific business goals.
Marketing teams responsible for brand awareness and increasingly, revenue, are working off similar results, forcing a disciplined review of critical metrics when it comes to the content they build and curate.
Data provide common ground for PR, content, demand-gen, and sales teams, and common ground leads to success. Thinking about how your content marketing metrics tie into your internal reporting methodology will help you connect the dots between content success and business growth.
Measuring Success in Syndication
Set up regular touchpoints with your team to discuss taking top-performing content and pulling it across your channels for maximum exposure.
For example, if an original article on LinkedIn received an overwhelming response in Q4 — and corresponding insights resonated well with the media — think about how to extend that engagement across the marketing mix.
As key audiences begin to recognize your brand through the thought leadership you push into the market, invest in creating additional resources to feature on your channels and website, such as blogs, eBooks, and position papers, to capitalize on the moment in time.
Knowing how to evaluate your content and ask the right questions about its performance will yield deeper insights you can funnel back into the assessment phase and drive further success. Just remember to keep content fresh, focus on topics vs. keywords, address user intent and track the journey of your visitors through your content and brand engagement.
Spotlights: Apps Associates
PAN took a targeted account approach and built paid social programs to increase awareness and demand. For demand, PAN conducted primary research and built an eBook on the top five myths about migrating oracle to the cloud. It was a bold decision that allowed them to enter the conversation and uniquely own the story through a compelling asset.
- In 2019, 56% of marketers said their content marketing efforts were being attributed toward revenue.
- That number dropped in 2020 to 50%, while marketers are feeling confident with measuring basic performance and engagement — because of bandwidth, skillsets, or pace of content, they are unable to truly prove the value.
In this article, we’ve discussed all-things modern content marketing as part of a comprehensive, digitally agile framework to serve as the cornerstone of your strategy.
We’ve taken years of content marketing, earned media storytelling, and a data-driven approach to building out a simple way to integrate content across demand-gen initiatives. PAN is your content marketing partner to bring clarity, perspective, and insight to your content marketing strategy.