Putting Content in Context

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Justin Gray, CEO and chief marketing evangelist, LeadMD
Justin Gray, CEO and chief marketing evangelist, LeadMD

Attend any marketing conference today and you'll hear one topic dominating conversations: content marketing. There's a reason this subject is on everyone's mind, as well as the tip of their tongues; content marketing is one of the most hyped, but also high-voltage tools, in the marketing arsenal.

Let's be clear on what content is. It's not just the carefully architected whitepapers and eBooks you produce; it's your blogs, emails, and landing pages, and everything that's a conduit for your messaging. Content drives the conversations that power the heart of your marketing. It's also what separates strategic thinkers from out-of-touch marketers— the ability to organize those conversations, align them to buyer personas, and serve them up at the right time. Those messages can then be catalogued or repositioned across multiple mediums countless times to deepen customer relationships, nurture and convert leads, and strengthen brand awareness.

Luckily, there's never been a better time to launch powerful conversations. As marketers we enjoy access to technologies like marketing automation that can pair great interactional content with tools that present our messaging with unprecedented precision. So why aren't more marketers reaping powerful results? Let's face it, there's no denying that in some ways content marketing has become the new marketing automation—there's plenty of talk, but little action that advances the cause. Marketers must begin understanding the true value in content from their buyers' perspectives rather than from their own.

One hurdle preventing the creation of value through content is simply that marketers are trying to adopt and consider so many different strategies that ultimately “analysis paralysis” takes over and leaves them simply feeling overwhelmed. Teams often unintentionally waste budget on initiatives that go nowhere, or change tactics so rapidly they fail to see results with any of them. And then there are others who seem to be consistently frozen with uncertainty. While many understand the necessity of content marketing, nearly as many fail to grasp that content must be relevant and engaging. The result? Predictable promotions that bore customers are repeatedly churned out.

2014 finds us at a tipping point with content marketing. To harness its power and ride it forward into more profitable results, marketers must stop producing fluff and stick to simple tactics that yield a high impact. The element of change here is value.

Three ingredients for content that closes

Because content marketing is still new in many circles, quite a few marketers take a kitchen sink approach and try every trick they hear. Often, this simply wastes marketing dollars on pieces that fall flat. To ensure that you'll have solid content assets that pull the trigger, content must be valuable. Trumpet your company's awesomeness too much and you'll find yourself tuned out by cynical audiences. Focus instead on crafting relevant content that speaks to the right people, and give buyers a shortcut to what they want. Give your IT network managers a new tool to evaluate their business. Provide the C-suite with information to calculate the impact and savings of your solution. Structure your content in tone, format, and message to make an impact with each specific audience. It's hard to do and it's traditionally something that companies wouldn't let outside their walls—and it's absolutely the only way to truly create buyer-driven content.

Check the value of your content with the ‘so what' test. Your prospects are busy; they don't want to waste time reading content that delivers no payoff. Look at much of the content floating around these days and you'll see that much of it simply calls attention to problems without actually solving them. To create valuable content—and build anticipation for future pieces—solve your customers' problems, and be clear in your communications about how you're solving them. You'll win their trust and their business.

And then use the content to get customers to act. It really isn't enough to ask the buyer to take a certain action; you need to spell out the dire toll they'll pay if they don't. This is the real ingredient that sparks countless conversions. Build trust, ask customers to act, and then tell them the cost of not acting. Great content does this in spades.

Content marketing forecast: What's coming in 2014

Marketing moves fast, and we can all expect to see some changes this year. What might those be? I'll be the first to say it: We're going to see a sea of change in content marketing; 2014 is the year marketers en masse will start to get it right. We're at a point now where the first wave of digital marketers has experienced enough failure to start over. Maybe they've had the same process in place for a few years and want a revamp, or they've quit (or been fired). Maybe they jumped into content marketing headfirst and learned firsthand the need for insightful strategies. Others have learned from trial and error what works and what doesn't. In all cases the industry is poised for a reboot. And what's the first thing everyone does when they come into a new role? That's right—they change everything.  

So expect to see a wave of content marketing “do-overs.” We're already witnessing the signs: marketers and executives putting real effort and budget to get the right software in place, hire the right staff, and forge ahead with their eyes wide open. These marketers have discarded worthless content marketing tactics and have embarked on a more efficient and profitable path.

In the year ahead, content will retain its throne. And as we all practice better techniques to attract, convert, and close, the king will become even more powerful.

Justin Gray, CEO and chief marketing evangelist, LeadMD

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