Content marketing “is the first body of thought that comes to grips with the difficult problem of getting heard in our overcommunicated society.” OK, so Al Reis and Jack Trout actually said “positioning” when they wrote this in their 1981 bestseller Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, but they may as well have been talking about the power of a comprehensive, media-style approach to content marketing—one that gives a company a voice that positions it as an expert in its field, as a trusted advisor; one that can nurture prospects as effectively as it engages customers. Adam Todd knows this well.
The Great Recession was the worst of times for most companies—and the best of times for some companies that used it to harness their content marketing prowess and create specialized media outlets.
“Content marketing is really the centerpiece of our marketing program…. It drives most of our marketing activities, including advertising, public relations, and the development and maintenance of our client relationships,” says Todd, vice president of marketing communications for Protiviti, a global consulting firm. “I look at the financial crisis as a real turning point for our content marketing efforts.”
That’s when many competing firms—including much larger consultancies with the resources to fund mass-marketing campaigns—whacked their marketing budgets. Todd and his team spotted an opportunity to expand their firm’s marketing in a lean fashion. They took advantage of new, relatively low-cost digital and social media technology to greatly increase Protiviti’s publication and dissemination of white papers, e-books, videos, articles, news bulletins, podcasts, blog posts, and webinars. “We found we were able to publish a survey or guide on a relevant topic and then get 5,000 to 10,000 downloads of the PDF via our website and email marketing programs,” Todd says.
During the crisis and its aftermath, Protiviti and other B2B firms expanding their content production also discovered that B2B trade magazines and business associations were growing hungrier for thought leadership–style contributed content. So Protiviti reacted by providing it. For example, one veteran Protiviti consulting leader regularly posts the National Association of Corporate Directors’ blog. This type of opportunity aligns closely with the consultancy’s key content marketing objective. “The goal of our content marketing program,” he says, “is to develop content that replicates the experience of being with one of our professionals.”
Alexa Christon, General Electric’s head of global media innovation, also emphasizes the need to identify clear goals for a comprehensive content marketing strategy—which, for GE, translates to a genuine media outlet, www.gepressing.com, as well as some innovative native-advertising partnerships (see “Imaginative Content Marketing at Work” on page 16). “Our goal is to provide an experience where our audience can get to know us and what we do and have a meaningful interaction,” Christon says. “For gepressing.com specifically, we looked at convening high-quality content from all sides of the policy conversation and aggregating those conversations together.”
There are growing signs that more content marketing programs are evolving into media outlets like GE’s. Tom Buontempo, president, attention/content labs for kbs+, reports that more of his agency’s clients are hiring dedicated content roles. These positions are “charged with looking across the organization, and building and feeding content strategies and always-on brand newsrooms,” Buontempo says. “Content leads, in-house editors and reporters, and even chief content officers are more prevalent than ever before.”
There’s another, fairly obvious sign: an increase in companies creating their own online publications, such as gepressing.com and Xerox’s RealBusiness.com. “We’ve always viewed ourselves as publishers and
RealBusiness.com as a media outlet,” says Ken Ericson, Xerox director, global social marketing. That view has been validated by RealBusiness.com article reprints in publications such as BusinessInsider and by pitches from PR professionals looking for coverage for their clients. “We believe our editorial content is filling an open niche in the marketplace,” Ericson adds.
Other companies committed to elevating their content marketing capability share qualities with Protivity and Xerox that have enabled them to do so. These characteristics include a preference for relevant, instructive content; a commitment to experimentation; an appetite for data-based measurement (as well as a recognition of its limitations); and what Ericson describes as an aversion to “chest-thumping” about their brands.
Protiviti: Educating the smartest folks in the room
The aim of Protiviti’s multimedia, multiplatform publishing program is straightforward: equip its audience of business decision-makers with practical information. “They want insights that can help them see where their organization is relative to the competition,” Todd says, “and information that can help them make a business case.” That’s why anecdotes are valuable in evaluating the content. “We’ve had people tell our professionals, ‘I love this piece. Can you give me 20 copies for our next board meeting?’” Todd notes.
But Todd and his team also are extremely data-driven in evaluating content; they track website traffic, the length of time visitors spend on individual content, email engagement, click-through rates, and similar metrics. Most of this information feeds into a CRM system where Todd and his team can, for example, monitor what percentage of the firm’s top 100 clients engaged with individual pieces of content—and families or groupings of content—in the past week, month, or quarter.
Key to Execution: Commitment
When peers ask Todd how to elevate traditional content marketing activities into more of a full-fledged publishing venture, he points to several enablers, including commitment. “There has always been a huge commitment to this approach at the top of our organization,” Todd says. Part of the incentive compensation of the firm’s managing directors links to content development, and that helps ensure that it’s included in annual planning activities. “We’re fortunate to have our experts so engaged in working with us to develop content,” he says.
Major Challenge: Competing with ESPN.com
Todd warns against trying to become too ambitious as a homegrown media outlet. “About five years ago we had a dream of becoming that place people go to every single day to look at our content,” he recalls. “As we dug deeper into that aspiration, we realized it was not realistic. People go to sites like The New York Times, ESPN.com, or Harvard Business Review‘s site because they expect to get something new, a different experience, several times a day. That is very, very difficult to create and maintain.”
Cleveland Clinic: Healthy content, lean production team
Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center, provides clinical and hospital care and is a global leader in research, education, and health information. The institution launched its Health Hub site, health.clevelandclinic.org, in 2012 as a way to capture and share content being created throughout the enterprise. “It naturally grew and evolved into something much more,” says Amanda Todorovich, Cleveland Clinic’s manager, digital engagement. “As we integrated Health Hub into our social media channels and saw immediate engagement, our efforts evolved to start serving our audiences in a more robust fashion.” Currently, that translates to posting three to five new blog posts each day on Health Hub, which attracts 2.7 million visits per month.
Key to Execution: Social Media and Measurement
Todorovich and her lean team of three full-timers drive traffic to Health Hub by promoting and sharing the content via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, syndication partners, and the discovery engine StumbleUpon. And they constantly measure. “Data is everything,” Todorovich says, noting that her team uses a “multitude of metrics” to make daily content decisions. “Our primary focus is on traffic to Health Hub,” she continues, “and we monitor it closely in real time using Chartbeat, as well as in-depth Google Analytics. We track everything we can on the site, and then take full advantage of the metrics available on all social platforms.”
Major Challenge: Keeping Pace with Medical Research
Because the realm of medicine changes constantly, keeping pace with new studies and research poses a major challenge; so, too, does ensuring that previously published articles, many of which cite medical studies, remain accurate in light of subsequent research. “Every piece of content we publish has either been written or reviewed by at least one of our medical experts,” Todorovich says. “We offer links to research studies in our articles, and have disclaimers on anything that’s more than two years old.”
KEMP Technologies: Cultivating a Publishing Brand
Atchison Frazer, CMO of KEMP Technologies, frames the purpose of his B2B load-balancing technology company’s content marketing in straightforward terms. “We believe that content marketing equals brand as publisher,” says Frazer, a former Cisco marketing executive. KEMP’s content marketing covers numerous types of content and channels, and is managed by a dedicated editorial team. The company’s marketing team treats its nearly 40,000 database contacts—customers, partners, analysts, and prospects who have opted in to receive messages—as a genuine editorial audience. “We have to have content that’s relevant to them, compelling in nature, and educational,” Frazer says. Among the many enablers driving the program, leading an agile and innovative editorial team is most important, he says.
Key to Execution: Newsroom Mentality
KEMP’s editorial team meets weekly, and “the whole philosophy of that meeting is our newsroom mentality,” Frazer says. He hired a consumer marketer with deep content marketing experience to operate as editor-in-chief. Marketers and other internal experts on the team have “beats” (e.g., Microsoft applications, network infrastructure, Internet of Things, etc.). And various marketing and product managers along with a member of KEMP’s PR agency attend the meeting. “It’s like having the editors of the sport, business, entertainment, national news, and local news at the meeting,” Frazer says. “And the rest we leave up to the tools in the technology.” Those tools and technology publish, share, and track the performance of individual pieces of content generated from a list of roughly 40 topics surfaced from analytics, CRM data, and KEMP’s search engine optimization activities.
Major Challenge: Stale Content
“A lot of this content has a limited shelf life,” Frazer says. “And you want to be relevant and of the moment. So we’re tearing a page out of the Zero Moment of Truth playbook Google popularized.” Frazer and his team rigorously manage relevancy via constant and rapid measurement of their content’s page views, shares, Google Analytics performance, the traffic it drives back to the corporate website, A/B testing, and new tools and techniques such as the dynamic shifting of Web pages. “We use anything that gives us meaningful data on relevance,” Frazer says. “And if something doesn’t perform well for us, it’s easy to take down because it’s not part of the architecture of the corporate website.” For example, an Ireland-based editorial team member who currently blogs on the intersection of load balancing and Web development has a tool with which he can create a new URL (which he optimizes through messages on all of social media platforms he uses). If the content doesn’t click with the audience, he can remove the URL. If the content’s a hit, it likely will be pushed to the corporate website, which hosts content with staying power.