Content Marketing Strategies to Keep—and to Abandon

Content marketing is as old as, well, marketing itself. Many of its core principles and approaches are as valid today as they were when first introduced. Others are as out-of-date as poodle skirts and spats. To clarify which approaches to keep and which to catapult, we asked a baker’s dozen content marketing experts the following: What’s one assumption or practice from content marketing’s early days that still applies, or one that it’s time to let go of and move on—and why? Here, their responses.

Matt Scott, SVP of Strategy and Business Development, Crowdtap
Brands have been telling their stories through content for decades, but until recently they’ve been the sole authors of these stories. As consumers increasingly behave and engage as self-publishers in their own right—leveraging social media platforms and digital technologies to make their voice heard, instantly—the world of content marketing has undergone democratization.

People define themselves by the brands they trust and love, and share their [brand] experiences candidly via social media. Forward-thinking marketers are realizing that these conversations can be inspired, shaped, and harnessed to play a lead role in their brand’s overall marketing efforts, fueling authentic and compelling user-generated content—which is trusted above all other forms of media, per Ipsos Media CT research.

Brands have always lived inside of the hearts and minds of consumers, and now marketers have the tools and technologies that make it easy for them to put real people at the heart of their content strategy. 

Adryanna Sutherland, President, gyro Cincinnati
Brands must stop emphasizing quantity over quality. The early days of content marketing were all about getting noticed and being heard. Brands worked to create a big presence, and emerging digital and social media tools enabled companies to project large volumes of content to the masses. Some believed this spray-and-pray mentality was an effective strategy to help them become more discoverable. But search engines like Google soon became quite sophisticated by changing their algorithms to favor content that offers more value to the user. Quantity was no longer an advantage for search, and it never was for the buyer. Savvy brands had already been focusing on creating more compelling content that was contextually relevant—knowing that it’s better to put out fewer pieces of content with a unique point of view to reach and connect with the right individual. Today, knowing your audience is critically important, and a brand should carefully consider each piece of content and each channel. When brands tailor content to the buyers’ needs in a humanly relevant way, they can achieve better results. After all, connecting on that emotional level is something that hasn’t changed, no matter what medium is being used to tell the story.

Micky Long, VP and Practice Director of Lead Nurturing, Arketi Group
A significant change in today’s approach is the desired length of marketing content, which has led to the concepts of “snackable” and “long-form” content. Traditional approaches focused primarily on the subject matter and budget for development and much less on the length of the final product. Deep, detailed, and lengthy whitepapers full of technical specs were the norm—and often the more that could be crammed into the document the better, as content was usually the way to show off subject matter expertise.

Longer content that dives deep into a subject can still work, depending on how it’s used. But in today’s rapid-fire, multitasking world, prospects are significantly less likely to want to curl up with a nice technology-focused whitepaper. Instead, shorter, list-based, to-the-point content (tip sheets, infographics, etc.) that can be digested in a shorter timeframe will perform better. The obvious challenge is that it takes much more thought and editing discipline to produce shorter content that is both relevant and useful. And to maintain a level of excitement in the blog post, guide, or whitepaper to keep the prospect interested.

Krista LaRiviere, CEO and Cofounder, gShift
One content marketing practice from early days that still applies today is audience targeting. Creating content that’s relevant to an intended target market, answers their questions, and helps them make informed decisions will always be one of the most important practices for content marketing. The technologies and data that content marketers have access to today would make early-day marketers jealous. Unfortunately, not all content marketers take a data-driven approach to content marketing investments.

Audience targeting in 2015 is about using data to inform the content marketing workflow process to create smarter content that the intended audience is looking for in search engines and social media. Strong content marketers will use technologies to understand where and when to distribute content digitally to intercept the target audience in the most appropriate channels. The success of audience targeting can now be proven with data to understand if the content is working.

Audience targeting will always be a significant practice in the content marketing process. Content marketers need to evolve with the technologies that are available to help them create smarter content and prove the performance and engagement of that content by channel and audience type.

Did this article strike your fancy? See the entire list of articles from our 2015 Essential Guide to Content Marketing 


Cameron Uganec, Director, Marketing and Communications?, Hootsuite
The best marketers have always used storytelling to connect and inspire an audience to act. The customer is the hero, overcoming a conflict using a special tool?: your product or service. This traditional story structure is as old as humankind, and has always been an effective tool for marketers.

But in the broadcast era, there was a shift where many brands turned their products into the hero. They would focus more on features, specifications?,? and statistics rather than telling stories?—a far less effective way to market your business.

I often use this analogy: When your colleagues ask you about a conference you attended, you don’t start with facts and figures. You don’t state that you met ‘x’ number of people or slept ‘x’ number of hours. When you’re asked about your children, you don’t say they’re four feet tall and weigh 45 pounds. You tell stories. Questions about your business deserve the same treatment.

Thankfully, with the rise of social media and the empowered audience, we’re now shifting back to storytelling. Stories are inherently social; they help us build connections and make sense of the world. Content marketing shares these goals, which is what makes storytelling such an effective practice.

Herb Mitschele, CEO, Shodogg
One of the most valuable components of content marketing has been and continues to be the collection of data to better understand how your audience consumes and shares your content. Being able to analyze the ROI of your content marketing efforts is extremely valuable to any business; that’s a known fact. However, ensuring that you analyze the right data to make informed decisions about what’s working and what’s not is a huge asset for both your sales and your marketing engines.

Make sure you have technology in place to track relevant data points that highlight the KPIs your business needs to guide decision-making. Start analyzing high-level data points, and then drill down into the details once you start to see patterns that are important. This is going to tell you the effectiveness of your content and what you might do differently next time to improve.

Anne Buehner, Social Media Manager, Red Door
There’s nothing quite as alluring as a strategically empathetic brand. Content marketing has been giving a voice to these brands for years. Originally, brands developed and promoted magazines, newsletters, guides, and recipes books to communicate beyond sales-driven messaging. The core idea that a brand can be a valuable resource for consumers is still relevant today. When a brand knows its audience (the demographics, psychographics, journey, hopes and fears, concerns, etc.), it has an opportunity to practice empathy. From a recipe that shows a new use for a product or ingredient to a video that shows how something is made over generations of artisans, the best content taps into the need-state or emotion of the consumer. This helps build trust, loyalty, and connection between brand and consumer today. 

Jennifer Smith, Marketing Communications Director, Corporate Visions Inc.
The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” may have been introduced in the early 1900s, but it still rings true today. The part of your prospect’s brain that makes a decision—known as the “lizard brain” or “old brain”—doesn’t have the capacity for language. Instead, it relies on images, not text, to create contrast, which also creates the urgency required to convince people to change whatever status quo bias they’re currently entrenched in. The most successful content marketing practices today, tomorrow, and beyond will continue to incorporate visual storytelling techniques that paint a clear picture for prospects and customers.

Did this article strike your fancy? See the entire list of articles from our 2015 Essential Guide to Content Marketing



Dean Waters, CEO, VIMBY
Today’s media landscape is a world controlled by consumers, viewing what they want, when they want it. The days of pushing intrusive marketing messages and hoping it will convert to a transaction or the beginning of a relationship are over.

Content marketers need to let go of traditional, invasive, hard-hitting methods and focus on gaining new consumers or keeping existing ones through a trusted and genuine voice. What’s more, marketers need to embrace an always-on mentality for delivering compelling and relevant content, in real time, laying the groundwork for long-term customer relationships, which lead to organic distribution.

With the separation between advertising and content marketing continuing to grow, media fragmentation is more defined, and brands are being challenged with implementing greater relationship-building methods through content marketing. This makes trusted relationships with key audiences more important than ever.

As for the future of the industry, we believe success will come from tapping close-knit, guarded, and specialized communities, which are hard-to-reach audiences. These customers are influenced by their peers and have successfully broken away from all the noise, making them ideal candidates for customer relationships.

Marla Schimke, VP of Marketing, Zumobi
Content will always be king, but how we distribute it has drastically changed. Content, once only watched on black-and-white TV screens at specific programming times, can now be accessed by billions via millions of sites like YouTube or Vine—anytime, anywhere thanks to the smartphone. Content delivery has changed dramatically. For the first time ever, mobile viewing has exceeded TV, according to analytics firm Flurry. However, content that tells a story, inspires, and excites will always be in vogue—be it 1950 or 2050.

Recently, the Content Marketing Institute found that 84% of marketers are working to find more outlets and better ways to repurpose their branded content. Content placement, or the “where,” is just as important as good content. Today, brands have numerous vehicles for content dispersion, such as their own branded apps, right at their fingertips. With these apps, users have already opted in and are more inclined to become brand loyalists. To keep users coming back, brands can present fresh, dynamic in-app content by way of a mobile content hub. In aggregating their existing content from multiple channels like blogs, RSS feeds, and, of course, social media, they can create the optimal audience. Good content is a requirement. Good content placement? That’s business.

Sloan Gaon, CEO, PulsePoint
“Content is king” still applies, but the new riff on that age-old saying, is that if content is king, then distribution is queen.

Marketers understand the importance of evaluating campaigns for both brand impact and tangible performance goals, and while content marketing has helped brands to create one-to-one engagements with audiences, scaling it has been viewed as a challenge.

Content quality will always be important, but to truly capture maximum value, content marketing needs to be realized at scale. Advances in advertising technology, specifically programmatic, are the final piece to the puzzle that allows marketers to do this today.

Our industry has embraced automation, and programmatic has moved up the funnel to take on content marketing and branding campaigns. In fact, according to industry research we recently conducted, 83% of marketers believe that content marketing will be delivered programmatically by 2017.

Thanks to the convergence of programmatic and content marketing, marketers no longer need to choose between solutions that offer both efficiency and high engagement.

Nataly Kelly, VP of Research, Smartling
The “old days” of content marketing can mean just a year or two ago. Best practices change rapidly, and SEO drives most of these changes.

In the early days of digital content marketing there was more of a focus on quantity in some ways than on quality. For example, a common technique was to break up a long blog post or a long eBook into multiple, shorter pieces. That practice is becoming outdated now. Why? In the past, having more pages was a strong signal to search engines that a site had good content, and lots of it. However, as more marketers have relied on this practice, other signals that relate more to engagement—such as bounce rate, time on site, and social shares—are becoming more important indicators of search relevance. So, long-form content is becoming more popular, because it’s viewed as more valuable and offers substance, as long as it’s easy to consume.

Another assumption or practice from the past was that content marketing teams were primarily writers, and didn’t necessarily need to be well versed in SEO; these were viewed as two separate disciplines. Today it’s impossible to have a strong content marketing team without SEO expertise. All marketers today create content for two audiences: humans and bots. Even though search engine marketing has evolved, and measurable human behavior plays more of a role in determining search relevance, knowing how to create the best content for both audiences is a balancing act, and remains a challenge for modern marketing teams.

Michelle Genser, Senior Director, Communications and Analyst Relations, SAVO
One practice from content marketing that should change is gating. Today, buyers—especially B2B purchasers—are looking to self-educate before they start the buying journey. By gating content you’re preventing this from happening because prospects don’t want to provide their name too early in their journey. If they’re forced to do this, they won’t read your good content and probably won’t consider you as a potential vendor. If you keep your content open, however, prospects can review and even share your content with colleagues, which helps educate them about your solution. You build confidence among your prospects by keeping content available for review, sharing, and education.

Did this article strike your fancy? See the entire list of articles from our 2015 Essential Guide to Content Marketing


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