LeBron, Kevin, and Content Marketing Risks

Here’s how two top practitioners in the be-your-own-media-outlet, Wild West of content marketing describe the secret of their success today:

Content Marketing All-Star #1: “We want to make sure the intended purpose of the message and our brand is coming through.”

Content Marketing All-Star #2: “We made the decision early on that we’re a media site first, and a marketing site a far distant second.”

The first point is GE Head of Global Media Innovation Alexa Christon’s response to my question about which content marketing risks are important to monitor and mitigate. GE’s content marketing efforts stretch across many highly innovative platforms, including Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, GE’s #pressing site, and The Tonight Show, to name a few.

The second point comes from Dan Berthiaume, principal of Adobe’s CMO Communications, in response to my question regarding signs that content marketing is succeeding. The company’s homegrown CMO.com media site has been live for more than six years (making it older than the term content marketing) and attracts 200,000 monthly visits and 20,000 subscribers.

These viewpoints are just as opposing as if LeBron James and Kevin Durant disagreed on whether offense or defense wins ball games. And it’s absolutely fantastic from a marketing perspective because so much about marketing is being thought, rethought, challenged, invented, and put through its paces.

What’s even better is that content marketers at all types of companies (large and small, B2B and B2C, public and private) are eager to speak candidly about their budding craft, which I discovered after sending out a few email inquiries asking for input about content marketing’s graduation to homegrown media outlet status and was quickly overwhelmed with responses.

An interesting facet of the stories my sources shared relates to the risks that they point to. Here are three subjects that figured prominently in my discussions:

  • Content efficacy: “The biggest risk is having content that’s not useful to our audience,” notes Ken Ericson, director, global social marketing for Xerox. “We run the site like a newsroom and we’re very focused in the editorial process to make sure we’re offering readers value and insight in every story.”
  • Accuracy and timeliness: “Medicine is constantly changing, and there are new studies and research every day,” says Amanda Todorovich, manager, digital engagement for Cleveland Clinic, a leading nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center. “We try to make sure our content is as up to date and accurate as possible. Every piece of content we publish has either been written or reviewed by at least one of our medical experts. We offer links to research studies in our articles, and have disclaimers on anything that is more than two years old.”
  • Differentiation: “We want to make sure small merchants are getting differentiated content that’s relevant for their businesses,” says Tyler Vaughey, VP of U.S. small merchants for American Express. “We track how well certain articles or videos perform, where customers are consuming our content, and how they interact with our Knowledge Center.  The ultimate measure is shareability: Do  customers find the content valuable enough that they in turn share it with their own social media networks?…Differentiation is probably our biggest challenge in the marketplace.”

Contending with these challenges is not easy. In fact, becoming a content marketing all-star requires a deep and broad set of skills, the ability to learn from mistakes, and a commitment to continual—and quick—improvement . “[I]f certain topics or articles don’t perform well for any reason,” Vaughey says, “we’ll pivot and try again from a different angle in the future.”


Freelance journalist Eric Krell works with Mitel CMO Martyn Ethrington to produce DMN’s Diary of a CMO.

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