Strategy First, Then Content

Most companies that create marketing content don’t have a strategy. In fact, only 44% of B2B marketers and 39% of B2C marketers have a documented content marketing strategy, according to Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) “B2B Con­tent Marketing” study. The research also found that fewer than half of the marketers surveyed thought their organiza­tion was effective at con­tent marketing.

A content market­ing program must an­swer three questions to be effective, says CMI founder Joe Pulizzi: Is it driving revenue? Is it saving money? Is it cre­ating happier customers? Instead, the approach marketers often take is to try to find content to fill each channel, Pulizzi says. “I call it filling buckets. Fill in the Facebook bucket, fill in the blog bucket. But there’s no thoughtful plan behind why [they’re] do­ing [it] in the first place and what the outcome should be.”

As content marketing continues to grow in importance due to cus­tomers’ changing purchase and engagement habits, so, too, does the need for marketers to craft a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to it. This includes such elements as strategy, con­tent type, and distribu­tion frequency.

Why content?

Before arbitrarily posting a tweet or blog or distrib­uting white papers, mar­keters need to set their overall content market­ing strategy. “Without a clear set of business goals, you’re not going to have good content-strategy goals,” says James Hill, chief strate­gy officer at custom me­dia company McMurry/TMG. “[A good strategy is] going to boil down to, what actions or thoughts are you trying to prompt with your customer?” For instance, if the ob­jective is to acquire email addresses, the first step might be to bring people to your website. So, the strategy’s goals might be to get into the top five search results for specific keywords, boost site traffic, and get conversions.

Once they’ve clarified the business goals, Hill says, marketers must do research to answer some basic questions: Who are our customers? What are their aspirations? What types of media do they engage with? Where, when, on what type of device, and for how long? Mar­keters can obtain some of that information through Web and mobile analytics, social me­dia monitoring, and the like. But it’s also imperative to talk to customers, CMI’s Pulizzi notes. This may be through such avenues as surveys, on­line communities, and focus groups. This combined insight will help to inform the overall strategy, as well as specific ele­ments within it like targeting.

Content gains power when it’s tailored to different audience segments. “Within healthcare, we might be writing for mil­lennials versus baby boomers versus retirees,” Hill says. This tailoring may also help to de­termine channels. Younger cus­tomers might prefer to watch videos on their smartphones, for instance.

Learn to be choosy

With goals set and customer segments and preferences ana­lyzed, marketers then need to determine what type of content to create, and how often they should share it. “It’s generally a bad idea to cast a wide net of bland, repurposed content,” Hill says. “That’s just inter­ruptive and clutter…. Go with [short], superbly crafted, in­credibly engaging content first. Then build on that.”

Similarly, marketers should be discerning about which social channels to use for distributing their content. “People think, ‘Oh we just finished this huge research project or white paper, and we’re going to slam all the channels with that message at the same time.’ That doesn’t work,” Pulizzi says.

LinkedIn is a primary channel for many B2B companies, includ­ing Kelly Services. Kelley Services’ sales force was already using the platform to connect with pros­pects, which was important be­cause having employees share content is a significant part of its content strategy. Employee sharing can easily double or triple the amount of traffic to a piece of content, notes Todd Wheatland, VP of marketing and head of thought leadership at the staffing agency.


The company also uses LinkedIn groups to share con­tent. Group owners can send a LinkedIn-branded email once a week. “The click-through rate on those emails is extraordi­narily higher than you would ever get from [a non-LinkedIn] email campaign to a similar group,” Wheatland says.

Kelly typically releases two major pieces of new content a month through LinkedIn. The agency also posts on Facebook and its own company channels (a website and blog) a minimum of once a day each, and on Twitter a minimum of five times a day.

Similarly, Delta Faucet Company extensively uses Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Insta­gram to support its Inspired Liv­ing content marketing initiative, which targets consumers who are refurbishing their kitchens and bathrooms, and centers on a comprehensive microsite that in­cludes everything from kitchen and bath design ideas to recipes and water-related trivia. “Pinter­est tends to be a channel that’s used for inspiration to redesign a room. We have a ton of great photo assets. [It’s] a place to re­ally showcase a lot of [it],” says Dave Morse, digital marketing strategist at Delta.

Morse uses an editorial calendar to plan Delta’s content distribu­tion, and creates a schedule for social posts, too. Delta Faucet is selec­tive about what content it posts to which channel, but Morse notes that if “we have an infographic and we feel like it’s supercool, we’ll publish to Twitter and Facebook.” Infographics and other visual con­tent are the most likely to be shared.

Mixing it up

Like Morse, Beth Cossette uses an editorial calendar, but stresses that it has to leave room for trending topics. Cossette, marketing man­ager, campaigns and social media solutions group at CenturyLink Business, notes that the telecommunications company engages its business customers and prospects with content postings via its blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, and SlideShare. But unlike the many marketers focused primarily on digital content distribution, CenturyLink Busi­ness sometimes weaves direct mail into the mix.

The company recently learned from a brand-tracking study and a monitoring program it conducted with tech-marketing Mazon Zimbler that CenturyLink Business’s customers wanted to know where technology was heading. So it hired industry experts to write an eBook called Business Technology 2020 and created a campaign to distribute it that married direct mail and social media.

Initially, the company created a post for its ThinkGIG blog that summarized and linked to the eBook. The post was pushed out on the various social platforms and shared by the sales force. The strat­egy was a big win for sales, because it showed that CenturyLink could help customers prepare for the future.

Complementing the social distribution was a direct mail piece that included a Magic 8 Ball fortune-telling toy with CenturyLink brand­ing inside and out. “We changed some of the answers that show up,” Cossette says. “One [was] ‘CenturyLink knows.’” The packaging fea­tured the eBook branding and recommended questions to ask the Magic 8 Ball, such as, “Will we still be talking about cloud comput­ing in 2020?”

The mailing was especially effective. “We’ve had a number of reps say, ‘We’ve been trying to call this customer for months. Finally, when he got the 8 Ball, he took my call,’” Cossette says.

Between the mail and digital campaigns, the eBook has received more than 2.4 million impressions. “We have some big competi­tors with really sharp brand awareness,” Cossette says. “Just getting those 2.4 million impressions, that’s the tangible result for us.”

And, in fact, forecasting results at the outset is essential to creating a content marketing strategy. Doing so is the only way to determine success. “If you’re a new brand simply trying to get recognized in the marketplace, you can easily say there’s value to having 100,000 people come to [your] website every month,” says McMurry/TMG’s Hill. Kevin Kerner, managing director at Mason Zimbler, advises measuring a program’s value in two ways: By analyzing on a regu­lar basis how consumers are interacting with content and by link­ing through to conversion when possible. “The latter is tricky,” he says, “but it can be done.”

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