When an invitation to Inbound Marketing Day Atlanta (IMDA) dropped into my inbox last month, the organizers caught me at the right moment. The role of content in lead generation is always a hot topic and the 1-day conference was close to our Atlanta office at Roam (a terrific workspace if you’re doing business remotely in Atlanta).
IMDA was a collaboration of several Atlanta-based firms, including a couple of colleagues I know from MLT Creative and Marsden Associates. Both firms do great work – kudos to all the organizers, by the way. I know how tough it is to find time.
Like most conferences, I find that the side conversations are often more valuable than presentations promoting books or personal brands. When the topic is content, these conversations can be fairly troubling (“do you know anyone who can write quality automotive content for $10 per 500-word article?” Um…no. I believe that pay rate and the word “quality” are mutually exclusive).
Here’s what three of the IMDA speakers had to say about content:
- Isn’t our appetite for content endless? Mark Schaefer, author of The Content Code, reminded everyone that no one has ever lived in a world where content consumption has not increased. While the content avalanche will only get more powerful, Schaefer says that we’re now in a “Utility Epoch,” a digital era where consumers only pay heed to content at the precise moment they need it. While I believe that to be true as it relates to consumer purchase decisions, I also believe that the scenario is a bit different in our favorite space, the enthusiast brand and product category. Here, there’s plenty of room for compelling vertical content that speaks to specific “want,” not just “need.”
- Isn’t talk cheap? Yes and no. Yes, because it’s talk that can spark an entire movement when built on the right story. No, because your story needs to scale after it sparks, and that requires a plan and daily stoking. Fellow Atlantan and Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) guru Ted Wright reminded everyone why verbal communications still rules. Did you know that there are 159 different ways humans can communicate face to face while social channels are limited to seven (YELLING, Emoji’s, etc.)? That fact along should inspire you to look up from your PDA and find a human to converse with. To get people talking, you’ll need a content hub where consumers share experiences and find fresh reasons to spread the word about you. That requires great writers, videographers and other content creators to craft new chapters of the story. You’ll want to monitor and engage with consumers having conversations about you and perhaps recruit your most ardent followers to participate in your business. In short, WOMM isn’t “just talk” (nor is it cheap).
- Isn’t every story worth telling? Not if you aren’t targeting the right audience. Even the best content can stall without a dose of paid distribution, thanks to plummeting organic reach on social media platforms. In addition, getting real people to act on your content requires you to think about the desired audience long before you push and publish. Ardath Albee, author of Digital Relevance, offered up her take on building buyer personas, a practice that shouldn’t be exclusive to B2B marketers. Matching content to context and truly defining the traits, habits and preferences of the individuals you want to tell your brand and product story to means lots of upfront work.
Whether your role is marketing social media or public relations, we’ve all been content creators and distributors long before the practice was dubbed content marketing. So, what’s left to say about content? The only real news is content marketing technology, which continues to transform how we segment, deliver and measure our words and images. It’s that continued tech innovation that leaves us with plenty left to discuss.
Anyone who writes for a living has never doubted that great content can move you to laugh, cry, covet – and buy. The rest of the world has finally caught on. The result? There’s a ravenous horde of content channels growling at your door, keeping your PR and marketing departments scrambling for the right kind of meaty bits to feed the beasts.
According to Content Marketing Institute founder and author Joe Pulizzi, on average an enterprise now uses 17 different channels for publishing content. As new channels and platforms proliferate, Pulizzi forecasts that this number will continue to increase.
Content isn’t just the latest shiny object. Every current statistic supports the rush to put a stake and money into compelling words and visuals: research from IDG suggests that the value of content now impacts over 50 percent of purchase decision (and many research firms peg it at an even higher number).
All that tweeting, blogging, pinning, posting, bylining, white papering and what-not-ing has not gone unnoticed. In fact, some argue that this tidal wave of text and visuals is putting us into content shock, as marketing consultant Mark Schaefer has warned.
Still, when a tactic “delivers, per dollar, three times the leads of traditional marketing avenues, costs 62 percent less, and has been ranked as the single most effective strategy for SEO,” the bandwagon gets full, fast. Schaefer says that “content marketers are now creating 27,000,000 pieces of content per day, doubling (depending on who you talk to) the entire amount of available web-based information every 9–24 months.”
Whether you’re a brand manager, digital marketer or corporate communicator, feeding and caring for your content channels will take up more of your or your agency’s time. Unless you’re an Intel with a huge in-house 24/7 newsroom, you will never have enough resources to feed multiple channels, so narrow your focus. Here’s how:
- Segment your customers. Before you pay someone for that thought leadership piece or video, identify your customer segments so you can make good targeting decisions. Traditional segmentation identifies shared needs, attitudes, behaviors, or demographics. Value-based segmentation looks at groups that produce your largest revenue. If you don’t have existing customer segmentation data, get it. If you can’t afford it, try to find third-party data from an industry association or a syndicated research study that covers your category. Failing that, hypothesize likely market segments using the expertise of you or your colleagues.
- Choose your engagement points. Purchase funnels have been replaced by decision journeys. Whatever you call your prospective customer’s path to purchase, map out the top stops along the way and focus your attention on targeted segments and their key engagement points. For a target segment, key engagement points could be the social media platform where the most conversation about your product or industry takes place, a third-party review site that delivers a healthy portion of your site traffic or the top trade publications in your business.
- Go deep or go home. It’s easy to be overambitious when you’re faced with multiple market segments and channels. Remember that your content needs to be constantly refreshed. Whether your tactics include blogging, webinars, a video series or branded content, budget the time to update frequently, with original (not simply regurgitated) words and visuals. Better to build out your content deeply one channel at a time then fragment resources.
- Don’t count on luck. The “build it and they will come “ approach may work once in a million, but most content strategy requires effective distribution through both earned and paid channels. For example, distribute earned content like media coverage through promoted posts or share it through an incentive-based brand ambassador network.
- Track and respond. Measure what’s working and rethink what’s not. For example, if your CEO loves to hear herself talk, but analytics show that others could care less about her blog, perhaps a webinar, podcast or online industry expert panel would be more effective. There’s no place for corporate vanity in an effective content strategy.
Image “dog+steak=awesome” by Ed Schipul via Flickr used by CC BY-SA 2.0 / Resized from original.
Although “content” has been around in one form or another since early man painted on cave walls, the study of the strategies and psychology around content marketing is relatively recent. Having just returned from the second annual Content Marketing World conference, my Evernote files are bursting with new ideas based on this emerging discipline.
Though there were over 60 amazing sessions covering a range of topics, I’ve consolidated the themes into three tweetable takeaways:
Content marketing is about answers to the questions customers have at the “Zero Moment of Truth.” ^JD #CMWorld
— Brandware (@BrandwarePR) September 7, 2012
The “Zero Moment of Truth” is the decision point that is created when a customer conducts an online search for information on a product or service. If your content isn’t there to answer the consumer’s question, chances are you may be losing out on a chance to move a customer closer to purchase.
The line between traditional and online channels is becoming non-existent, leaving only “passive” and “active” media. ^JD #CMWorld
— Brandware (@BrandwarePR) September 7, 2012
One generally accepted truth is that whether print, digital or broadcast, media is media. The only distinction that communications professionals should pay attention to is whether the content is “passive,” (for consumption only) or “active,” (the customer is being asked to interact with the content).
The best content comes from the voice of the customer, not the voice of the company. ^JD #CMWorld
— Brandware (@BrandwarePR) September 7, 2012
With content becoming the new battleground for brands, communications professionals are looking for consistent sources of powerful ammunition. Rather than resorting to buzzwords and marketing jargon, companies are finding that the voice of the customer is many times more powerful than that of people inside the company.
There is one other takeaway from the conference that I do want to share. Unfortunately, it’s a little too long to tweet, but the gist is this: content marketing is the new frontier for communications professionals of all types. By looking for new and innovative ways to tell stories, we’re able to form more intimate relationships with customers.
It’s an exciting new world and I’m definitely hungry to learn more.
After last week’s post, here’s a more serious look at some of the takeaways (and ongoing food for thought) following SXSW:
- Lots of “Likes” and “Followers”aren’t the end game.
Pepsico spends a large chunk of change on social media and has 3 million-plus Facebook “Likes” and 50,000-plus Twitter followers for its Pepsi Refresh Project, alone. Yet PepsiCo’s head of digital, Shiv Singh participating in a SXSW panel discussion, also pointed out that racking up pure numbers doesn’t mean you’ve crossed the finish line.
Every week we scour over 150 blogs keeping up with the rapidly evolving world of social and digital media. Because we realize that not everyone can be that obsessive, we have condensed the best into a weekly digest: