Unless you’re living under a rock (or in an apartment without an internet connection, which sounds a lot worse) you’ve undoubtedly noticed the increasingly loud chorus of brand marketers, bloggers, and media pundits singing the praises of content marketing.
And if you haven’t, then just take a quick look at this Google Trends chart showing the surge in people typing the phrase “content marketing” into Google and seeing what treasures they might find.
As the chart illustrates, content marketing is exploding and some people (like myself) are saying that it just might give advertising/PR/messages in bottles a run for their money as the marketing currency of choice.
And why not? Eight of ten decision-makers in businesses prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus from an ad, according to Roper Public Affairs, so creating content as a marketing strategy is totally in sync with where the attention economy is headed.
But creating content does not a content marketing strategy make. In order for content to work for your brand, you’ve got to get it in front of the right people at the right time.
At McMurry/TMG, we call this the art and science of content hustling. Here are 5 steal-able ideas from our content hustler’s playbook:
The most successful startups aim at solving a problem. They launch fast and funnel feedback directly into the next iteration in their product development cycle. And they pivot when they realize something isn’t working.
Your content marketing strategy should embrace those same fundamental traits: Solve problems for your customers with the content you create, pay careful attention to the feedback (or lack thereof) and performance analytics, and change what isn’t working and do more of what is resonating with your customers. Don’t go down with a sinking ship of a content strategy just because the CEO likes it. Have the guts to say “This isn’t working, my lovely CEO, no one wants to read your ghost-written ‘thoughts from the top’ column, it’s not solving problems for our customers.” Pivot and move on.
Similarly, brand marketers should act more like bloggers. You know, those pesky people who have been publishing posts since Geocities was a thing—the ones who have quietly eaten up the audience mindshare that probably could have belonged to you if you were more aggressive in the digital space?
Get into the digital trenches with your audience and work on building one-to-one relationships and earn one fan at a time. That doesn’t scale? It takes too long? Right. And that’s exactly why you haven’t earned an audience yet. The best time for brands to start blogging was 5 years ago, the next best time is in 5 minutes. Ready? Go. But:
A while back, I took a look at the top 10 blogs in AdAge’s Power 150, and did some calculations. The top 10 blogs (at the time) had been grinding it out for an average of 6 years and writing an average of 2 posts per day. It’s a long journey to the top of any industry’s list of “thought leaders” and you’ve got to pave the way one piece at a time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You don’t launch a popular blog, you build one, etc., etc. Whatever phrase you want to use, they all add up to the same thing: This is a marathon at a sprint pace and content marketing is a war of attrition.
And no successful war was ever won by one dude alone, so:
3. Stop having a “social media guy”
This describes the social media department at far too many companies: “Oh, Marcus really gets social media. He talks to all of our customers on Twitter and he’s been updating the blog. He does a really good job doing our social media!”
Listen, I have nothing against Marcus, but if you have a social media guy—as in, one person who “gets social”—at your organization, you’re screwed. Social is a layer across the entire customer experience. There’s so much business intelligence and relationship building to benefit from that one “social media guy” should not be at the helm alone. If your entire team isn’t embracing social even in some small way, you’re missing an opportunity and not building a foundation for the future.
Besides, what happens when Marcus leaves and takes his 75,000 Twitter followers with him?
This is exactly why you should:
4. Create a Content Velocity Desk for your brand (or, you know, a social media newsroom)
Creating content is just step one. Or maybe step two, because before you create content you should be researching audience trends through social media monitoring and Google’s keyword tools (and other sources of industry intelligence).
Once you’ve got the seed for your idea, plant it on the Internet and test it in social media. Creating multiple headlines and tweeting them (and changing to the winner in real-time), going through a “content aftermarket” checklist to prepare content for search engines and social media, and learning from trending content performance is all part of the game now.
You don’t just create content based on editorial gut or marketing priorities, you tap into trends, create content around the trends, share the content and learn from the performance trends—and tap into the power of the wisdom of your own internal crowd.
If you don’t have a system—or form, or posture—then you’re never going to be able to grow and scale your approach. Plus, it gets more brains on the case and more data in your hands.
Which is good, because:
5. D.R.E.A.M. (Data Rules Everything Around Marketers)
What gets measured gets done, and what gets measured well gets done better. Decide up front on KPIs (key performance indicators) and identify the tools you’ll need to track them.
The best metrics to track are based on outcomes that relate to real life (i.e., think less about Klout scores and more about traditional marketing performance metrics). Answer:
- How many people did we reach? (And where did we reach them?)
- How many of them engaged with us? (And what did they engage with?)
- How did their perception of us change? (And are we higher up on their buying short-list?)
- How many of them ended up spending with us? (And how much did they spend?)
- How efficient was earning their business? (And how can we improve the efficiency?)
There are, of course, dozens of individual metrics that you can use to evaluate content marketing success—and your performance reporting is likely to change based on what your brand’s goals are—but if your metrics reporting seems to be focused on vanity metrics and not your bottom line, it’s probably not going to be a fun conversation when it’s time to ask for more of a marketing budget—or to keep your job—when your brand lays out the strategy for next year.
These are, of course, just a few plays from the content hustler’s playbook that I hope you find useful. I’d stick around and share some more but I’ve gotta get hustlin’.