The speed of change
The number of mobile devices being purchased has surpassed computers, globally online video traffic will be 55% of all consumer Internet traffic in 2016 and 88% of B2B marketers will increase or maintain their spend on content marketing over the next 12 months.
The evolution of digital business has required companies to adapt to changes in technology and evolving consumer preferences for information discovery, consumption and interaction.
It is simply not enough to rely on push marketing tactics and advertising limited to the promotion of product features and benefits. Consumers have more content choices in text, images, audio, video and interactive formats on more devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops. They expect more than just useful information from the brands they buy from.
In reaction to many of these changes in technology and an increased demand for information, many businesses have resolved to creating more content; more information to feed the insatiable appetite of the search and social web.
According to Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs Content Marketing:
2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America study, 86% of B2C marketers and 93% of B2B marketers use content marketing respectively.
According to a study from IBM, we’re now creating 2.5 quintillion bytes daily— so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.
Competition for attention has increased exponentially as brands evolve their publishing efforts and consumers are increasingly empowered to publish themselves. Blogs, social media sharing sites and networks are powered by brand and user generated content, all competing for time and attention.
Since most consumers are confronted by thousands of marketing messages every day, it’s essential that companies understand their customers and those who influence them. Using the right tools for everything from influencer discovery
to topic optimization, brands can embark on a continuous effort to improve theperformance of their content investment.
Data analysis and optimization tools will surface knowledge of specific customer segments and their pain points, goals and those who influence them. Armed with such insight, marketers will be better prepared to craft meaningful content marketing experiences to exceed customer expectations and pass the competition.
Businesses must think beyond the mechanical and transition to a more meaningful approach to PR, search, social media and content marketing.
Unfortunately, simply creating more content isn’t the answer. Competition is fierce for consumer’s time and attention, raising the bar on content marketing from information to experience. Businesses must engage in smarter, customer focused content marketing, not simply creating more information. The shift from traditional digital marketing to a focus on integrated content
experiences will require companies to rethink their approach to content marketing.
Making that transition requires an understanding of 4 essential shifts:
Traditional publishing models have been significantly affected by these changes in technology and consumer information preferences.
Print based publications are on the decline, newsroom resources and staff are shrinking and the roles of brand publishers and traditional media publishers are exchanging.
For examples of those changes, look no further than the news of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post or to American Express and it’s content publishing business that includes lifestyle magazines like “Travel + Leisure”, “Food & Wine” or it’s highly successful online content community OPEN Forum. The disruption occurring in media and publishing has gained momentum and spells a huge opportunity for companies that can see the value of “brand as publisher” as a way to connect early and in a meaningful way with customers, influencers and communities.
Driven by the customer journey
The diversity of information options and access through myriad devices empowers consumers with more decision making power before they ever act on an intent to purchase. The customer journey from awareness to consideration to purchase weaves it’s way through channels like search, news and social media in a dynamic path that is rarely linear and increasingly numb to push messaging.
Those companies that can attract and engage consumers earlier in the customer sales cycle can establish a stronger brand connection and influence sales, despite a greater diversity of content and rising competition.
Architecting a content marketing plan across the customer buying cycle and life cycle with the brand will enable marketers to plan content topics meaningful to each stage: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy.
Content discovery, consumption and action at each stage can then be planned to optimize the customer experience.
“Great content isn’t great until it’s discovered, consumed and acted on.”
Rethinking a content marketing strategy and it’s integration with search, social media and PR requires a solid definition of content marketing:
“Content marketing is the planned creation, promotion and optimization of brand stories designed to create useful and meaningful experiences that attract, engage and inspire a target group of customers from awareness to purchase to advocacy.”
With that definition, marketers can build a content marketing strategy that draws from both consumer insights and brand goals to create great content that is optimized for discovery, engagement and conversion towards business goals.
“Create useful and meaningful experiences that attract, engage and inspire a target group of customers.”
Next steps and key questions:
What business goals could be solved by more useful and meaningful content?
Who are the target audiences your business needs to connect with? What do they care about? What are their goals?
Develop an editorial calendar that takes into account how each target customer segment discovers, consumes and acts on information needed during their buying cycle Build search, social media and media optimization best practices into your content planning and promotion efforts. Continuously analyze key performance indicators and business outcomes to optimize the performance of your content marketing investment.
The role of content in modern day marketing
Every now and then in business, but especially in digital marketing, a new word pops up to describe a ‘new’ strategy. Often it turns out that the strategy isn’t really that new, it is just adopted by many and summarized by a new term.
“Content marketing“ seems to be one of those terms. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not
saying it is a buzzword, which will go away sooner or later, but it is something which
a lot or marketers have jumped on. And actually “content marketing” has been there for a much longer time than we might realize. It is a term however which in many cases is misinterpreted by those using it.
Let’s take a big step back in time. Because Content Marketing might be a term, which seems to be one developed in the past few years, in fact we’ve been doing content marketing for a lot longer.
You could even say we as humans started doing content marketing back when we were cavemen. Back in those days we knew how to communicate by voice (it’s difficult to call it ‘language’, but in a way it was): we knew how to get the message across. The problem however was that we could only get the message across to those we were ‘talking’ to in person. And we were looking for a way to ‘broadcast’ what we were saying to a bigger audience and to make it more permanent. The first ‘written’ language evolved from that need: murals. We painted our messages on the walls of our caves. The murals themselves were the first content we created, trying to make others understand and act based on that message actually is the
first type of content marketing we as humans have been doing.
Taking a giant leap forward into the 20th and 21st century we have been creating content and doing content marketing on a much bigger scale. First with books, then newspapers and magazines, with which we tried to create information, which should push people in a certain direction, and after that television and radio were types of content which was used to make people think in different directions. And
when the Internet came content got a boost: lots of new content appeared, content now also written by others than marketers. And content marketing still played a big role because we wanted to make that
content visible and understandable for as many people as possible. You can truly say that content marketing really got a boost with the rise of the web.
The role of SEO in the content
One of the main drivers for the growth of content marketing without a doubt has been Search Engine Optimization. We wanted to get our message across to as many potentially interested audiences as possible and SEO was a great driver to that.
Because there was (is) so much content online people turned to search engines to filter this content for them. The more relevant the search engine decided it was on a term the searcher chose, the more they trusted it. This lead to the realization amongst marketers that if you wanted to reach the audience you needed to be visible within search engines. And to be visible you needed content, content which then was optimized (or should we say ‘marketed’?) to be picked up by the search engines. In a way you could say that Search Engine Optimization actually is content marketing.
The realization that content written with search engines in mind might get you visible for many people simply led to an explosion of content. You could often hear the phrase ‘you don’t need SEO, just good content will do’. And that is where it actually went wrong for content marketing: marketers started to diffuse content marketing with just content. The definition got grey.
That’s why marketers should first start with understanding the definition of content marketing before they start creating content.
The definition of content marketing
What really is Content Marketing? There are many definitions out there. The Social Media Today website made a nice overview of some different definitions and explanations of Content Marketing.
Let’s take Wikipedia’s definition as a starting point:
“Content marketing is any
marketing format that involves
the creation and sharing of media
and publishing content in order
to acquire customers.”
This is the first part of the description on Wikipedia and there is one thing which is
being used in all sorts of different definitions of Content Marketing:
“Storytelling for Sales.” (Content Marketing Institute)
“Creating and sharing valuable free content” (Content Marketing Experience)
“Creating and distributing digital assets” (Copyblogger)
“Delivery of editorial content” (Bryan Haines)
The common denominator here is the ‘creating’ part of the content. And this is where it often goes wrong. Many brands feel creating the content is enough by itself.
Throw as much content towards the potential audience and something must stick. And if it doesn’t stick, let’s just try again and again and again. The marketers of the brands actually seem to stop thinking after the term ‘content’ and forget the ‘marketing’ part of the term. This part is at least as important, if not
more important. Creating is just a part of it. The sharing part another, but the most important part of content marketing does not take place at the brands but at the audience’s side of things. Yes, a brand can create and yes, a brand can share, but without keeping in mind who you’re targeting, it will all be useless.
The position of the target audience
The biggest mistake made is that brands start creating content from their own perspective.
“Look at how great we are” is the underlying message they are trying to send out. And they are hoping that the receiver will pick that up and ‘share’ their message. They create content from their own perspective or based on a profile of their audience.
There is one big problem here though: there is no average target audience. Everybody who goes online has a different background. In business to business some are managers, others are specialists and others are just supportive. This makes they will each look at the content they are seeing from a different perspective. The same goes for business to consumer. One visitor might be looking for a good
time, the other is looking to buy and the third is merely investigating whether or not the brand is something they can relate to.
Everybody is different and everybody has different reasons for going online. So why are marketers creating the same content for all of them? Chances are that when you create content for the average visitor, none of the visitors will be able to relate to the content, because it doesn’t fit the needs of
why they were looking for the content in the first place. You could still be ranking number one in Google for it, but it wouldn’t help your brand at all. Because the visitors cannot relate to it.
What brands really need to do
This means brands have to make a switch when it comes to content:
Instead of just creating content, you need to create and market the content crafted to the specific needs of different target audiences.
You need to start understanding the differences between visitors. You need to figure out what is important to them. When doing research there are several things a brand needs to do:
Understand the goals of the audience
A brand needs to understand the different reasons why visitors are looking for specific types of content. What is their intent when they go online? What is their goal?
The brands should define the different reasons for going online, not just the average one, but specific ones: are they coming to buy, are they here for knowledge, do they want support or are they here for a good time?
Remember why people share
A good reason for Content Marketing is to make people talk, preferably even recommend you as a brand to their peers. But that means the content you provide people with has to be marketed in a way that will make these people share. People talk with each other to form and grow social bonds. This means that
anything they will say to someone else or share with someone else has the purpose of ‘looking good’ or ‘making a point’ towards someone else. Providing them with content to share which will make them look good to their peers will make you look good in the background.
Choose the right channels
Many brands pick one or more channels and start spreading their content there. The main reason for picking a channel in many cases is merely the size of the potential audience. No thought however goes into what makes people go to that specific channel: what are they doing there? Have you ever thought of why people go to Facebook? In most cases they are not there for buying purposes. They are there to share information with friends and have a good time.
Sending out a ‘sales message’ to these people will not be received well in most cases. For brands it is therefore important to market content (it doesn’t have to be their own content), which fits the needs of what people are doing in the specific channels.
Current days Content Marketing: the right content for the right people
We have come a long way from creating mural paintings to modern day content marketing. Somewhere along the way however marketers made the mistake of just creating content and forgetting about the marketing part of it. The marketing part, which goes back to the original way of ‘doing’ content marketing: getting a message across. And throughout the history of marketing one thing has been important: the understanding of those you are targeting.
It is now hugely important for marketers to create, share and market the right
content for the right reasons and the right people. Content which fits their
needs, which will help them take the next step in whatever they are doing.