Red Hot Penny hosted a couple of roundtable discussions last week, at a marketing conference, about content marketing. It was a pretty loose discussion that teased out participants’ thoughts on their frustrations around content marketing, how they report on it and what it achieves for them. There was a mix of larger brands and smaller companies, so naturally approaches differed extensively as some of the companies had whole in-house teams that generated content, while for others it was a part-time role among other tasks they performed.
Despite this difference, there was sufficient correlation with the feedback that showed:
- Creative is King
There is way more focus on the creation of content than measurement and reporting. So, the general feeling was that some of the content is great, while some of it is, let’s just say, not so great and just ‘filler’ content. Why is this? Because posts, articles, infographics, etc. shows output, whereas reports and analysis have much less value in the current world. In fact, it’s dangerous as it might just show that the work completed has added little or nothing to the business!
- No Common Meaning of ‘Content’
Content meant literally anything (from text to images to video), and that’s not a bad thing. However, it also meant product descriptions, other onsite content, offsite content, social posts, press releases and anything else that can be posted anywhere. That makes it harder for marketers to dial in a successful strategy and cover all bases.
- Lack of Expertise
It’s not surprising that the people who can create the content are not the same people who can properly report on it. It’s the perennial left-brain/right-brain discussion, and someone who can come up with amazing content ideas and then put it all together is not the person who is comfortable studying analytics data and determining future content strategy, or reviewing keyword options and optimising the content accordingly.
- Lack of Resource
No matter how large the organisation, everyone bemoaned the lack of resource which impacts on every point above. It was identified as THE major stumbling block.
- Insourcing VS. Outsourcing
Most companies, no matter their size, have a focus on insourcing this activity. There is a belief (rightly or wrongly) that you need to be inside the business to talk about it publicly. But this causes frustrations because insourcing adds far more costs than just the cost of managing and creating the content, which means that it is seen as an overhead rather than a marketing spend. It also limits what can be done as companies are less eager to hire analysts over content executives/managers.
- Noise and Clutter
There was a common feeling that nobody knew exactly how the content they were creating was helping their business. The content simply ended up in the mix with all the other content they were creating, along with everyone else. They had no idea how effective it was at rising to the top.
We then turned to solutions that could help in resolving these issues and found that it essentially comes down to the 6 key questions that should be asked about any marketing program. The below relates to individual pieces, but can easily be extended to the overall content strategy. It is also not in any particular order, although the first question is, in our opinion, the most important:
Too often, this question is skipped and it is the most critical question to ask. Why are you creating this piece? What is its purpose? Do you need it to rank for a particular search term? Do you want it to generate lots of backlinks? Is there a lack of information on a subject that you want to write a really informative/educational piece on a specific subject? Are you trying to catch the wave of a current or emerging trend? Do you want engagement or perhaps gathering information?
The answers to each of these questions will influence the answers to the other questions below, but in a broader sense, it may even determine whether the content piece is required.
OK, so you know why you need to create the content piece and the purpose it is serving. So now you need to determine what format it’s going to take. Educating visitors requires something like an article or infographic. Improving search rank may be best served with a long-form article. Shareability might be better served with a funny or thought-provoking image-based piece or quiz. Gathering information is obviously achieved through a survey or poll, etc. You get the idea that ‘content’ can mean many, many things and some are better suited to your objective of that piece than others.
Another strategy is called ‘atomising’ your content. That is the concept of creating large content pieces, which you use on a site (yours or someone else’s) and then breaking that content into many component parts, which then get used on other channels and ultimately promote the main piece.
A final key consideration is whether you need to create all the content yourself. In some cases, simply curating and sharing great content may meet your goals in the WHY question.
If you answer the WHY and WHAT questions first, then the question of WHERE may be simple. But you might equally think about WHERE immediately after determining WHY. In this case, you should determine whether your strategy revolves around your website, a third-party site or a social platform. From there you plan the content piece accordingly. You might decide to do a Facebook poll because you have a ready list of followers to engage with and can easily reach more people through sponsored/boosted content. You might partner with a media outlet to promote the poll/survey if you are willing to share the data with them.
This question is in two parts. Firstly, WHO is the content being created for and secondly, WHO are you in providing the content…
For the former, you will hopefully have developed one or more personas that represent your target audience for the content. If not, you need to. This might be overall personas for your campaign, or perhaps even just for that content piece if it’s large enough or important enough. Then write to that person. Write in a language they will understand and in a way that will resonate with them. Some content may need to be very business-like, or very technical, or perhaps very caring. The best reaction and engagement will be when the reader sees that the content is for them and realises it from the very first sentence.
For the latter, you must determine who you are in this conversation. Are you trying to be a trusted advisor (a little like this piece), a technical professional consultant, someone sharing the issues that the reader has? Your tone of voice will be determined by this.
For instance, you may be writing to a 45-year-old parent, but as the persona of an angst-ridden teenager. Extreme example, but it highlights the thought process.
Oh if we had a Pound/Euro/Dollar for every time we encountered the issue of great content being released too late, we’d have an amazing night out toasting all the people who released their content late!
Everyone knows that things like PR are time critical. But a thought is only given to the concept of ‘missing the boat’ rather than ensuring you get to the boat first. I know, I am going to have to explain this one a little more…
OK, so with PR, immediacy is important, not too early as to be irrelevant, or not too late as to be, well, irrelevant! But with other content, especially online content that you want to be visible at the right time, you can never be ‘too early’, and what you think is early, is already late. Let me give you a great example. Think about Prom Dresses. Prom dress season is around April and May, so many people in that business aim to get their content up in mid-March, thinking they are early. However, if you look at the sales trends, you’ll see that searches around that term spike in January and sales peak in February. So, your lovely, amazing content, posted in March is as useful as seeing a barn door salesman after the horses have gone.
The only way you can answer the ‘when’ question is by reviewing your data and any other industry data you can get your hands on. If you don’t have that data, then simply plan to post the content in the middle of the preceding, plus one, season. So, if you want your content about summer travel to be relevant to summer travelers, who will be searching about this in the spring, you need to be posting in the winter.
As we have seen, no matter your size, everyone has a lack of resource and a penchant for insourcing as much as possible. Consider therefore whether this is your best option. It may well be, but in this case, you need to balance creative hires with analytical hires. Typically, SEO people are, by their nature, very good at data analysis. They, therefore, make for a perfect partnership with creative writers and designers.
But if you don’t have these then consider outsourcing the function of optimising and analysing your content to an external partner. It looks like a hard cost, but you would be amazed how much more an external party can deliver, based on the fact that they need to make every minute count. It may even be a better idea to outsource the reporting of your content marketing success. External people are not bound by the niceties of internal politics, so we can call it as it is and really get to the core of any issues.
There are many other benefits to engaging external partners. No employment costs and a much broader expertise that will bring valuable insights. Typically, a much deeper understanding of their channels because they are specialists in that channel.
Bottom Line, You Need Data
By now, you’ve probably noticed a thread that goes all the way through this article. You need data. Both beforehand, to plan and create your content, and afterwards, to determine whether your content was successful. Your ability to justify your strategy or its ongoing implementation is to have the data that shows the impact it is having.
Most people look simply at impressions and maybe stretch to engagement. If you really want to prove the benefit of your work, you need to find a way to relate it to much more tangible successes. Sign-Ups, Enquiries and Sales need to be key CTAs that are worked into the content. The conversions you achieve from each piece will typically be very small, but it quickly builds up when your content gains a critical mass.
So, if you don’t have this expertise today, hire it or find someone to deliver it externally.
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