The Value of Content Marketing: An Expert Panel Q&A

May 7, 2013 at 7:42 am Leave a comment

by Rob Wolfe – CONNECTED Brand Management and Marketing

The Value of Content MarketingIs Content Marketing just the latest bandwagon passing through or the next maglev that’s moving faster than ever?

Adapted from the definition provided by the Content Marketing Institute (an excellent resource for content marketing, by the way), I consider “Content Marketing” a marketing technique of educating your target market so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you. It is achieved primarily by creating and freely distributing relevant and valuable content (ebooks, whitepapers, video, webinars, podcasts, etc.) to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable client action and building client loyalty.

In their book, Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand, authors Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi devote a chapter to measurement of the value of content marketing. They say, “It’s impractical to think you’re going to maintain perfect ROI [with content marketing]. You have to look at a content marketing investment as a long-term strategy to engage audiences. You must be able to experiment with new tactics…You need to be able to look at the lifetime value of your customers; yes, you will try things that fail, but you’re also doing things to help retain long-term, high-value customers. Remember, content marketing is an asset that can live for a very, very long time (unlike most advertising).”

I engaged a diverse panel of marketing executives/experts in a discussion on content marketing. I posed several questions and asked the panelists to provide their personal insight based on their experience. Their responses provide varying perspectives.

Meet the panelists:

Q: How do you define Content Marketing in your business?

MICHELE MILLER:

Three things fall under Content Marketing in my mind that should be clearly delineated. One is Content Strategy. Without going through the exercise of mapping business objectives to user needs, the effort of creating content will fail. A strong foundation needs to be set in order to move forward into the planning and execution phase. In step one you get to the “Why does this matter?”, and in step two you figure out how to effectively communicate those messages to your audience. The third point I’ll make is probably the most critical, and that is designing your content model so that the content, not the business owners, performs the bulk of the work. This means a strong meta model, content structure and the right content management system to support publishing workflow.

JOHN COUPLAND:

Content Marketing is about creating and adding value to others. We share content irrespective of whether our audience consists of our given target market or our competitors. The content can be either our own or by sharing what we feel is great content created by others – by sharing across the social networks, for example.

IVANA TAYLOR:

To ME, content marketing occurs as a strategy. Since about 2008, my strategy has been to get my DIYMarketers content and brand to appear on high-traffic, high-influence sites such as AMEX and SmallBizTrends. The idea was to have MY by-line and brand be seen along with other influential brands and then have that drive traffic to my site and build my brand.

Given that context, content marketing is more of a PR, brand building activity. But that is not going to be true for long.

You can actually convert your content to training and educational products. In some industries, I’ve seen these kinds of content programs (not campaigns – but actual products) gain brand recognition that is hard to beat. So not only does the content generate cash, but it serves as it’s own brand builder. Much like Apple products.

LANCE BAIRD:

Content marketing is the creation and sharing of items that tell your story to facilitate and expedite the buying process.

Q: What do you feel is the most critical trend in Content Marketing to focus on right now? Do you think this focus will shift over the next couple years?

MICHELE MILLER:

I think the most important thing companies need to consider when it comes to content marketing is whether or not they are organizationally structured to manage content. In most cases, the answer is a resounding “no.” Content should be treated the same as any other initiative or product. And to be honest, it’s even more important, because it’s how you’re going to win the trust and loyalty of your customer. I see operational budgets continuing to shift in the coming years to adapt to the growing demand for good content.

As part of that shift, there is ongoing effort to separate content from the presentation layer. Responsive web design has been a hot topic in the last couple of years. Large companies found that as they continued to grow and expand their digital ecosystem, they were essentially building disparate experiences that often contained similar or identical content, creating a content management nightmare. I’ve had clients tell me they have identical content in more than 30 instances across platforms, websites, applications, intranet, etc. I’m very focused on helping clients move towards a “COPE” model, or Create Once Publish Everywhere. It’s often a gradual process, but moving towards a responsive, adaptable content structure will essentially future-proof content for the form factors that have not yet been defined. Technology is moving far faster than business infrastructure, so planning ahead will ultimately reduce the need for future investment.

JOHN COUPLAND:

Time efficient strategies to deliver the most optimised results. We live in a world full of constant change. Our world is becoming more crowded and noisy, where businesses want to be remembered for the right reasons, thus impacting positively on their profits in competing markets. One thing that does not and will not change is that there’s only 24 hours in each day. The shift will be that focus in adopting the right strategies will be even more vital, especially when more entrepreneurs enter these markets, claiming their ‘slice of the pie’. Technology will have to continue to adapt and serve business people who work in ever more faced-paced environments.

IVANA TAYLOR:

“Content to cash” — is the trend I was talking about. While there is lots of content out there, there isn’t much GOOD content out there. And good, useful, time-saving and money-making content will convert to cash.

“Content as product” — this has been laughed at in the general small business market and labeled as “info-marketing” and scam — but I see this business model transforming itself and displacing more expensive and less practical university programs. (for entrepreneurs and small business owners with no time to go to school and theorize)

LANCE BAIRD:

I think the most critical elements to focus on within content marketing haven’t changed much and likely won’t for some time – establishing a clear voice and a sound strategy to make things work. The digital landscape is only going to grow, of course, which makes the management of these elements harder and thus require greater attention.

Q: How have you integrated Content Marketing into your own marketing strategy and how have you benefited from it?

MICHELE MILLER:

We’ve definitely made strides in the last few years to improve how we present ourselves as a company, and in how we educate prospects about our services before they even engage. Putting together a messaging hierarchy, and determining the key messages you want someone to know about you is a great exercise, both professionally and personally. Individuals at the top of any company should make the effort to be creating their own content as well. It’s about representing yourself as a thought leader, and proving there is substance behind the marketing. It’s not just a smart copy. It’s a way of business. Consumers have become very savvy. The seller-buyer relationship no longer exists and what stands in its place is information asymmetry. Businesses must adapt to address user needs. In short, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

JOHN COUPLAND:

In 2012, I asked myself the following: “How can I move from an immensely crowded space to less crowded one, where I may be able to ‘cut through the hype and noise’ in the market I’m active in?” The answer was to become a published author by producing content, sharing a proven methodology I have developed to help busy business owners and entrepreneurs achieve return on investment in their social media marketing in a time efficient way. So I wrote and published.

So far, it has opened new business opportunities and a better conversion rate and I have been invited to speak at higher quality events. This is supported with a PR campaign, where I have written articles for third party magazines and blogs, including appearing as a guest on podcasts to support the marketing of my book – my content. See: http://www.accelerateyoursocialmedia.com/pr

IVANA TAYLOR:

I addressed this earlier in my response to how I define content marketing in my business.

LANCE BAIRD:

Content marketing is a core focus of Godfrey’s marketing, one of many reasons we’ve enjoyed considerable business success this year and is only expected to grow. What’s most relevant for our target customers? How can we persuade them to check us out? We can’t ask these questions of ourselves enough.

Q: Can you give an example of a model Content Marketing strategy or tactical approach that you’ve seen used by a company or brand recently?

MICHELE MILLER:

I’m completely and consistently in awe of Unilever and their Dove “Real Beauty” campaign. Primarily because it has very little to do with selling their products, and everything to do with how women ultimately feel about themselves. They’ve successfully created a foothold in a fundamental women’s topic – self-esteem and self-image. Most recently they released a video where they enlisted an FBI forensic artist to draw women based on their own descriptions of themselves, and then again based on their description from a stranger whom they had just met. The payoff? You’re more beautiful than you think.

Again, they’re not focusing on pushing products, but they are effectively endearing consumers to their brand.

JOHN COUPLAND:

Mercedes-Benz ‘Escape the Map’ campaign: This was original, it involved the viewers, it integrated social media and mobile marketing and delivered tangible results.

IVANA TAYLOR:

AMEX has a hard sell. They love small business, but their credit card model doesn’t work well for small business (At least that’s how I see it) To make themselves more appealing, they’ve really thrown themselves into the content marketing side of marketing strategy. They sponsor all kinds of small business events and programs. They are at the front and center of small business – for sure.

Recently, they’ve changed up their web site and blog and really looked to build a small business community based on community interactions and the advice they provide on the site — as content. I know it’s not necessarily articles – but it’s still content.

I think they’ve really struggled with ways to get good content on the site without paying for it.

LANCE BAIRD:

Many are raving about Coca-Cola’s content marketing strategy and for good reason, too. It’s outstanding.

Q: What price do you think businesses will pay (consequences) if they’re not using a Content Marketing approach as part of their integrated Marketing?

MICHELE MILLER:

I touched on this in the first 2 questions. Jumping in without a plan or alignment on what you’re trying to say, combined with an organizational structure that is configured to sell, not create content is destined for failure. Getting a grip on your content channels, platforms and formats is critical. Too many businesses are still operating in silos, and attempting to mirror their internal organizational structure out to the public. This ultimately results in confusion, inconsistent messaging and voice, and a watered down brand presence. Any and all departments who are creating, planning for, and managing content should have visibility into each other’s activities. This means your social media team should be talking to your marketing team…should be talking to your communications team…your customer service…your brand teams, etc.

Content Marketing is no small initiative. It should be part of your company’s culture. And it must be supported with the proper strategy, budget, staff, technology and measurement. There’s still this misconception where content is overlooked for more “measureable” tactics. Goals, KPIs and metrics should be a part of any content strategy. Because content is, indeed, measureable.

JOHN COUPLAND:

They risk not being seen as industry leaders and, effectively, handing the mantle to their competitors.

IVANA TAYLOR:

I don’t think that content marketing is a silver bullet for any business. It’s a strategy that has to be leveraged – like any other. It might be an “obvious” strategy — as it is for me as an online publisher. But it can also be used in industries where it isn’t as obvious — such as in industrial or manufacturing spaces.

One thing I have learned recently — is that the old sales and marketing maxim of being where your customers are buying is very true with content. It doesn’t work to be alone in a space — your content has to appear where your customers will read it. Pushing content doesn’t work – they have to find it and return to it every time.

LANCE BAIRD:

Companies who fail to embrace “content marketing” as part of an overall communications platform will be sorely left behind, failing to achieve the kinds of business and marketing goals they wish. Content marketing isn’t some fad. It’s not going away. Embrace it.

What comments do you have on this discussion about Content Marketing, or would you like to pose any follow-up questions to the panelists? Also, if you have anything to share on your own experience with Content Marketing and its benefits or challenges, I’d like to hear about it.

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