Content marketing is the digital tactic
du jour among the new media elite, but
it’s not enough just to produce content.
Today’s savviest digital enterprises must
relate to their audience with content
that motivates, involves, captivates and
excites the user, because that’s the
content that drives results.
So how are the top enterprises using content marketing
today? What methods do they employ for developing, distributing
and analyzing their content-related performance?
This month’s Website Magazine feature answers these important
questions and others to help set your enterprise
on a profitable course down the content marketing road.
CM STATISTICS UNLEASHED
Content marketing has captured the attention of the digerati
for two reasons. Primarily, it is accessible from a
cost and development perspective. Secondly, it flat out
works. When marketers receive a return on their
content investment, they're going to keep at it. Today, enterprises
are aggressively testing different tactics, distributing
content to more destinations and spending money
to make it happen.
According to a recent study on content marketing
from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute,
there is some uncertainty in relation to whether tactics are
being used effectively, but organizations are seemingly unafraid
to engage in the pursuit. The "B2B Content Marketing:
2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North
America" report revealed that, on average, B2B content
marketers are spending 33 percent of their marketing
budgets on content marketing, up from 26 percent last
year. What’s more, 54 percent plan to increase content
marketing spending in 2013. If ever there were a time to
get started, it’s now.
ENHANCING THE DEFINITION
OF CONTENT MARKETING
Depending on your vantage point, you might think digital
marketers have all gone content crazy. They are sometimes
wildly developing and distributing their content, but
too few have any formal strategy, a serious problem for
brands in a far more crowded and demanding environment.
This is a rather serious problem for all brands.
Perhaps the problem is that there’s no single definition
of the practice. There’s a difference between content
marketing and content strategy (some might argue that
content development also differs). The result of all this
confusion is an absolute content mess. If you’re serious
about getting started with content marketing, it’s essential
to have a formal content strategy in place.
The strategic element of content demands attention to
objectives, audience personas and analysis. Whereas the
marketing of content is how content is curated and distributed
and how the objective is executed. Both strategy
and marketing, as well as content development, require involvement with a variety of tools, channels
and techniques, many of which are
quickly proving necessary in order to attract,
acquire and engage both current
and potential customers and drive profitable
The good news? When done well,
content marketing works.
"When it comes to content marketing
it’s important to keep in mind the
end goal for your content marketing
strategy," said Alexis Karlin of Percussion
Software. "For instance we track
the success of content marketing
through inbound lead generation,
bounce rate, marketing qualified leads,
click-through rate, and new visits. This
is tracked on a daily basis, measured
against content themes monthly and reviewed
quarterly. Using this data helps us understand
where we need to add more content, produce more email
campaigns and reach out for guest posts."
With a better (or at least enhanced) definition of content
marketing, and some confidence that the right strategy
will yield positive results, the next phase should be to
consider what content marketing means to your enterprise
specifically and that starts with knowing your audience.
FOR THE AUDIENCE
The practice of creating a user persona of an ideal customer
is the perfect place to start. This persona includes
age and gender of course, but that information alone is
too limiting. It is also important to know how often users
will purchase, their average spend (or income) and, most
importantly, how long that prospective customer will take
to convert into a paying customer once in the sales funnel.
The more you know, the better you will be able to
market exclusively to them: check out Website Magazine's guide to developing website audience personas.
Strangely, it’s not enough to understand the marketing
content’s intended audience. It’s also important to
consider how a marketer’s own bias may influence strategy
decisions. When assumptions are successfully mitigated,
they won’t improperly influence the content
Despite all the big data at our collective disposal,
marketer’s experiences tend to dictate the conversation,
and more often than not, it's just way off base. ExactTarget
released a new chapter in their Subscribers, Fans, and
Followers series called "Marketers from Mars," which
contends that the modern marketer is far ahead of their
consumer counterparts. For example, 90 percent of marketers
own smartphones but only 51 percent of consumers
There are, of course, certain areas where the two
groups think in a similarly. As you can see in the chart on
the next page, the differences seem to outweigh the similarities
in number and in what they represent. Exact-
Target asked both marketers and consumers where
brands should be spending their time and effort in order
to increase customer loyalty and service and what they
found will downright shock you.
Marketers have long believed that the secret to an active
Facebook page is the use of related content (e.g. not
one promotional update after another). Twenty-three
percent of marketers agree, but only 6 percent of consumers
thought this was a good idea. Consumers do
want more Facebook posts, but mostly, they want to consume
information through email and websites. Are you
producing content for appropriate users, in the format
they are most likely to consume it? If not, you don’t
know your audience.
THE PHASES OF USER
DEMAND FOR CONTENT
Using content to drive awareness, loyalty and, of course,
sales is far from a new practice. Online marketers have always
used content. What has changed is when and how
content is used within the buying cycle.
In essence, enterprises are finally realizing the potential
of their content as a means to influence users and drive response across channels.
Consumers are driving the demand.
When you know where
users are in their own personalized
buying experience, the type
of content you develop begins to
play an important role.
One of the best practices that
content marketers can engage in is
to align the type of content they are
creating to where users are within
their individual buying cycle. As
they begin the often-lengthy purchase
experience, marketers will
need to address awareness, consideration
and finally, the actual
decisions. Often however, it’s more common to address
just one of these important phases, typically the one closest
to the actual conversion. There’s a better way.
For example, in an awareness phase, brands can address
the business problem, detail the requirements
and highlight the objectives of such a solution within
their content. In the active consideration phase, content
should help users explore their actual options, research
solutions and determine an overall strategy.
Finally, as consumers reach the decision phase, businesses
should publish content related to specific products
and vendors, help their users build short lists,
assess potential ROI and make the decision.
Different products and services will have different
content demands, but the source and type of content
matters greatly within each phase. For example, the act
of distributing quality content through online communities
can have strong SEO implications, which is useful
in the awareness phase. In the consideration phase, email
newsletters and whitepapers are valuable. Lastly, demos,
free trials and case studies can make a positive impact in
the decision phase.
Business-related content of the past tended to focus
on promotion of the business. While there is certainly
a time and place for that, there are many alternative
opportunities. For example, is your content solving an
immediate or pressing problem? Is it making something
they do or are responsible for easier? The objective is to
help them overcome obstacles. Publishing (and distributing)
content to do exactly that puts your enterprise on
the fast track to marketing success. So why not turn to
users for content inspiration?
Remember, we're solving problems and driving action,
so content should do the same. To do so, enterprises
must understand even more about their users, which is
why it's important to survey those users and audience
regularly. Website Magazine associate editor Allison
Howen recently put together a list of digital platforms
for obtaining customer feedback, which is a terrific
starting point for just this sort of effort.
Of course, it doesn’t have to all be so strategic. You could
opt to fly by the seat of your virtual pants and leverage the
vast amount of real-time data to create content in hopes it
will drive response. Bitly's recent public release of its new social
data API, provides one such good opportunity.
The amount of information that is shortened, shared
and ultimately clicked by Web users is absolutely staggering.
With the new bitly API, it's possible to access the
content that is actively being shared across all of the social
networks. The API provides three types of functionality
to access, including real-time search, attention spikes
and metadata about the URLs being shared.
So how can this information be used for content marketing?
Well, when you know what’s trending, and monitoring
social data in real time for attention spikes, the
choices made in terms of what content you’ll publish will
naturally be better. This means you’ll guess wrong less
often, because those decisions are rooted in empirical evidence
When most marketers think of content
marketing, they think primarily of
where their content will be distributed.
They’re not wrong to do so, but hopefully,
they are also thinking of the content
strategy, the audience that will
consume it, and have the content
ready to send into the channels that
will drive new and repeat visits to their
According to Percussion’s Karlin, “we
use tools such DivvyHQ, InboundWriter and Google
Alerts. We integrate DivvyHQ with our CMS, Percussion
CM1. Through a dashboard widget, we’re able to keep
track of our content through an easy-to-use editorial calendar.
To help with optimizing our content for search engine’s,
such as Google we use InboundWriter. This tool
helps us pick a specific keyword for our content and optimize
each post for those keywords. And to come up with
new ideas to post about we use Google alerts to notify us
on the use of specific-industry keywords. We can write a
response post, generate a white paper from it or even comment
on the new post.”
Not all enterprises will be drawn to using third-party
tools and services for the sake of distribution; it's not
uncommon in fact to let users play a role in it as well.
"We use the AddThis widget in order to get our blogs and
content shared across a wide range of social media, and we
measure the viral level using AddThis's reporting features,"
said Ian Aronovich, President and Co-Founder of
GovernmentAuctions.org. "We also have Awardable.com
run giveaway events for us, which helps us increase and
encourage social interactions via sharing. Since we started
doing that, we've seen a huge increase in the buzz we are
able to generate via users and readers of our content,
which over time translates into more customers.”
More often than not, unfortunately, brands involved
with content marketing have a far too narrow scope on
the channels and methods by which content can be distributed.
"One key we've found to online content is to make
use of all your channels (blogs, email, social) as well as
to blend in appropriate PR tactics, like news releases,"
said Doyle Albee, President of Metzger Associates. "For
example, we frequently get both online and traditional
media coverage for a client in IT security by offering a
point-of-view on a current event in the industry, rather
than hoping reporters and editors see our blog post. We
will issue a news release (in addition to the other items
noted, above) indicating we're available for comment.
This generates not only coverage, but also offers for guest
blog posts, contributed articles, etc."
Yet it’s the email channel that for most marketers will
yield the best results. According to Andrew Knibbe,
CMO at Flippa, “Email has been our biggest driver to the
site, so we spend a fair amount of time making sure we
send timely, relevant emails with optimal content and
subject lines. This relates to both our weekly newsletter
(with site announcement and other content we think our
users will love) and to our transactional emails (bid notifications,
prompts, receipts, watch list notifications).”
The most important element of your content marketing
efforts, as it relates to distribution, is where users
end up once content has been distributed into search engines,
through email and within social media networks.
That’s right, you need to control the user experience and
there’s no better place to do that on your own property.
Users need to be on a business’s digital property if the
aim is to get them to complete the brand’s objective —
sales conversions or leads. But what works best?
“We've found that a mix of site announcement, guest
posts and round-ups of relevant links from elsewhere
keeps our readers coming back to the site and engaging
with our content and platform,” said Flippa’s Knibbe.
“Since our product is fairly niche, our content is aimed
at educating our current and future users. With time, this
content ranks well in Google, bringing in new users.
“We publish 2-3 blog posts per week, and have increased
our newsletter sends to weekly in the last year with
very positive results. In the last three months, we have
ramped up our marketing efforts, publishing content on
other blogs read by our target groups. We also distribute
wider announcements to a list of bloggers in our niche,
which means our most active users will often read about
our product on several channels over a given week.”
The analysis of content marketing efforts is also a rather
sizable obstacle for brands.
Andy Crestodina, Strategic Director at OrbitMedia
and author of "Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Guide
to Content Marketing” said the following about how his
agency uses online content to drive results: "The trick is
to create content with the promotion in mind. Ideally, a
single piece of content gets traction in all three major
channels: search, social and email.
“The nature of this traffic looks very different when
you're measuring the results in Analytics. Social traffic
looks a bit chaotic. It's hard to predict. On the other
hand, email traffic is very consistent. It looks like a heartbeat
on an EKG machine. Search traffic can be very slow
to build up, but over time can look like a long slow line
or curve upward."
Using traditional metrics, such as unique visitors and
page views, time-on-site and bounce rate are reliable metrics
to use when analyzing content marketing, but a new
crop of solutions has emerged that are designed to provide
more meaningful cues as to how these initiatives are
Glam Media, a "vertical" social media company focused
on lifestyle, partnered with SaaS analytics company
Moat to measure content engagement and effectiveness
beyond common measures, such as page views and social
shares. With all the current chatter about content marketing,
you would think there would be a virtual flood of solutions
to help marketers understand how content is
performing, but, alas, there really is not.
Glam Content Analytics however, which is powered
by Moat, helps digital enterprises determine just how
much attention a user is paying to a particular piece of
branded content and how that attention benchmarks
against other campaigns. As more and more marketers
start leveraging content marketing, and distributing brand
assets far and wide through the virtual world, content performance
(and the solutions being used to understand that
data) is definitely going to receive more attention.
In the case of Glam's new content analytics offering,
the user's attention is examined through focus-related attributes,
such as whether the user is actively scrolling
through the content and how much time is spent with
the content in the user’s active browser window, among
other factors. Overall, I think you'll see just how important
this will be to those investing anything in the tactic.
CONTENT MARKETING PLAN
Content marketing is a valuable part of any business strategy
and it comes in many forms. Its implementation,
however, remains underutilized. A study by digital marketing
company IMN found that 78 percent of companies
surveyed placed content marketing as a high or
medium-to-high priority yet only 52 percent reported a
formal content marketing strategy was in place for every
channel of distribution.
There is obviously a sizable disconnection between
content marketing ideals and reality however. With so
many mediums for promotion and brand building, for
content marketing tactics to work they need to be specific.
Not only is specificity needed, but so is planning.
Without a formal plan, how can businesses ever market
their products or services in an optimized way?
Despite blogs and websites flooded with advice for content
marketing and numerous agencies and consultancy
groups that can handle it on behalf of the clients, companies
are still awash in buzz word philosophy that is not grounded
in actual practice. Website Magazine has put together some information for those considering a content marketing initiative in Content Marketing Plans Made Simple, a resource containing details on the best course of action for
planning the entire content marketing experience — from audience
research, to content production and analysis.
The power of content marketing makes it irresistible
to brands both large and small. When approached with a
thorough strategy, with an eye on serving users meaningful
information and using appropriate performance indicators
to measure success, your content will sell.