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Content: Questions & Considerations [FEATURE]

Why engage and invest in the practice of content planning, content development, content marketing/distribution and content analysis? What are you going to get out of it?

The answer is simple: content creates familiarity, familiarity leads to trust, trust leads to conversion, conversions lead to revenue, and revenue (when costs are below income) is how companies become profi table.

Content fuels every single inbound and outbound channel marketing initiative today – including social, email, and search – and it influences every digital experience throughout the user journey. These channels, and furthermore these online experiences, cannot be fully leveraged and optimized without content in some format or another and many brands are becoming increasingly aware of this and now consider it a vital part of building a business presence.

There is simply no question that “content” – however it may be defined – can be used to create interest and generate demand among new users (acquisition) and existing clients (retention) alike and better serve each of these audiences throughout their respective customer journeys.

Nearly half of buyers today, according to 2017 research from Hubspot, for example, view at least three to five pieces of content before they ever contact a sales representative, and 96 percent of B2B buyers look for more information from industry thought leaders before buying. That is compelling data in every way and it should not be ignored.

What the industry as a whole has come to understand (over time and through much trial and error) is that in order for content initiatives to truly be effective, the information/data (the content) that is developed needs to be useful (purpose-driven), entertaining (enjoyable), and inspirational (motivating). Content essentially needs to be “great” and of “high-quality” – thoughtful, informed and strategic – in every way too of course and that requires an execution plan that covers everything from the initial idea stages to the final analysis.

Keep in mind that while there is no possible way to address all the nuances of content development and content marketing and the potential impact on users and the enterprise itself, the best approach for both those just getting started as well as those looking to accelerate their success in this regard is to address some key challenges and make important decisions related to their broader success. In this month’s feature article in Website Magazine, readers will find some of the most common questions about engaging in content initiatives, discover some essential considerations to make and learn about several resources along the way to ensure their success.

Let’s first step back and establish a formal definition of content in the context of the digital experience today and its potential impact on Web-based enterprises.

What is Content?
For many enterprises the answer to this question will be diffi cult to pinpoint because it is so very different for each business entity and individual engaging in the practice.

Content can be a video, a long form article or weblog post, an infographic, an interactive digital experience such as a data visualization – the list is endless. If you want users to consume and experience it in order to generate greater awareness, a higher level of positive sentiment, or more conversions– it is going to be through content. In its simplest form, consider content as an asset – one that directly infl uences the success of an enterprise.

While content development and content marketing/distribution are practices that do often require substantial investment (time and in some instances financial), in every case where content has been seen to positively the influence the success of an enterprise in some way, there are often four acknowledged stages – planning, development, distribution and analysis – and none is singularly more important than the others.

Planning for Content Marketing Success
When a “content” initiative is undertaken it is imperative that an objective has been set as it directs all the variety of tasks that follow it. Is the purpose to generate new business leads? Is it to reduce customer service inquires, or increase the spend of existing customers? How about all of these?

When those responsible for a content initiative know the aim or objective, they are able to focus their efforts – in relation to the development and distribution - more clearly.

Conducting research is another important step in the content planning process. It’s necessary to conduct research on your own website, and of the industry and competitors to learn how to differentiate content efforts. Find ways to improve upon what has been done already; provide more detail, leverage alternative formats, distribute in new or niche venues, etc.

Keep in mind that content is designed not for the business but rather for the user. As such, it’s necessary to craft personas to model desired and existing audiences and address their most important demographic and psychographic traits and qualities.

Another step that those responsible for content initiatives can take is to use buying stages to align the content they will develop (and distribute) to the enterprises objective and desired outcome.

QUESTION: What content approach is going to make the most signifi cant (positive) impact on the business/enterprise?

CONSIDERATION: Every enterprise can drive results from content initiatives when they understand where they are currently falling short. Establishing performance benchmarks, and tracking that data over time (in relation to audience acquisition, service, and/or retention) will reveal where an investment in content can provide the greatest dividend.

RESOURCE: Learn how to use content to drive customer referrals.

Engaging in Content Development
Most companies are going to breeze through the content planning stage although they probably should not as missteps in this phase can lead to a whole host of problems later on. At some point these initiatives need to get tactical and practical and that manifests in the actual development of content.

There are both early and late stages of content development and companies that want to maximize the opportunity afforded them need to pay close attention to each. What should enterprises keep in mind?

Content needs to be produced for every user persona, for every buying stage of each persona, and every potential channel in every buying stage for each persona. If there is one thing not to overlook in content development initiatives, it is indeed personas (and all the data that surrounds them – from keywords to industry trends – needs to be included). Learn how to build user personas and audience profiles.

Content needs to be produced in multiple formats; content initially developed for a blog post, for example, can be morphed into an infographic, those infographics can then, in turn, be turned into videos, videos into slideshows, slide shows into e-books, e-books into case studies, case studies into microsites, microsites into email newsletters and newsletters into email courses. Discover six ways to use previously published content.

The content development stage also requires those responsible for these initiatives to pay close attention to the optimization of individual content elements. Crafting captivating headlines, informative subheadings, detailed summaries, bulleted/numbered lists, personalized quotes, etc. can greatly infl uence prospects and users alike regardless of the format. They are an integral part of the development process (and reusable) and in the opinion of many should be present long before ever putting the virtual pen to digital paper

While there are companies that have teams dedicated to the development of content, others will be the sole individual responsible for content production. In this scenario, it is important to become a content aggregator/curator and in effect, the digital editor of a broader content initiative. Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can leverage the benefi ts of content without doing all the research and writing. For example, support the production of content by accepting submissions from key audiences/infl uencers and personnel – customers and employees. Is there anyone in your ‘Net circle that knows more than you do? Probably, right? Why not use them to your advantage?

QUESTION: Is there a formal process that can be followed to ensure success with content initiatives?

CONSIDERATION: There is noformal execution plan for content related efforts because each enterprise is different – their audiences and industries demand varying approaches. While it can seem overwhelming, start with the basics: develop a publishing schedule, choose the format you’ll focus on initially, build those personas (ensuring that they address audience needs and customer stages of the buying funnel).

RESOURCE: Learn the basics of long-form content writing.

Content Distribution in Focus
Once a strategy is in place, and the “content” has been developed, only a small portion of the digital work is done.

No content was ever considered great (or of a high quality) until it was distributed (shared) with the intended audience. The reality is that most brands fail (and fail spectacularly) in this phase – they don’t know where to distribute, who to distribute to, or when. That’s a problem – particularly for those that are relying on content for the success of their enterprise.

When most Web professionals think of content marketing, what they are really thinking about is content distribution – where it will go once the development phase is complete. This means they will need to get that asset in front of audiences that will ultimately consume it – and with any luck, act on what’s inside and take the call to action that been established.

The fi rst step in content distribution should really be to separate content into that which has been designed for existing customers, prospective users, and infl uencers. This practice enables you to think through the optimal channel, format and outreach strategy for each which can dramatically increase the likelihood of consumption as well as the share-ability and coverage of that content.

Email Newsletters: If your enterprise is one of the lucky few that have collected email addresses, newsletters can be a powerful distribution mechanism. Concentrate on delivering content that matches the user’s stage in the conversion funnel and learn to drive action based on a subject line.

Push Notifications: While a newer technique in general, being able to notify users directly on their desktop (or through push notifi cations on mobile devices) is an effective way to announce the availability of fresh content. Make sure not to overuse this approach as it is seen as somewhat invasive.

Post to Social Media: Content can get lost on social media, but armed with some strategy and some data on when users are most active on specifi c networks (wsm.co/besttimes) posting to social media can provide immense benefi t. Advertise to Specifi c Audiences: Advertising can be very expensive, but taking advantage of remarketing provides a range of opportunities for those responsible for content distribution. Set up campaigns that target previous visitors with new content and watch the leads roll in.

Engage in Direct Outreach: There is no substitute for a personal connection. Identify the infl uencers in your niche, establish a connection, and notify them when new, relevant and useful content is available.

QUESTION: What’s the most effective means of content distribution and generating awareness and website visits?

CONSIDERATION: Without question, capitalizing on the infl uencer trend will result in the best performance but it tends to have the lowest rate of conversion.

RESOURCE: Learn the basics of influencing the influencers.

Content Measurement Matters
Keep in mind that content initiatives often have a very loose defi nition – they consist of a strategy, a tactical execution and a whole host of elements that can infl uence success on their own. For this reason (and others, of course) measurement matters greatly to the success of these initiatives.

The problem is that most digital professionals don’t consider themselves effective at measuring the performance of content. Measuring something with so many moving digital parts can be a real challenge, of course, but it is possible.

Where should a company that understands the value proposition of this practice and that has developed the content required to influence users and revenue begin? The first step should be to align established key performance indicators (metrics) to the pre-defined objectives.

Establishing a broad variety of metrics for monitoring behavior and performance which include consumption levels, sharing velocity and of course the impact on sales is a good start, but there are many others.

In the end, most companies find that when the right analytics plan is in place, it can be easy to track what matters, avoid “analysis paralysis” and gather genuine insights into performance for the betterment of their content initiatives and the bottom line

QUESTION: My content initiatives are underperforming. What can I do to improve and ensure these efforts are generating a return on investment?

CONSIDERATION: Oftentimes it can take months to realize the potential of an individual content element. Outside of being patient, make sure that the proper tracking mechanisms are in place and that no misreporting is skewing the performance metrics.

RESOURCE: Learn more about how to measure the performanceof various content formats

Content Answers
More content is not likely going to solve your marketing or sales woes, it’s not going to correct an otherwise poor customer experience, and it’s certainly not going to save an enterprise that is fl oundering. Success with content initiatives requires careful planning, focused attention on development, aggressive distribution and thoughtful measurement practices. Falling short in any of these areas will likely yield very poor results. Invest wisely in each stage however and content can answer the most pressing questions and problems faced by enterprises.
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