Posted by Kristin Dziadul | December 15, 2015
Content marketing is not new in many respects. In fact, one of the very first signs of custom publishing was found in a cave painting in 4200 B.C. Savvy companies are now offering helpful content that doesn’t overtly sell their products or services, but rather proves their value to people. And that content is taking every form you can think of — from tried-and-true blogs and social media to sexy, brand-sponsored print magazines and live stunts that push the barriers of human possibility (and still wind up selling a heck of a lot of product).
The problem is no longer that companies aren’t sure about the value of content. 88% of B2B marketers in North America now buy in, with the most effective B2B marketers allocating 42% of their total marketing budgets towards content (up from 37% last year) and more than half of marketers plan to increase that budget come 2016.
The real challenges companies face when it comes to building a successful content marketing program today include:
- Convincing the powers that be to spend money on it
- Building sustainable strategies
- Setting the right expectations
- Getting real customer insight
- Proving ROI
As content strategists and writers, we’ve seen a huge shift in content marketing in just the past 5 years alone. We were those marketers advocating for content marketing back when we worked in-house, relentlessly proposing strategies as seemingly simple as getting the blog up and running.
Today it’s a different story. Companies in every industry are using content marketing and seeing huge results, in the form of everything from brand recognition to plain-old revenue (ka-ching). Ready to join the fun? Here’s our advice on how to meet 2016’s biggest content marketing challenges so you can start the year off with a bang:
1. Don’t Just Build. Build Sustainable!
One thing we see hampering many companies when it comes to seeing ROI from content is sustainability. And that matters. Because one major difference between advertising, for example, and content marketing, is that it takes time to build. If you draw up a plan that runs out of gas in two or three months, you might give up before you have time to see if content marketing can really succeed for your company.
Here are three tactics to build a strategy that’ll see you through 2016 (and beyond):
1. Get reflective: Sit down and take a look back at 2015’s content efforts. What worked? What didn’t? Get specific, and come up with very clear-cut ways that you’ll troubleshoot issues that came up in the past. Things to look at might include: how long content took to produce, how many stakeholders got involved, how well content performed, which channels were most successful, etc.
2. Make a roadmap, but pull over & re-chart: A lot of times, people get so excited about the new year, they write up a 12-month editorial calendar or theme plan. That’s awesome, but remember that (especially if you work at a startup), things change fast. Being too set on your plan can torpedo it.
3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew: Look for small ways to take content marketing to the next level each month, rather than getting overwhelmed or overcommitting all at once (especially if you don’t have unlimited resources). Just started your blog? Next month, work on upping your social promotion game. The month after, get some influencers involved. The following month, do an SEO audit. Baby steps in the right direction will keep you on track.
2. Set Clear Internal Expectations
The expectations you set for content marketing are far different than, say, a PPC (pay-per-click) campaign, and for good reason. If you’re looking for quick hits and immediate leads, PPC is what you should leverage. If you’re looking to nurture leads across a number of stages in the buying process, become a go-to resource in your industry and generate sustainable, quality website traffic, that’s a job for content marketing.
Remember: this isn’t something that everyone naturally understands. If your boss or your investors or whoever is clamoring to see IMMEDIATE ROI from content marketing, make sure you sit them down and explain how it really works. If you “yes” them now, you’ll be in hot water later.
On average, it takes six to 12 months of regular content creation before you will see consistent, quality results from your content marketing program. If you (or your bosses) are hoping for a one-month content push (or, worse, a single campaign) to generate tons of hot leads or push you to the top of every Google search, prepare to be disappointed.
Like a finicky houseplant, content marketing requires sustained attention to produce results. Make sure you have sufficient budget and resources, but also make sure you set clear internal expectations about how long it will take. (If you need some help figuring out what those expectations should look like or meeting this commitment, drop us a line.)
3. Get Cozy with Your Customers (and Prospects)
At KDMedia, we produce content aimed at some of the toughest audiences — from IT security to DevOps to data scientists. They’re a no BS, cut the fluff, give-it-to-me-straight bunch (and we respect that). But we know that content marketing won’t work if we just guess at who we’re talking to. If we can’t use the words customers use to explain their problems, or if we don’t deliver content on the platforms they flock to in the format they like to consume it in, we won’t be able capture their attention (or their business.)
That means we have to learn everything from what they complain about on Twitter (again, in their words), to the sites they read (plus what they share, what they comment on, what riles them up). And then we talk with them to understand how they want to receive information and what they find valuable. The same applies to any audience you might be trying to reach.
Here are some of the best ways to get to know your customers:
Find a sample of your customers and prospects on social media and observe for a week or two how they talk, what they post about and how they engage with others.
Interact with them at events. If you can get to a conference or two where your target audience will be, take a few days to get on the ground floor. Set up coffee meetings, go to the happy hours, and socialize during breaks. Use this time not to sell to them but to liste
Get on the phone. Chances are some of your earliest customers are avid fans and users and would be happy to talk to you and answer some questions. Take the opportunity to reach out to a few of them and ask them everything you need to know to understand them. (Then send ‘em a t-shirt or a handwritten note to say thanks.)
4. Oil that Internal Blogging Machine
Getting an internal blogging program up and running regularly is very hard—much harder than most people realize. The technical set-up is often the least of your problems.
Writing always sounds like the easy part until it comes down to getting great ideas from conception to publishing—not just once a month or when you feel like it—but on a weekly basis (that is, if you want to succeed.) Often part of the challenge for marketers is getting subject matter experts to write on a regular basis.
One way to do this? Bribes.
Bribes can work, whether they come in the form of small bonuses, gift cards or free beer. But they won’t work if you force people to write about stuff that they don’t care about and that doesn’t impact them.
Look, if you’re asking a DevOps Engineer to write about “3 Things Your CIO Needs to Know About Continuous Delivery,” what you’re doing is de-motivating them. What that engineer does want to write about? This: “5 Hacks I Learned To Customize PagerDuty Alerts This Week.”
You’ll have to work to find a balance between topics that are relevant to your target audience and push the company’s agenda but that SMEs are actually excited to write about.
5. Try This Editorial Process (Bonus: Free Ed Cal Template)
As hard as managing subject matter experts who want to contribute to your blog can be, editorial calendars are often a close second. To make this piece just a bit easier, we’re making available to you (for free) our standard editorial calendar template. Feel free to copy it, use it and share it with your team:
How to manage your editorial calendar:
1. Start with a 3-month plan for content and determine estimated publish dates
2. Give all content stakeholders and writers access to the calendar (read-only or comment-only unless they are involved in the edit process)
3. Add these deadlines to your project management tool (we use Basecamp’s Calendar function) and share those with your writers
4. Check in on your calendar and progress towards deadlines on a weekly basis
5. Remember that you need to be flexible, and plan for change
6. Take what you’ve learned during the first 3 months and embark on a 6-month calendar by implementing what you learned to make the program even more effective
There is no reason why 2016 can’t be the year your content marketing program lands on the moon (or, you know, starts killing it in the ROI department). With a little reflection on what has worked in the past and a strong plan to kick it into high gear this year, you can start to realize more gains from content marketing than ever before. All it takes is focus, determination, a really good editorial calendar and maybe a couple bribes…
Looking for some help growing your content marketing program?