Content marketing without a documented strategy is doomed to fail: Survey

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A documented strategy is a must if you want to be successful with content marketing.

That’s the conclusion of the first-ever Milwaukee Area B2B Content Marketing survey, conducted by Cultivate. The majority of the marketing managers who responded to this new survey (68%) don’t have one and that limits their ability to be effective with content marketing:

B2B marketers in southeastern Wisconsin are still in the “early adopter” phase of content marketing, based on their responses to a question about their effectiveness with this fast-growing marketing practice: Only 12% rated themselves as “very effective.” Another 65% of respondents believe they’re only “somewhat effective” at it, while 23% classified themselves as “somewhat ineffective” or “very ineffective.”

Content measurement is the number-one challenge that Milwaukee-area content marketers face, according to nearly half (49%) of the respondents. Their number two challenge is producing content consistently (47%). This isn’t surprising. To gain the attention of a target audience and build trust with it, marketers must consistently create and publish valuable content over a long period of time.

Other content marketing challenges cited by survey respondents include producing engaging content, measuring the ROI of content and a lack of a clear content marketing strategy.

The survey also explores what’s behind marketers’ motivations to allocate funds to content marketing and the percentage of their budget they allocate to it.

Get the FREE Survey Report

 

How to tame the content approval monster

Tame the Content Approval Monster

Lurking in the corner of your office is an unseen threat to the success of your content marketing efforts. It’s the approval monster and his favorite activity is not to dismember, devour and destroy, but rather to plant his fat butt on top of your content, bringing your publishing process to a screeching halt.

No approvals. Not today. Not for a week or two, if you’re lucky!

As you scale your content marketing production, one of the challenges you’re likely to encounter is content approvals. If you don’t have a streamlined process for managing them, they WILL become a bottleneck and compromise your ability to publish content consistently.

Here are some ideas for keeping content flowing smoothly in your organization:

Clearly define your content workflow, and make sure you distribute it to everyone who has a hand in content production, as well as any relevant subject matter experts and stakeholders. Everyone needs to be working from a common set of expectations and roles. This article includes a simple “swim lane” diagram that can help you understand what a typical content process looks like.

Don’t treat all content the same. Certain types of content, such as ebooks and video scripts, deserve a full-blown vetting process. Other types of content, such as social media posts and images for your company’s Facebook page or Instagram feed, should he managed with much less attention and oversight. You should be able to publish them as soon as they’re produced, or on a schedule that you decide. For a valuable perspective on this topic, including an awesome red light/yellow light/green light model, please see Marcia Riefer Johnston’s article on the Content Marketing Institute’s website.

Centralize all of your internally-written and contributed content in Google Docs. This cloud-based word processing tool enables you to collaborate easily with others, track revision history and much more. This article from SmartBlogger explains how to make it the engine of a scalable content production and publishing empire.

Set time limits on content reviews. Let your article sources and department managers know the turn-around time you require. But here’s the important part: Also let them know that if you don’t hear from them by that date, you will assume they are okay with the content as is, and you may proceed with the publishing process.

Identify production bottlenecks and reduce or eliminate them. Diagram your content production process, so you understand who is involved and what the dependencies are at each step. Next, measure and document how long each step takes. Then select a standardized period of time (such as a week) and determine how much content each person could produce within that time frame. Gathering this data will help you identify where the bottleneck is in your process, so you can reduce or eliminate it. For a full explanation of this process, please read this article.

Follow the model publishers use. Publishers don’t have the luxury of having content hung-up in approvals. They operate on a very tight schedule. Accordingly, they take a more streamlined approach to this important part of the publishing process. They establish rules and monitor for editorial compliance once and then enforce them rigorously to all content. This model enables content producers to focus on what they do best – creating high-quality content, – but within an agreed-upon framework. This article contains a deeper explanation of how this works.

What is your approach to content production, reviews and approvals? If you don’t have clearly defined content roles, responsibilities and processes, now is the time to set them up.

How to make your blog posts as popular as a hit record

Popular as a hit record

One of the biggest roadblocks content marketers face is developing original, relevant and engaging content – content that people actually want to read and most importantly share with associates. Just like song writers, everyone wants their content (song) to be a hit and reach the number one spot on the charts.

According to CMI’s 2015 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research study, creating engaging content is the number one challenge faced by content marketers (60% of respondents). That’s followed very closely (57%) by producing content consistently. Make it good and do it often is the goal!

Cultivate’s recent Milwaukee Area Content Marketing Survey showed a similar pattern: 52% of respondents say they have trouble producing content consistently, while 45% say producing engaging content is their number two challenge.

Who would have thought!? Creating good content is hard work and most people simply don’t have time between everyday meetings and putting out fires to produce engaging content. People can only stare at a blank computer screen so long in hopes of churning out something alluring to read or view.

“Me-too” content is no longer good enough to command attention and connect with the reader. What’s needed are unique, creative approaches, delivered on a consistent, ongoing basis. Sound impossible? Here are seven brainstorming techniques designed to generate content ideas that will break through the noise and command attention:

1. Create a swipe file of remarkable article and blog post headlines

As you do your daily reading, watch out for eye-catching headlines and story concepts. Make a note of them in a paper or online file. Soon, you’ll have a list of inspiring examples that you can adapt to your needs. Another way you can do this is to visually scan a magazine rack in a bookstore. What headlines jump out at you? Make notes of them, and then brainstorm ways to adapt them to your content needs.

Read The Onion and National Enquirer for headlines, and then tone the theme back to your reality. Headlines that get readers to think “WTF??” can be very effective.

2. Challenge a key assumption in your industry or profession by asking, “What if?”

This simple question helps you to imagine different possibilities that are outside of your habitual ways of thinking and the commonly-accepted industry or professional “rules.” For example:

  • “What if our audience viewed us as a trusted publisher, not as a firm that’s always trying to sell them something?”
  • “What if we could predict our audience’s needs with a high degree of precision, and then deliver the information they needed, just in time?”
  • “What if we could get wild monkeys to fly out of our pockets?”

Start repeating “what if” as you walk around the office and something will come to you.

3. Use the “board of directors” creativity technique

Force yourself to think about your audience’s problems or challenges from unique perspectives. One way to do this is to create an imaginary “board of directors.” These people can be anyone, living or dead, famous or obscure, real or imaginary. Your goal is to leverage their unique thinking styles to help you see things differently.

For example, how would Steve Jobs create amazing content? Richard Branson? Gandhi? Gumby? Captain Kirk? Dilbert? Martin Luther King? Imagine you’re standing in front of them; picture in rich detail the answers they would give you.

3. Do a Google search – but with a twist

As you type your query, watch the suggestions that appear. These are similar queries that other people have already made. Some will be unusual and intriguing. Use them as stepping stones to unique content ideas. By the way, this method really does work, especially after a glass or two of Cabernet.

4. What do you wish your audience knew?

Make a list of the knowledge gaps or incorrect assumptions that your audience seems to have. Remember, not all of them are rocket scientists and look to your content to help them figure things out. What’s routine to you may be amazing to them. Brainstorm ways to help them understand each of these topics correctly and completely.

5. Perform a PEST analysis on your profession or industry

PEST analysis is a valuable tool for understanding the external macro-environment in which your business operates. It can help you better understand the range of trends, influences and forces that may represent either threats or opportunities to your audience.

PEST stands for Political, Economic, Social and Technological. Brainstorm around the mega-trends that are occurring in each area. Explore each one in depth. How can you help your audience capitalize upon these trends in their early stages?

6. Use an online idea generation tool to brainstorm unique content ideas

Our brains are rich “association engines” – they love to connect ideas and concepts together. Brainstorming tools like Free the Genie leverage this capability by presenting you with random stimuli to get your creative juices flowing.

7. Attribute listing

Divide your audience’s problem or challenge into its attributes. Once you’ve done this you can think about each element separately. Think of ways to address each one in the form of content.

It’s time to get creative

If you’re committed to creating original, relevant and engaging content that your target audience finds interesting enough to spend time reading why not give one or more of these techniques a test drive? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results!

Good vs. bad content – what’s the difference?

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We’re awash in a cesspool of bad content.

Much of it is content that is so self-serving, it makes you cringe. Tired topics that have been covered ad nausem by many other authors – apparently in an attempt to validate the theory that an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of typewriters can write a novel. Dense, confusing infographics that look like a unicorn barfed in Photoshop. Topics that the author was obviously passionate about, but don’t connect with any customer need or interest.

Most of the time, you can recognize bad content when you see it.

However, it’s different when you produce content for your company. You’re too close to it to be objective. Plus, you have a deadline looming, so you do the best you can. You churn out one of those ubiquitous “10 ways” list posts. It turned out pretty good. It’s well written. It makes logical sense. But is it actually worth reading?

Here’s the rub: You can’t be the judge of that. It’s up to your customer or stakeholder to decide what rocks and what reeks.

Tips to create content that rocks, not reeks

So how do you turn the odds in your favor? How do you ensure you’re producing content your target audience will actually read, value and benefit from? Here are some tips:

Customer focused: Always start your content creation efforts with a well-defined customer need – no exceptions! Bonus points if you have created a customer persona and a customer journey map for the audience segment to whom you’re writing.

Compelling: Make it a compelling story. Communicating the facts is important, of course. But let’s be honest – it’s often boring. How can you make it more memorable and interesting to your target audience?

Tell a story: Study storytelling techniques, and learn how to incorporate them into your writing process. Why? Because as human beings, we are hard-wired to respond to stories. They engage our mind and emotions like nothing else can. If you can tap into your audiences’ minds at this deep level, you have a much greater chance of engaging them with your content.

Useful: Make your content useful. It’s important to educate your target audience about what they need to know and to answer their deepest questions. But you must also deliver it in an actionable format. Always ask yourself, “How can I help my reader put this information or knowledge to use immediately?”

Valuable: When you’re writing, continually ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” You need to always think in terms of the audience for whom you’re writing: Their needs. Their challenges. Their opportunities. This bit of advice may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how much your voice and point of view try to sneak into your writing. I’m sure you see it all the time – blog posts that provide useful information until the very end, when the author can’t resist to toss in a product or brand mention. Don’t do that. Remember, your goal is to build trust, not sell something.

Differentiated: Always seek to differentiate your content. Not just for the sake of being different, but to gain attention and engagement. Appeal to emotions and issues that your target audience cares about. Think about their typical day. What value can you deliver to them that will make their day, their week, their career better? And remember: You’re not working in isolation: You need to do a better job of this than any of your competitors, who are also trying to influence that same audience.

Where do you stand?

So where do you stand on the continuum from bad to good content? It’s time to move upstream. Your audience will appreciate it. And your boss will, too, because your content will be more effective.

 

Two easy ways to launch your first blog

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A high-quality blog, consistently filled with high-quality, customer-focused articles, video and other content is the cornerstone of many marketing initiatives. But what do you do if you don’t have a blog or enough internal support to launch one within your corporate website?

There are two easy ways you can launch a low-cost blog to test the idea, gather data and build the case for a more extensive content marketing initiative:

Option 1: Set up a blog on Medium.com

Medium logoThe first solution is to launch a blog on Medium.com, a popular, free blogging platform that features a simple, easy-to-use interface that encourages writing and storytelling, and also provides a delightful reading experience.

Like any online tool, Medium has its pros and cons:

Pros

  • It lets you focus on writing, instead of the technical aspects of managing a blog.
  • Setup and formatting options are limited, which means you can get started publishing content quickly, with a short learning curve.
  • You can use a Medium blog to hone your writing skills before you launch a dedicated blog on your corporate website.
  • Medium can help you build an audience by locating others who have similar interests.

Cons

  • You don’t own the audience – Medium does.
  • You have limited control over customizing the design of your blog.
  • You have limited ability to create a unique audience experience.
  • Medium owns your blog and can change the rules that govern it at any time.
  • Your content is competing with many other authors and their articles – it REALLY needs to stand out!
  • Because it’s hosted on a website that’s completely separate from your corporate site, a Medium blog won’t give you any search engine optimization (SEO) benefits.

Option 2: Set up a blog on a separate but related domain

WordPress logoThe second option is to set up a blog on a domain name that is closely related to that of your company website. For example, if your company’s website is acmewidgets.com, you could purchase the domain name of acmewidgetsblog.com. If you want to take it a step further, you could set up a redirect for the URL acmewidgets.com/blog so it automatically displays the blog that resides at acmewidgetsblog.com.

Here are the pros and cons of an external WordPress blog:

Pros:

  • WordPress blogs are fairly easy and inexpensive to set up.
  • You own the domain name and the blog. You’re not at the mercy of a third party pushing a series of monetization schemes on you and limiting your audience’s ability to find and read your content.
  • There’s a large global community of WordPress experts who can help you solve any technical and customization challenges you may run into.
  • WordPress gives you more freedom to customize the content and appearance of your blog. Thousands of themes and plug-ins are available that can make a WordPress blog do just about anything you can imagine.

Cons

  • If you want extensive or complex customizations, your development costs could rise quickly. That’s why you should start out with basic functionality and expand it as you become more comfortable with the WordPress blogging platform.
  • Search engine benefits are slightly better for your blog posts than if they were hosted on Medium, but still not as good as if the blog was hosted on your corporate website.

No matter what direction you take, now is the time to start self-publishing your own blog so you can be known as the subject matter expert in your field.

 

Don’t build your house on rented land

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Do you dream of building a big following on one or more of the major social media channels? Don’t bother – it’s a waste of your time and it’s important you understand why.

It wasn’t always that way. During the last decade, the bigger your social networks were, the more people you could reach. Many of your posts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social channels got a decent number of likes and shares. As the volume of messages on these networks has grown exponentially, that’s no longer the case.

The social networks are changing. In order to support these massive numbers of users, the major social media networks have turned their attention to growing their revenues. In many cases, they’re reducing the number of followers who can see your free updates. If you want to be seen by your target audience, you must now pay for that privilege.

Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium and other channels now decide how much your content is visible to the world. Lately, those numbers have been going down:

  • Posts to your Facebook company page are now shown to only 2-3% of your followers. That’s abysmal!
  • Twitter and LinkedIn, have been modifying their search algorithms to de-emphasize organic (free) content so they can serve more paid advertising in your streams.

Don’t build your house on rented land

In today’s online world, there’s a real danger to “building your house on rented land.”

In other words, by publishing your content on platforms and channels you don’t own or control, you run the risk of them unexpectedly changing the rules and compromising your brand’s visibility. This is happening more frequently today. Imagine, for example, the Fortune 100 consumer products company that invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building a million-person audience on Facebook – only to discover that only a fraction of this massive audience can see its updates. That big investment is now practically worthless!

A common-sense approach to social media

In this constantly shifting environment, your best bet is to focus your content on platforms and channels that you DO own. Your website is the first and most obvious place to do that. What does this mean from a tactical standpoint?

  • Your website should serve as the hub of your online presence. Think of your social media accounts as spokes joined to it. Your posts on these channels should always lead visitors to your website – for example, to download a new report, read a blog post or learn more about a new product.
  • Because your free posts aren’t likely to reach as big of an audience as before, you should consider selectively using paid promotion to ensure that other potential customers can see your most important updates.
  • Your ultimate goal should be to provide these visitors with such great value that they will subscribe to your enewsletter. As you may have already guessed, a list of confirmed email subscribers is another asset you own and control. You can communicate with them whenever you want, within reason.

Subscribers versus sales leads

One final note: You may believe you already have a list of subscribers because your website is generating sales leads. But they are not the same. A sales lead is an inquiry about a specific product, service or need that a prospect has. It doesn’t explicitly give you permission to communicate with them on an ongoing basis – any more than meeting someone once at a cocktail party means you can call them every week. A subscription, on the other hand, gives you explicit permission to communicate with them over time.

Now that you better understand what’s at stake, it’s time to make some adjustments in your content distribution strategy. Focus on building your house on solid ground – the web properties and assets you own and control. Good luck!