by SocialAgenda Media
The Scientific Revolution of the 16th century transformed views about society and nature, replacing religion, superstition and fear with an emphasis on reason and knowledge. That shift, which journalist H. L. Mencken described as “The Pope [losing] his hold on the secular mind” led to the Age of Enlightenment and its encouragement of arts, education, human rights and challenge to traditional ideas of government eventually expressed in the French and American revolutions.
Among the cultural effects of the Internet Revolution of the 21st century is a similar shift toward the individual and society at the expense of institutional powers. As the Post-Digital Age eats away at the heart of print journalism and network TV, it also connects, informs and empowers the crowd in new ways that create revolutionary opportunities to reshape our lives.
The revolution in communicating the information related to marketing, where, according to Hanley Wood Business Media seventy-eight percent of CMO’s now think custom content is the future, shows power is shifting into the hands of consumers. And they clearly want businesses to engage in conversations that respect that power. Hubspot reports companies that blog get more than 15 times the amount of traffic than companies that don’t and Content+ says companies that blog collect 97% more leads. Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, and per dollar spent, generates 3 times the number of leads, proving the paradigm is “I don’t care about your business unless you focus on what’s in it for me.” This, of course, explains why it’s now called social media.
All this makes it interesting to talk to those on the cutting edge, redefining marketing in the world ruled by content.
Our thought leaders on this topic:
Joe Chernov, VP Marketing at Kinvey. Before Kinvey, Joe ran content marketing at Eloqua, where he won Content Marketer of the Year.
Lisa Rhodes, Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Verne Global where she is responsible for all aspects of customer interaction, marketing and public relations.
Frank Donny, Founder and CEO at Marseli. Frank has 25+ years of experience at Fortune 100 and start-up organizations driving marketing and sales operations.
Aaron Goldman, CMO of Kenshoo and the author of “Everything I Know about Marketing I Learned from Google.”
Amanda Maksymiw, Content Marketing Manager at Lattice Engines. Amanda is a Content “Tactician” responsible for setting and managing the company’s content marketing strategy.
QUESTION: “Rather than create billboards with their social fan pages, centered around contests, giveaways and special offers, marketers are finally beginning to understand that it’s through content that they influence and empower their fans. Building influence requires a strategic and sustained approach to developing and distributing valuable content across multiple platforms. What innovative content strategies have you implemented and what are the most common mistakes you still see major brands making?
Chernov: “I’ve seen innovation at all levels. Intel was wildly innovative when they made public their social media policy. At the time that was remarkable transparency for a company of that size. At Eloqua, where I used to run content, we published our “Social Media Playbook” for free. It was our own internal resource, made available to anyone. No form was even required. And then there are really nimble creative brands, like a startup design firm called Beutler Ink, that creates timely content around pop culture trends — like an elaborate infographic on Breaking Bad — which allows them to enjoy major PR for a company of their size. But what do these all have in common? They all deliver value and ask for nothing in return.”
Rhodes: “Innovation sometimes comes out of necessity and that was our situation. We knew from day one that our value proposition was unique so our sales and marketing approach also needed to follow a non-traditional path. We decided to lead our messaging campaign with industry insights versus information about our company. It was from there we discovered Curata, which provided a platform for us to curate content for a newsletter focused purely on green ICT and use social media as the primary outreach method for the newsletter. We believe the brands who provide unique and valuable insights to their customers are the ones getting the most traction in any industry.”
Brenner: “We have found the most effective content is that which best meets the needs of the audience. List posts and “How to” articles go a long way to building this kind of credibility but they aren’t enough. This kind of content needs to be balanced with deeper thought leadership that also inspires our customers to think differently about the challenges they face. The biggest mistake brands make is in creating too much content that is focused on the brand and not enough content that is focused on helping the audience.”
Maksymiw: “Content marketing has been used for decades as a means to build influence. That is nothing new. But more and more companies are utilizing content marketing strategies to engage their audiences, drive conversions and build passionate brand followers. Some of the most innovative strategies I have implemented to do so include developing a content hub and incorporating influencers. A big mistake that brands are still making is providing company-centric or product-centric content only. Social audiences aren’t necessarily interested in learning about your offerings. Instead they want to engage with your brand and in most cases, they want to do so on the social platform, not on your website.”
Donny: “My answer is based on a B-to-B sales environment where the sales cycle is longer and more complex – more than 60-days and more than one buyer that requires a buyer process (they will put a seller through a process and the seller will put the buyer through a sales process).
There are two main types of content. Content that gets a potential buyer interested in your company and content that will help sales people engage and sustain a buyer along the buyer’s journey with your company. Both are critical. Let’s discuss both.
In the first type, it is critical to have content that is mapped to a buyer’s personal profile (the person’s role, industry, needs/challenges). Second, there has to be engagement strategy based on how the potential buyer engages your company. Not how you want to engage them.
The biggest mistake is marketing not understanding the buyer and what they need and when they need it. This is not about selling something. It’s about educating the buyer and providing them with useful content/insights that will allow them to do their job better and make more informed decisions on how to improve performance. Make it personal. The more it is about the issue that they are facing and about how someone in their role would solve the issue is paramount to success. This again goes back to understanding the buyer persona and journey.
Next is to then have a content strategy for each persona and engagement along the journey. Failure to have ongoing current and relative content is a death sentence to any marketer. Let’s discuss a few examples. Successful content marketers will develop content for a wide range of “consumption” formats – audio, video, PDF, blog – as different people consume in different ways. So, when content is developed, each needs to be released through all types of media. Using only one media (like just blogging or video) will only allow you to capture a small part of your audience. The next strategy is reverse engagement. Say what? Yep, get your market to engage you first. Offer a platform for feedback, idea submittal, guest blogging on your blogs and social sites, etc. Social is a two way street. Get your customers, prospects and market to generate content for you.
The second type of content is that which influences a buyer who is already in a sales process/engagement. This is about understanding what your sales people need to succeed in each stage of their process. They don’t need 1,000’s of articles or content assets. They only need a few very key and very relevant assets per sales stage or situation. Quarterly interviews with sales reps and managers and customers will help to uncover those assets that are most and least useful. This also requires strategy – on managing the content and sunsetting documents that are no longer of use. The key here is to listen to reps and customers about what worked and did not work. Having a customer content board is a great way to keep content relevant and to bounce new content ideas off of a group before they are launched to the market.”
Goldman: “We’re telling stories through data. I wouldn’t say it’s the most novel or innovative approach but it’s working. By mining the $3 billion in ad spend running through the Kenshoo platform, we’re able to keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry and help our customers identify trends that are impacting their business. Kenshoo tries to strike the right balance of quantitative and qualitative content so that it’s easy to digest the insights while clearly showing the supporting evidence.
The common mistakes we see brands making are not thinking about their audience and just putting out content for content’s sake. We also see brands changing their voice to meet the medium. You don’t have to be cool and hip to use social media. You can (and should!) be true to your brand persona and consistent at all touchpoints.”
QUESTION: What changes in the process flow and use of technologies need to take place across organizational functions in order to simplify, automate and scale integrated campaigns and accelerate the convergence of content, social, search, mobile, and other marketing?
Chernov: “This isn’t a technology problem. It’s not an integration problem. It’s not a mobile, social or next-generation-whatever-you-call-it problem. It’s a “muscle memory” problem. Although their “heads” may know that supplying high-value, educational content is the best way to generate quality leads and build a trustworthy brand, most organizations’ muscle memory still draws them toward self-promotional marketing. There’s not a technology in the world that can fix that problem. It’s cultural.”
Maksymiw: “Creation and distribution efforts will continue to get tighter and tighter around goals. More work will be outsourced in order to leverage the team to its fullest capacity.”
Rhodes: “Content marketing is our primary method for reaching our target market and we have built the back end of websites to feed leads and analytics directly into SalesForce. Our sales team depends heavily on that interface to properly research a company prior to contacting them. Sales can see what content a company is reading, what content they comment on and this helps build instant rapport during the early stages of a relationship. We’ve had several instances during initial meetings where the potential client brings up our curated newsletter, Green Data Center News, as an information source. That is the biggest compliment.”
Brenner: “Content marketing does a couple of things for business development. It generates leads directly. We map content to each stage of the buying process so we can include offers and “calls to action” and triggers as part of our content strategy. That way, whichever stage of the buying process our visitors are in, we can nurture them to the next level. For those who are quite close to being ready to buy, we employ mechanisms to capture them and begin the process of converting them directly into sales.
But effective content marketing also provides the content our own social sales teams an inside sales executives need to nurture their own prospects. We enable this by creating weekly “best of” email newsletters and both internal and external community discussions for sales enablement. Then our account execs use that content to generate interest on the part of the leads they are nurturing.”
Donny: “Content has to come with a user guide. Meaning, don’t just make content and then pass it to sales. They need to know how and when to use it. Marketing needs to do this with sales and create a strategy based on their needs and the needs of the buyer. What is missing in many cases is teaching sales how to use the content – how to speak to it, leverage the insights and speak to the benefits.”
Goldman: “This could be a very long answer but I’ll try and simplify. More than anything, it’s a matter of mindset. People need to embrace change and be open to new ideas. Try new products. Try new processes. Never stop learning and improving. There’s always another tweak that can be made to get better results. We call this “Infinite Optimization”.”
QUESTION: What changes do you think should happen in 2014 for content marketing operations to experience increased ROI and improved efficiency of both their in-house and outsourced content and social marketing teams?
Rhodes: “As a start-up, I think it’s easy to get lost in the product development phase and not put enough emphasis on building trust between your brand and your target audience; something that content marketing offers early and quickly. Sometimes it’s difficult to quantify value from a relationship in the early stages but for us it has provided a key element of brand recognition and a more educated target audience. I think there is real opportunity for platforms, like Curata, to help companies bring together high-value content with a cost-effective distribution mechanism that not only gives them credibility with their target audience, but enables them to become a valued resource as well.
For marketing operations to increase their ROI and efficiency in the future, they should closely scrutinize what content has been most successful historically and focus their content generation efforts there.”
Brenner: “We are seeing a lot of technology and startups in the content marketing space. There are curation tools, CMS, reporting engines, editorial workflow and calendaring tools and platforms that try to do all these things. In order to increase ROI, brands need to figure out the right mix of creation, curation and syndication and build a team of people who really understand how to think and act like a publisher. Once that is in place and working like a machine, it’s time to build the kind of platform that can scale and sustain growth into the future. 2014 will see brand content marketing teams that take on the look and feel of real newsrooms including the technical platforms to support that.”
Donny: “Reverse engineer content. Understand first what is working for sales and what is impacting how your sales team is selling and how your buyers are engaging them. ROI is about pipeline contribution and revenue generation. That means that a full line of sight into a revenue supply chain is a must. Meaning, marketing leaders need the ability to see every stage in the buyer process from inquiry to revenue and all steps in between. Having key KPI analytics like volume and velocity, leakage, sales behavior, activity tracking and the correlation of all of these to one another will be a must. Marketing needs to understand the full view of both, the marketing lead management cycle and the sales process cycle. Combined together, marketing will get insights that will allow them to predict asset or campaign performance based on historical performance behaviors. Predictive analytics is the next frontier.”
Goldman: “The first step to increasing ROI is measuring ROI. Too many organizations lump content marketing under branding and assume that direct results cannot be tracked. Whether it’s proxy metrics such as clicks, time spent, and shares or bottom-line metrics such as leads, revenue, and lifetime value, what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.”
Chernov: “I don’t think changes need to happen per se. I just think companies need to experiment a little more, track a little more, optimize a little more, and then re-experiment to complete the cycle. It’s an evolution. I think marketers are “getting there.” You have to remember that in many ways, the marketing industry has been “flattened” by social media, big data and automated tools. We are rebuilding ourselves in real time. Sometimes we should stop and admire the progress that’s been made versus always looking at what needs to be built.”
It is an evolution all right, and it is certain we are rebuilding ourselves in real time. If you’re a glass half full type, this revolution represents an opportunity and might even contain the seeds of a new Age of Enlightenment that will change our relationship to collective power in ways that more fully honor our humanness. What kind of world might result when marketing is fully incentivized to “provide unique and valuable insights to their customers?” “Meets the needs of audiences?” “inspires… customers to think differently about the challenges they face?”
What can you imagine for such a world, as it relates to marketing, culture, politics?