Content Marketing: Only Fools Rush In
If you’ve got an ear to the ground of the industry at all, it’s no mystery that there’s been an incredible resurgence of “content is king”—only this time, the context of it all is a little bit different. Brands want to become publishers of that content. “Content Marketing”, is a shiny buzzword that seems to promise everything: traffic, links, leads, conversions, market share. It’s no longer just about keywords on pages or links to your website. And that’s good—it’s a natural evolution as online marketing grows up and branches out.
So why do so many who enter into the idea of content marketing leave so jaded and unsuccessful? Most often, I believe it’s a classic example of “cart before the horse”.
When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Way Will Do
Many rush straight to the production phase of content marketing in a scramble to capitalize, but few seem to take the time to give this new approach the thought and strategy it deserves. As a result, several attempts at content marketing look more like the following:
- “Gimmick Marketing” – Publishing an infographic, blog post or video series because it’s in vogue, with no data or research to support that this is actually something your audience needs (or in some cases, whether that audience exists!)
- “Quantity Marketing” – Publish, publish, publish! Hastily drawn up editorial calendars force disenchanted writers to churn out pieces at a regularly scheduled interval. You’ve got lots of content—and all of it is average or worse.
- “All-or-Nothing Marketing” – Putting all of your eggs into one grandiose effort instead of focusing on a long-term strategy for ongoing publishing. If that piece fails, you’ll walk away demoralized, with emptier pockets.
- “Get a Blog!” – As pointed out so well by John Doherty in this post, having a blog doesn’t mean you have a content strategy in the same way having a car doesn’t make you Jeff Gordon. It’s not an appropriate strategy for everyone.
What’s missing in all of these situations is a content strategy—a plan that encapsulates the what, when, how and most importantly “WHY?!” behind each and every piece of content you’ll produce. Without a strategy in place, you’re left to “gut feelings” and reactionary responses.
That’s not how you want to treat your branding, is it? Everything you publish is an extension of your brand—for better or worse.
Stop. Collaborate & Listen!
A content strategy defines the way you’ll leverage content to meet business goals and satisfy your user’s needs. A strategy is far more than a group of tactics—it should guide the way those tactics are chosen and dictate how they are used. Before you even think about producing content, take the time to ask some serious questions:
- Who are our audiences? What are their needs? Keep in mind that depending on your goals (links, sales, etc.) you may need to take a different approach—especially for audiences at different stages of the sales funnel.
- What are the key messages and themes we want to send? Have a guide and a standard to hold your content to. It’s okay to be flexible, but you don’t want to be chasing the trend of the day.
- What is the tone and personality of our brand? Don’t confuse your audience by letting your company come across schizophrenic. Define how you want to be perceived.
- Do we have the right team? Be sure you have the right people for the job. Not everyone can write; likewise, not everyone can edit, design, analyze or lead.
- What does the data say? Analyze past successes and the successes of others. Use tools to discover how people search—but more than this, what needs they’re trying to meet.
- How will we measure it? Set meaningful KPI’s so that you know when your initiatives are working. Online marketing is unique in the number of ways available to track your successes. While content might be unpredictable, that should never stop you from setting meaningful goals or measuring outcomes.
- Who will own the process? While different individuals from different roles will have varying insights and opinions on the content, you need somebody to have the final say to keep things from getting bogged down in politics.
Only Fools Rush In
While it’s exciting to launch straight into the creative and execution stages of content marketing, the same old adage applies: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Don’t get caught in the hype or distract yourself with the shiny objects; sound strategy will beat out the “tactic du jour” any day.
Invest in a strategy, make sure you’ve got the right team on your side and you’ll be well on your way to crushing your over-eager competition.