Before we dive into what makes content marketing work, let’s look at why your current content may not work for or benefit the business.
It’s all about you. Remember, customers don’t care about you; they care about themselves and their problems. We often forget that point when we describe how wonderful our widget is (that no one cares about). The more you talk about yourself and your products, the less that content is spread and engaged in.
You are afraid to fail. Taking chances with your content and experimenting a bit reveals the possibilities for your content marketing and uncovers new and valuable customer stories.
You are setting the bar too low. Your content marketing should be the very best in your industry—better than all your competitors’ and better than that of the media and publishers in your space. How can you be the trusted expert in your industry if it is not?
You are not sourcing correctly. The majority of brands outsource some portion of the content marketing process. Don’t be afraid to find internal content champions and outside journalists, writers, and content agencies to help you tell your story.
You are communicating in silos. Are you telling different stories in PR, corporate communications, social media, e-mail marketing, and other media? Do all departments follow a consistent corporate storyline? Epic content marketing means that your company is telling a consistent story.
You don’t seek out discomfort. Seth Godin states in his book Linchpin that if you don’t consistently step out of your comfort area, you are doomed to the status quo. Do something completely unexpected with your content from time to time.
There is no call to action. Every piece of content should have a call to action. If it doesn’t, at least recognize it as such and the real purpose behind why you developed the content.
You are too focused on one particular channel. Stop thinking in terms of just e-mail newsletters or Facebook. Think about the problem you are solving for your customers. Then tell that story in different ways everywhere your customers seek out authoritative information.
You create a backup plan. There is only try and reiterate. Forget a backup plan. A backup plan (for example, pay-per-click or sponsorship) is admitting to failure before you begin.
There is no content owner. Someone in your organization (possibly you) must take ownership of the content marketing plan.
There is no C-level buy-in. Organizations without C-Level buy-in are 300 percent more likely to fail at content marketing than are companies with executive buy-in (according to CMI research).
You are not immersed in your industry. Everywhere your customers are, you need to be (whether it be online, in print, or in person).
You are not serving a defined niche enough. You need to be the leading expert in the world in your niche. Pick a content area that is both meaningful to your business and attainable.
You are too slow. As much as I hate to say it, speed beats perfection in most cases. Figure out a streamlined process for your storytelling.
Distribution of content is inconsistent. Your content marketing is a promise to your customers. Think about the morning paper (if you receive it): when it doesn’t come on time, how upset are you? You need to have the same mindset with your content marketing. Distribute content consistently and on time. Develop your content marketing editorial calendar.
There is not enough thinking with search in mind. Most likely, the largest portion of your website traffic comes from search engines. If you create pieces of your content with search in mind, you stay focused on the problem and how customers communicate that problem. You also get found!
6 Principles of Epic Content Marketing
Perhaps you now think that there no longer is a need for sales-related content. That’s far from the truth. The problem is that customers only need sales-related content at a very particular moment in the sales process. If you are honest about the content you have, your organization has plenty of feature- and benefit-related content. What you need are stories that engage your customers . . . and that move them to take action. Now, before the principles of epic content marketing are reviewed, remember that the goal with content is to “move” the customer in some way. We marketers need to positively affect them, engage them, and do whatever we must to help stay involved in their lives and their conversations. The following are the six principles of epic content marketing: follow them closely.
- Fill a need. You content should answer some unmet need of or question for your customer. It needs to be useful in some way to the customer, over and above what you can offer as a product or service.
- Be consistent. The great hallmark of a successful publisher is consistency. Whether you subscribe to a monthly magazine or daily e-mail newsletter, the content needs to be delivered always on time and as expected. This is where so many companies fall down. Whatever you commit to in your content marketing, you must consistently deliver.
- Be human. The benefits of not being a journalistic entity is that you have nothing to hold you back from being, well, you. Find what your voice is, and share it. If your company’s story is all about humor, share that. If it’s a bit sarcastic, that’s okay too.
- Have a point of view. This is not encyclopedia content. You are not giving a history report. Don’t be afraid to take sides on matters that can position you and your company as an expert.
- Avoid “sales speak.” When we at Content Marketing Institute create a piece of content that is solely about us rather than for an educational purpose, it only garners 25 percent of the regular amount of page viewsand social shares (see Figure 8.1). The more you talk about yourself, the less people will value your content.
- Be best of breed. Although you might not be able to reach it at the very beginning, the goal for your content ultimately is to be best of breed. This means that, for your content niche, what you are distributing is the very best of what is found and is available. If you expect your customers to spend time with your content, you must deliver them amazing value.
Epic Content Marketing in Action
Think about the content sources that you rely on every day. What makes them so special? Do they provide information that you can’t find anywhere else? Are they consistently delivered around the same day and time? Is there a particular point of view that you appreciate? Do they help you live a better life or grow at your career? There are a number of content sources that I have “subscribed” to that have become part of my life:
- Inc. magazine (a media company): I actually get excited when this print publication comes in the mail. Frequency: monthly.
- Novels by P. J. Tracy (an author). Frequency: annually.
- Seth Godin’s blog posts (an author). Frequency: daily.
- Reports from Fisher Investments (an investment firm). Frequency: quarterly.
- Posts from Copyblogger Media (a software company). Frequency: daily.
As a business, your goal is to become part of the content fabric for your customers. If you do, selling to them becomes relatively easy. For example, I will usually try any software product that Copyblogger Media releases. I trust the organization that much.
The Perfect Content Product
Jason Calacanis talks often about what he believes is the perfect content product: real-time, fact-driven, visual, efficient, and curated. Let’s review:
- Real-time content. Does your content take advantage of current trends and news stories? Oreo was incredibly successful with its now infamous Super Bowl tweet “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark,” which was timed perfectly with the blackout during the Ravens-49ers game. The image was retweeted more than 10,000 times and received free press from nearly every media company on the planet. While Oreo might have caught lightning in a bottle, the point is clear: those that can create content off the back of popular culture or industry news have a competitive advantage.
- Fact-driven content. Regardless of your point of view, the content you develop must be based on fact. Just as in high school, when all of us used to cite our sources, leveraging credible statistics and information has never been more important. Almost every media company on the planet employs a fact checker: someone whose sole responsibility is to make sure what the company is saying is 100 percent correct. If just one piece of content you release is incorrect, the social web will be relentless on your brand. Your job is to set processes in place so that this never happens.
- Visual content. In late 2011, Skyword, a content marketing platform, did an analysis of all its customers’ content. It found that blog posts and articles with images performed 91 percent better than those without them. Why does this happen? In a separate study sponsored by 3M, 90 percent of information transmitted through the brain is visual in nature, and visual content is processed 60,000 times faster than the written word. So even with textual content, visual design is critical and should be a part of every piece of your content marketing.
- Efficient content. When we at CMI first started our daily blog posts, it was just two people doing it: Michele Linn and myself. We did the best we could with the resources we had. Now almost four years later, Michele leads the strategy, Jodi Harris manages the daily content, Lisa Higgs proofs and checks the content, Tracy Gold reviews all our titles, and Mike Murray edits our meta tags for search engine optimization. Over the years, we’ve been able to refine the process, bringing in experts in key areas, so that we are as efficient with our resources as possible.
- Curated content. Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, defines content curation as “the practice of finding, organizing, and sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific topic, rather than solely creating all their content themselves.” Even the smartest media companies on the planet, such as the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Mashable, originate stories leveraging other people’s content. Your job, like the job of a museum curator, is to unearth the best content on the planet in your niche so that your museum doesn’t close for lack of attendance.
Epic Content Marketing Process
Now that you understand what truly epic content is made of, it’s your job to develop an organizational process for content marketing. This process starts with the following:
- The goal or objective
- Defining the audience
- Understanding how the audience buys
- Choosing your content niche
- Developing your content marketing mission statement
This may seem like a lot for just a part of your marketing program (actually, it’s not), but this is exactly what leading media companies do when they launch a magazine, newsletter, or television show. Since you are a publisher too, you need these steps as well. So many small and large companies start to develop content without a clear plan in place. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen to you.
This is a modified excerpt of “Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less,” by Joe Pulizzi.