The challenge with “content marketing” as a term or approach is that it’s by nature a very tactical way to engage with customers and prospects. It can easily be done in a silo. There is nothing stopping you from creating and curating content and then randomly posting it up in social media channels. You can hire consultants, agencies, and even third-party journalists to create content on your behalf.Don’t get me wrong -- these are often amazing solutions that offer a ton of marketing value -- but too many times it’s done in a vacuum.
Unfortunately, you cannot look at content through a lens that doesn’t include anyone else in your company. Content is not a box you check, a bubble you fill in, or a bullet point in a PowerPoint presentation. It’s so much more than SEO, more than videos, white papers, infographics, Instagram photos, and yes, even more than “real-time marketing.”
You can only learn so much about content from clever, link-bait blog titles like “Why Content Marketing is Like Breaking Bad” or “The 12 Plagues of Content Marketing” -- enough with content marketers using content marketing to talk to marketers.
Let’s take the conversation up a notch. Content must be considered a strategic imperative if you want to see true business results -- an evolution in many ways into a content organization.
Here are three tips that can help you think more strategically about content and be successful at telling your brand story.
Build an Operational Plan That Can Scale
Just as there is an art to storytelling, there also needs to be an operational plan that can help you create and distribute content, integrate it across paid, earned, and owned media, and measure it effectively.
It starts with having the right team structure that can help streamline content through what I call the “content supply chain.” This involves assigning roles & responsibilities, much like a newsroom organization. You have to decide who in your company has the right skillsets to write content, approve content, and create other assets (videos, infographics, photos, etc.).
This may require you to reach across the hall and collaborate with other teams if you don’t have all the resources yourself. Some brands will create centralized “editorial” centers of excellence to help augment the gaps. These cross-functional teams are responsible for deploying and operationalizing a brand’s content strategy. You must also go through the daunting task of assigning roles & responsibilities to your external agency partners and mandating that they play nice together.
Editorial workflows are essential to ensure that your content is being distributed at the right time and in the right channel. It may look something like this:
Deploying workflows such as this will not only protect the brand from making dumb mistakes (think U.S. Airways, KitchenAid), but also ensure that there is enough content in the pipeline and that the stories are consistent once distributed.
Have a Damn Good Story to Tell
44% of B2B marketers don’t have a content strategy, sadly. This data comes from the Content Marketing Institute in 2013. It kind of makes sense though. If you look back over the last 6 years, most brands jumped into social media headfirst because it was the sexy thing to do or because their competitors were doing it.
And today, many marketers are scratching their heads in frustration because they aren’t getting the Likes, comments, shares, and retweets that they expected or promised to executive management.
Don’t take this personally, please. But maybe your content isn't working because you are running out of things to say. This usually happens with the absence of a content strategy.
The development of your story will consist of several critical inputs. Understanding brand messaging is important, but it’s only half of the equation. Combining external insights from segmentation research, conversational analysis, community feedback, the media, and search behavior will give you more insight as to what your editorial strategy should be.
The output is an editorial framework that will guide the creation of content across paid, earned, and owned media channels. In some cases, it could be a content playbook/guidelines -- similar to brand guidelines -- that does the same. The benefit of going through this exercise is that it will help you mold a story that can scale and give birth to content that changes customer behavior, whether it’s selling more products, repositioning a company, or helping customers change the way they perceive your brand.
To reach this level, you must adapt your way of thinking and realize that customers don’t read or interact with "pure" brand marketing in its traditional sense. They just want content that they can relate to and care about; stories that tap into their emotions.
Red Bull has mastered the art of storytelling with their “Gives You Wings” narrative. I am sure you have seen the commercials, tweets, and other content. They are telling an empowerment story -- one that reinforces hard work, bravery, adrenaline, and pure "epic" events. They rarely talk about their products.
Narrative development cannot be done in a silo by the brand team or an agency. It’s an initiative that requires a multitude of stakeholders, various levels of expertise, and an organization that exemplifies enterprise collaboration.
Mobilize Others to Tell Your Brand Story
At WCG, we call this “Participatory Storytelling,” and it involves mobilizing your stakeholders (internal and external) to participate and help you tell the brand story.
Every company has employees and hopefully they are wicked smart. What’s stopping you from empowering them to create content that delivers value? I’m not saying that you just open the floodgates and have a "content free-for-all." You’ll have to create a plan, establish processes and workflows, and maybe start small with just 10 or 15 employees. Once you demonstrate a few wins and best practices, you can grow from there. Don’t forget that employees are viewed as trusted and credible sources when people are seeking out information about a product or service. It makes sense and it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
If you have a good product and treat your customers well, then most likely there are groups of people who already love you. They have a deep level of emotional equity associated with your brand -- the way it makes them feel (Dodge Ram = tough), the value they extract when using your products (Toyota Prius = inexpensive, great mileage, and good for the environment), or that fact that they can save the planet and be epic at the same time (Tesla Motors Model S). They are called brand advocates and their words are also trusted by their peers.
Many times, these elements are overlooked when it comes to content marketing, mainly because they aren’t easy to do. It will require you to be patient, plan, collaborate with others, and you may not always get what you want. But in the long run, it’ll be good for your brand and you will have no problem whatsoever feeding the engine with ground breaking content that pierces through the clutter and successfully changes your customer’s behavior.
Originally published May 20, 2014 1:00:00 PM, updated November 22 2017