This post was originally created as a script for the speech I gave at Content Marketing Fast Forward (CMFF) in May 2016. Now updated with new concepts, samples and links it reflects the session I will present at Festival of Marketing next week.
B2B firms no longer tend to be concerned that their solutions aren’t attractive enough for Content Marketing. In fact, numbers show that Content Marketing discipline has been adopted by B2B firms at faster speed than their counterparts in B2C.
So, if you work in B2B, how can you transform your marketing strategy from a traditional to a modern and successful content marketing model aligned with company growth and business goals? This can be done through proper content marketing strategy, integration of content, social media and PR and a deep transformation of the overall marketing model, facilitated by marketing technologies and tools. Technology’s influence spans all industries and continues to change and revolutionize everything it touches. The content marketing industry is no exception.
Traditional marketing has always been about pushing company products and services in front of the audience (outbound marketing). Content Marketing is about meeting the informational needs of potential customers so they become interested in you (inbound). In the past 12 months I have been working on the implementation of content marketing strategy that is changing the approach of my Division, moving from an advanced but traditional to a new, modern, content marketing model. The new model will introduce elements of uniqueness, like the Division editorial board and the editorial calendar – many boards and many calendars were in place before the transformation. It is seamlessly integrating content, social media and PR, used to be disconnected and misaligned. It will make advantage of the latest marketing technologies for content management, workflow, distribution and analytics. A summary of the full “story” can be found on the post published by Contently’s Content Strategist and on the podcast recently recorded for FIR.
Based on a definition from Content Marketing Institute (CMI) “Content Marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Why do large enterprises need a content marketing strategy today? For the same reasons why small and medium firms do. Content marketing is about creating information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you. With content’s high adoption rates (+27 million pieces of contents shared every day), there is great potential to provide measurable business benefits and enterprise-wide appeal. A strategic content marketing program is virtually essential to staying competitive in today’s marketplace.
A content marketing strategy has to be documented. Based on research from Content Marketing Institute, firms with a properly documented marketing strategy are far more likely to consider themselves effective at content marketing and are able to justify spending a higher percentage of their marketing budget on content marketing.
I think there is a tendency to overcomplicate the strategy definition process. So, I have put together a simple list. A well prepared content marketing strategy should include (at least) the following elements:
1. The case for change/innovation
Firms need to assess the situation “as is” and start thinking about a “to be” model, based on objectives and medium/long term vision. Content Marketers have to communicate reasons for adopting a content marketing discipline moving away from a traditional model, the risks involved, and the vision of what success will look like. This is more likely to gain executive and functional support for your strategy. Typical reasons for a change can be summarised as below:
- Increase marketing-generated opportunities. This is an evergreen reason and will provide immediate attention from management; numbers and results coming from a pilot (see point 10) will make the case even stronger;
- Simplify an existing disconnected content creation and management model;
- Fix a broken distribution model. Geographical adoption and distribution represents a big challenge today in large enterprises;
- Align social media, PR and other distribution channels. This is often a need in large enterprises where the functions are visibly disconnected.
2. The business plan for content marketing and its mission
This point covers the goals you have for your content program, the unique value the firm is looking to provide through content, and the details of its business model. It also should outline the obstacles and opportunities you may encounter as you execute your plan. In addition, the mission of your content marketing strategy has to be clearly expressed and should be included in all documentation.
3. Editorial Process – the Content Editorial Board and the Content Ecosystem
The business plan has to stand side by side with an internal transformation. In fact, today’s marketing organizations are barely designed to properly support a content marketing strategy. The content editorial board is the core of your transformation. The board has to handle all content-related requests and issues, has to define internal communication and distribution plan and the distribution/ amplification strategy. In large organizations the editorial board has the key role of alignment and coordination between several division and content sources.
The board has to manage the content ecosystem: the combination of internal content sources, bloggers, agencies and freelances that will support your editorial efforts. External sources have to be educated and in some large firms certified, in order to be part of your ecosystem.
The editorial calendar is much more than just a calendar with content assigned to dates. A good editorial calendar maps content production to the audience persona and the phases of the buyer journey. Ultimately, the editorial calendar is your most powerful tool as a content marketer. Without a plan, an editorial board and editorial calendar, nothing will happen.
Also, you can’t have a proper content strategy without technology and tools to manage and enable it. And the best tools are the ones that combine a content marketing platform with workflow, calendar, publication and distribution functionalities (Content Marketing Platforms, or CMPs). Content Marketing Platform software like Newscred, Contently, Percolate and Kapost let marketers combine most of the requested functionalities under the same tool. The board is key for a proper tool adoption.
4. Audience persona, buyer journey and content map
This is where you analyse the audience for whom you will create content, what their needs are, and what their content engagement cycle might look like. You should also map out content you can deliver throughout their buyer’s journey in order to move them closer to their goals (and your bottom of the funnel).
There is no value in content marketing if it doesn’t build an audience, says Robert Rose of CMI.
This is in fact a critical point. The entire content marketing strategy is based on persona and buyer cycle, so the selection of a proper set of personas (representative of your full customer pool) and a deep understanding of each one’s cycle (and the content consumed at each phase of the cycles) represents the core of your strategy.
You might want to use internal resources and customer insights for mapping persona and buyer journeys. Or you might prefer using external sources/partners, especially for new markets.
5. Alignment with your company’s Brand story
Here, you characterize your content marketing in terms of what ideas and messages you want to communicate, how do they are connected with your brand(s) story, how those messages differ from the competition, and how you see the landscape evolving once you have shared them with your audience. For instance, this is my company brand story: working on a content marketing strategy we’ve secured that values and messages of our brand are reflected in all new content created.
6. Distribution channel strategy – distribution and amplification
Content marketing strategy comes first, followed by channel distribution strategy, write Jason Miller of LinkedIn. As content marketers, it is your responsibility to look at all available channels to tell your stories and adapt contents based on the channels. These include: the technology platforms you will use to tell and distribute your story, what your criteria, processes, and objectives are for each one, and how you will connect them so that they create a cohesive conversation.
There is no point with establishing a social media presence without a proper content strategy in place.
Today, the most innovative and forward-thinking companies have merged content, social and PR “channels”. By doing so, they can capitalize on the synergies between these three.
7. The POEM Model -Paid drives Owned which drives Earned Media
In the past, we only used paid and earned media, the traditional PR. With the advent of the Web, we used more earned media and when blogs and social media popped up, we also started talking about “owned media”. It became even more important when brands started to realize they could “act as publishers”. A convergence of paid, earned, and owned media helped create a profitable content marketing strategy that led us to start thinking about content in a whole new way while putting an end to “interruptive” advertising.
8. Big Rocks and the Thanksgiving Content Marketing Analogies
One of the most effective ways to make advantage of this media convergence is using the “Big Rock and Turkey Slices” discipline applied to Content Marketing. The idea is to look for opportunities to repurpose existing content – exactly as you’re repurposing thanksgiving food for some time. The analogy comes from an interview to Rebecca Lieb. When asked about tips for companies who are struggling to produce enough content, she replied:
“I use a Thanksgiving analogy. You cook up this giant bird to serve up on one glorious occasion and then proceed to slice and dice this thing for weeks on end. If you are like most families you are going to be repurposing this bird as leftovers for quite some time. Your content marketing strategy can be thought of in the same way.”
The idea here is basic, but straight forward: marketer have to look for opportunities to repurpose the content that they already have. For instance, eBooks can be repurposed into infographics, SlideShare presentations, blog posts, videos and then disseminated via social media channels. This tactics will make advantage of owned media, paid and will generate earned media exposure. This concept can be taken a step further and applied to “Big Rock” pieces of contents . Big Rock is a substantial piece of content based on the idea of becoming the definitive guide to a conversation that you want to own. The idea is to develop an all-encompassing guide to whatever your keywords or themes are which is written strategically instead of instructionally. This type of content is very top of funnel and can serve many purposes such as SEO, fuel for social and lead generation, sales enablement, and event collateral to name a few. Big Rock should be launched with the same emphasis of a new product.
Jason Miller, Content Leader at LinkedIn, uses the Big Rock analogy in his book “Welcome to the Funnel”. Posts about Big Rock concept can be found here and here. Thanksgiving analogy for content marketing has been discussed here.
Same model could be summarized with the two concepts of the Content Marketing Power Law and Content Atomization. The power law is more commonly known as the 80–20 rule or Pareto principle. At its most rudimentary, it’s the idea that a small number of things generate the highest impact. Applied to Content Marketing: the top 20% of posts got more pageviews than the next 80% combined. Those 20% of the posts that give us the majority of the results can show us the way forward in terms of both the topics we should be writing about, and how to frame them.
Content atomization means taking a strong content marketing theme (the 20%, the big rocks), and executing it in many, strategically sound ways. Content atomization is an idea popularized by Jay Baer; others call it content recycling. The basic gist is that you extract as much possible value out of a single piece of content as possible by breaking it down into smaller parts or different formats. That’s exactly the concept of the turkey slices.
Janessa Lantz wrote a great post about it. Other people to spot the Power Law are Walter Chen who wrote about the content marketing power law back in 2014, and has some great data on how it played out for them. Larry Kim saw this same rule play out in landing pages, with 80% of the traffic going to the top 10% of pages. I wrote a short post about the Law.
9. Measurement and Optimization
Everything you measure needs to start with an objective.
Dashboard and KPIs have to be in place in order to measure results and facilitate decisions. Until a few years ago, the ability to track real ROI from one piece of content was virtually non-existent. Now, all that has changed. Marketing automation tools like HubSpot, Marketo and ActOn let marketers track which content gains the most engagement, leads and revenue.
On the metrics topic, I found this post from Khalid Saleh extremely interesting and covering the majority of relevant metrics.
10. The role of Pilots
In large enterprises, running pilot programs to test and prove viability, not deliver an agreed outcome, is common practice. All you need to do is to set up the pilot as a test, and then, if it’s successful, roll ahead with the series. Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds, so you need to start small, test that your strategy works, get first figures, create a proper business case, and then go back to your management and move to the next step.
From Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing: Content marketing success takes time. Just because you develop a couple of really great articles or blog posts or videos doesn’t mean you’ll convert a lead to a sales opportunity tomorrow. Give it enough time to make a difference. For example, if your sales cycle is typically nine months, deploying a content marketing pilot across one quarter will not demonstrate the results the program can achieve. Content marketing is not a campaign with a start and stop date.
Right. Content Marketing is not a campaign with a start and stop date and will take time. This is even more true for large enterprises, where traditional marketing models might prevent the need for change being understood in time.
As a conclusion, you might not be an expert B2B content marketer but you can diligently plan and document your strategy. In some cases you will need to re-design your organization to be aligned with the strategy and to make things happen. Gone are the days of content marketing simply being a fancy term for articles and press releases. Now, companies can easily create media contents, videos, infographics, podcasts and other value-adds for a well-integrated content marketing strategy.
Furthermore, the way companies use marketing technology to manage content and workflow, and combine original and syndicated content in a community style is unique and indicative of the future of marketing.