Companies embarking on content marketing have to have goals and objectives first and foremost, according to Rebecca Lieb, Altimeter Group's digital advertising and media analyst. Lieb, who also serves as a strategic adviser on digital marketing innovation to organizations ranging from start-ups to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries, believes asking questions and knowing your audience are the keys to setting these goals.
MSPC caught up with Lieb to learn more and to find out which companies she thinks are getting it right.
Why is it important to have a content strategy?
You shouldn’t commit to any kind of marketing without having a strategy. Otherwise you’re just doing things willy-nilly, with no established goals, processes or framework for measurement. It would be like building a house without a blueprint. It could be done, but it’s a much better idea to have the structure, the governance and the discipline (with the problems anticipated and the outcome determined) before you just dive in and do it.
Who should create the strategy?
CMOs are taking up the reins of developing a content strategy because content doesn’t stand alone. I’m very fond of saying that “content is the atomic particle of all marketing.” Obviously you need content to commit to content marketing but by the same token social media doesn’t exist without content. Social media platforms are merely containers for content. Email is another device that delivers content, ditto mobile, ditto search. What we are seeing is really innovative marketers, Intel is one example, putting content together with other marketing disciplines because content needs to flow across all areas of marketing.
You believe that metrics and key performance indicators should be embedded at the start of any content strategy – why?
If you’re not measuring content you can’t optimize it; you can’t fix what you’re doing. Without knowing what the goals are, who the audience is, what their pain points are, where they congregate digitally and are likely to consume that content, and what their content preferences are (i.e., do they want text, multi-media, infographics) it’s very difficult to know what’s going to be effective.
Which are the best measurement tools to use?
I can’t say there’s a one-size-fits-all solution as there are a lot of tools out there. I’ve published the only research on the content marketing vendor landscape with the Altimeter Group and last year I saw the number of vendors double. So it’s impossible to say what type of measurement is right without knowing what you want to measure. But what our research did was create a framework for marketers to determine what their needs were, in terms of measurement and software, and ranked all the vendors by their capability. So we helped marketers to narrow down their choice in the field.
Who should create the content?
Generally it will start in marketing, primarily social media, because they’ve got to feed the hungriest beast on a daily basis, followed by communications I’ve found that companies would like to create their own content but they’re beginning to outsource it for a number of reasons – they might need a lot of content, or they might want it to meet certain professional standards and those proficiencies aren’t available in-house. When content marketing started it was very much text-based, written material: blogging, whitepapers, etc. Now content is becoming increasingly visual and audio-visual, so people are looking to outsource it to the talents of videographers, editors, graphic designers, information architects and engineers that develop mobile applications.
A lot of great stories come from within organizations. How can businesses incentivize colleagues to share them?
Organizations need to develop a “culture of content” in order to find the people who can identify or create content. But the real struggle and challenge is motivation and organization. Obviously these people are in other jobs and they have other stuff to do that keeps them busy all day. Motivating them, with incentives related to their goals and their own job performance metrics, is how to make this work. Also, explaining the value of sharing information, such as saying, “If you give us customer feedback we can develop better and more successful products,” or, ”we can make your job easier,” will help to incentivize them too.
Which companies have grown as a result of a successfully implemented content strategy?
Charity Water is using nothing but content to grow their charity. They are also empowering their supporters to create content for them. They’ve turned content creation into a virtuous circle. There are huge corporations like Red Bull that are as successful at content production, with talented filmmakers, publishers, recording studios, etc., as they are at making their core product, the energy drink. I also like how very large companies like GE and IBM have come up with a unifying idea for all of their content. With GE it’s Eco Imagination. With IBM it’s Smarter Planet. All the content rolls into this unifying umbrella so that it’s not just working for the individual brand but for the larger parent brand too.
What can larger businesses learn from smaller companies?
Agility. In large companies, initiatives tend to be like treading around the proverbial battleship. Things happen slowly. As we witness the rise of real-time marketing, large companies’ approval systems need to be greatly streamlined in order to be more competitive in a social media, real-time world.
If the content budget is tight, what are the most important factors for businesses to concentrate on?
Listen to your audience and give them something that is useful to them, helpful or entertaining. Content should entertain, educate and serve a utility function. Remember it’s not about you, it’s about your audience.
Content, unlike advertising, which is an interruptive/push strategy, is a pull function, making people consume your stuff because they want to, not because they have to (i.e., they don’t get to watch their television program until they watch your ad). So make your content interesting to them, not just interesting to you.
If you look to companies with little to no budget, these are the ones doing the most with the least resources. Look at initiatives that the likes of animal rights group PETA or National Public Radio have used to get inspiration. Both are non-profit and have a very small budget.
Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?