Content is eating up a huge chunk of today’s marketers’ time and budget. And more and more people are dedicating their careers to creating content, whether it is to inform and persuade, or simply make someone laugh. The question on many people’s lips is: “Is this gravy train really effective?”
Recent research from Havas has found that some 60% of the content created by the world’s leading 1,500 brands is “just clutter” that has little impact on consumers’ lives or business results. It’s another dig at those making a living out of the discipline—and will, no doubt, leave CMOs pondering whether the hard graft they’ve put into developing a content strategy is really worthwhile. While it’s clear I have a vested interest in defending content marketing, I hope the below explains why so many are getting it wrong and why I’m so passionate about its place in the marketer’s toolbox.
You Need To Ask “So What?”
The reality is that there is too much content—noise that is pushed out in isolation of any coherent strategy or insights. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with content marketing, rather there isn’t enough “so what?” being asked.
With buyers fire-hosed with content every day, brands need to ensure it educates, inspires, and provokes potential buyers right from the start—according to our own research tech professionals, for example, engage with content because it helps with skills development (42%).
Being useful is one of the most effective ways to get a product or service shortlisted, particularly in the B2B world, where the customer journey can take years, not days. We need only to glance at the well-known stat from Forrester Research that as much as 90% of the buyer’s journey may be complete before a buyer reaches out to a salesperson to see why it’s so critical for B2B brands to invest in getting this content right and ensure it is relevant and useful.
It’s not only “so what?” from a customer’s point of view, but from your business’s too. “Random acts of content” that isn’t relevant to audiences or has no business objective, or acts that have no KPIs attached to them, just don’t work. Through a hybrid mix of skills—a perfect blend of core marketing techniques such as copywriting, strategy development, and creativity, and technical know-how around data analysis and SEO—content marketers should clearly be able to demonstrate the impact of content on sales and business objectives (at LinkedIn, for example, 73% of all our marketing qualified leads are driven by content).
Create A Solid Strategy, And Stick To It
This will take a fair bit of homework—you’ll need to cover everything from gap analysis to identifying your customers’ needs and conversations, and fleshing out specific strategies around things like distribution and measurement.
Use data and insights about your target audience to understand what their pain points are and address them by creating useful, helpful content.
Content without a strategy can do more harm than good, so if you can’t do this, stay clear. Although that doesn’t mean a strategy should tie you down. The best content strategies evolve and adapt over time, so be flexible and use pilots to test and learn. If something isn’t working, change it.
Think About “Big Rock” Content
Based on our own experience working with and observing brands across a vast array of sectors, here is a formula we believe could work. Find out what topics and conversations are happening via analysis of key words and social chatter, and who the top influencers are. Use this information as the basis to develop a “big rock” piece of content—substantial, perhaps 20, 30, or more pages long—that is dedicated to answering the questions on customers’ and prospects’ minds to help them be even more effective.
These “big rock” content assets can then be sliced up and trickled out in various optimised formats across a period of time, such as via blog posts, infographics, slideshare decks, webinars, and so on—leading to an “always-on” approach. If you can A/B test and personalise this content across your target audiences as well, that’s a bonus.
There’s no doubt that doing more with less, paying to promote the best content you have, then optimising the click-through rates and conversation makes for a particularly savvy use of budget.
And the proof is in the numbers. While 73% of all our marketing qualified leads are driven by content, a third of these come from “big rock” pieces of content.
Be Aligned With Sales
The handoff between sales and marketing is happening much further down in the funnel. Marketing automation technology has made it easier than ever to offer content that will educate, inspire, and engage the prospect to the point where they are asking to speak with a sales rep, rather than a sales rep trying to cold-call a prospect.
But your sales team needs to know the content is there and how to use it. The bottom line is that content is the most effective way to get a product or service shortlisted, and organisations who are doing this well have a strong alignment between marketing and sales.
So there’s no need to down tools and give up just yet. Rather than being a nail in the content coffin, Havas’ findings should serve as the prompt for brands to up their content game. It’s down to CMOs to lead the revolution here—to improve the quality of content and trim the clutter.