It’s funny how often I start down a new and different content marketing path that leads me to a familiar place: “Think like a publisher!”
Last month I interviewed a variety of senior marketers for research exploring how they decide which marketing functions to keep in-house and which to outsource. I was struck by how many of them told me they are keeping content marketing in-house because customer and industry insights were too important to delegate to outside partners. That just didn’t jibe with my sense of the robust growth flowing into independent content marketing practices–including our own at Stein + Partners Brand Activation (SPBA), headed up by yours truly!
So I tapped into my coterie of friends involved in content marketing–some internal, some external, and all former editorial/publishing executives.
The first point to emerge, unanimously, is that any organization large enough to afford both is doing so. In the words of Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Management Institute, “Content marketing is a skill most corporate brands don’t have, but what we're seeing in droves is that leadership positions inside the company are being hired from traditional media to oversee the strategy, and then that strategy is executed inside and outside. That is just a smart way to use resources.”
Bob Evans, senior vice president, communications, for Oracle, is a perfect example. Bob was an SVP of editorial, instrumental in the creation of more than one technology media brand (e.g., InformationWeek and Computer Reseller News), and a mentor of mine from way back in the heyday of print media to today.
“Companies like Oracle that are doing revolutionary things, redefining their industries, they need high-caliber editorial types in-house to help them connect the story of their customers to the story of their brands. In our case, it’s about connecting what’s going on in the business world, how the new demands of business are going to crush the old way of computing, and the new platforms, applications, and infrastructure that is emerging to replace that old way,” he said. But despite having the best editorial talent in-house, Oracle relies on a mix of in-house and external resources to produce its large library of branded content, from case studies to the monthly Oracle Profit magazine.
Research from Pulizzi’s Content Management Institute (PDF) supports this consensus. It shows that 65 percent of companies with more than 1,000 employees outsource some content creation, as do 53 percent of companies with 100 to 999 employees. Only very small companies try to do it all in-house, likely because they can’t afford to do otherwise.
Joe Braue, most recently executive vice president and group director at UBM TechWeb, was the “intrapreneur” who built that company’s business providing content marketing to high-tech brands. “In the early days, brands did not have anyone in-house dedicated to content marketing. But as content marketing grows more important, you need that core person who holds the institutional knowledge,” he said. “You have to build sustainability; you don’t want to do one or two shots–you want to build long-term programs.”
Patricia Brown, director, digital content strategy, for Computer Sciences Corp. (who I worked with when she was site editor for InternetWeek.com too many years ago), also supplements her in-house editorial team with outside agencies and freelancers, particularly for specialized services like video production and infographics. Patty also brought in two former editorial teammates to work with CSC’s worldwide marketing team to effectively develop and package content for clients, potential clients, and partners.
But another consensus also emerged from Mike’s Day of Reacquaintanceship: Most brands are unlikely to ever develop the indispensible skill of replacing their own worldviews with that of their customers–what I call thinking like a publisher. There just aren’t enough skilled senior editorial types to go around!
Evan Schuman, CEO of The Content Firm, reminded me what I used to admonish every new reporter we brought on board at InternetWeek: “Your job is to get inside the heads of our readers, and when you meet with vendors you ask the questions those readers would ask these vendors if they had the access you have. Everything goes through that filter of what the readers care about. And you have to keep talking to readers because their interests and needs will change from month to month.”
Substitute “customers” for “readers” in the passage above, and you have the essence of content marketing. It’s all about crafting content that speaks to what your customers really care about, not what you think is important.
Evan added: “I’ve been in too many meetings where I ask a group, ‘What are the key things your customers care about?’ Then we move on and ask, ‘What are the main messages we want to put into our content?’ And invariably, I have to put those two flip charts side by side and tell them, ‘Note that there is no overlap between what you think your customers care about and what you want to tell them. So let’s start again.’”
It’s no wonder, then, as Pulizzi said, “I see a long life of corporate marketers having to do both: using in-house people to identify strategies, but for execution going to outside experts who know how to think like a publisher.”