As brands firm up their 2015 marketing budgets, it is clear that CMOs believe content marketing is important to their businesses, and content marketing is a high priority for branding investment.
But how many CMOs have a road map for building their brands with content marketing? Not enough. Most brands lack a content marketing strategy, and they continue to struggle with how to do content marketing well. If you are one of the many CMOs committed to content marketing, and you aren't quite sure how to get started, here are 10 tips to help you find your way:
1. Be useful. Content marketing means building your brand by sharing useful information beyond your own products and services. (And thought leadership is a form of content marketing in which a brand shares expertise that improves how other people live and work.)
Usefulness is the attribute that distinguishes content marketing from every other form of marketing. Press releases, case studies, banner ads, and landing page copy all constitute content, and there is a place for all those forms of content. But unless you are sharing useful information, you are wasting your content marketing budget.
Being useful can mean publishing how-to information, as Ally Bank does via the financial tips published on its Straight Talk blog. I would also argue that Prada's 2013 movie short "Castello Cavalcanti" also qualifies as content marketing because the movie meets a fundamental human desire to be entertained. Be useful or don't bother trying.
2. Have a strategy. According to Joe Pulizzi, head of the Content Marketing Institute, strategy is a crucial difference between successful content marketers and also-rans. As he blogged recently, "Effective marketers are far more likely to 1) document their strategy and 2) follow it closely." Simple, right?
And yet most business-to-business brands fail to document a strategy, which results in the creation of branded content that does nothing to build your brand. According to Laura Ramos of Forrester Research, roughly half of business-to-business brands are still in the early stages of assembling a content strategy and executing against it, let alone documenting one.
Do you operate your marketing team without a strategy? I don't think so. Respect content marketing as a discipline with a well-formulated strategy that defines your goals, audience, and a publishing approach, among other core elements.
3. Be democratic. Each day your employees learn and share with one another the challenges and breakthroughs they experience with their client work. They also share the ideas they learn through daily experience beyond work.
Your employees can be powerful sources of content marketing if you take the time to ask them. Up-and-coming employees especially can be effective sources of thought leadership as they are often eager to establish themselves.
Don't let your fear of losing your employees stop you. People are not indentured servants. Treat them well and promote their ideas. They will remember you fondly when they become your clients. Or they will help your brand as they stay with your organization.
4. Be visual. You live in a visual age. According to analyst Mary Meeker, we're sharing 1.8 billion photos a day online. Brands ranging from General Electric to the National Hockey League are relying on visual platforms to tell their stories.
People can and do judge books by their covers, and they'll judge your content harshly if you complement your words with canned stock images. If you want to stand apart in the age of information glut, complement your words with striking images that tell your story. And be present on visually oriented sites like Instagram.
5. Co-brand. If you're a CMO, you're probably well connected with clients, influencers, and business partners. Lean on your network to contribute content to your brand and do the same for them. Co-brand with others who have strong visibility, and their ideas will help you build your brand, as HubSpot does with its network of HubSpot fellows.
Co-developing content with your clients is a great way to deepen your relationships. And I don't mean flattering your clients by asking them to contribute a blog post to your corporate blog, although there is nothing wrong with doing so. I mean identifying ideas that matter to you both and co-creating thought leadership accordingly, as has been done for agency iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri, CEO of So So Def Recordings.
6. Hustle. No one will see your content unless you distribute it wisely. Content hustling means sharing an idea across multiple distribution channels ranging from a brand's Web site to its social media spaces.
Content hustling requires companies to empower employees to act as brand ambassadors, relying on their personal networks to share corporate thought leadership. Content hustling also means looking at every marketing touch point as an opportunity to create content. Let's say, for example, you speak at a client event. Hustling content means re-purposing the presentation on a channel like SlideShare and generating a blog post from the core ideas in the presentation.
7. Curate. Build authority by sharing content that you don't create. Curating the right kind of content will associate you with ideas that align with your brand. Doing so also keeps your brand visible on those days when you do not have original content to post, making you a trusted and reliable resource that will increase your audience.
As Fast Company proclaimed, "Content Curators are the New Superheros of the Web" because curators provide a useful service of helping their followers cut through the white noise of the Internet. For more on content curation, check out this extensive set of blog posts from the Content Marketing Institute.
8. Measure. All marketing is and should be measureable, including content marketing. As Sam Petulla of Contently asserts, "Properly calculating ROI is far from a pipe dream; in fact, every marketer has the tools at their disposal to properly tie their content performance to business results. It involves properly understanding content’s role in building relationships with consumers, and properly modeling brand lift, engagement, loyalty, and conversion events."
Don't overly complicate the process. Start with a few metrics you have the tools to measure and then develop more as you get comfortable to track the value of your branded content.
9. Sell. Content marketing should do more than build brand lift. It should contribute to lead development and customer creation.
Your content marketing program needs to tie to your business development needs. One simple approach for aligning content with business development is to sit down with your head of BD and identify the names of your five most important growth accounts in the coming year. Then collaborate on how your branded content will help you deepen those accounts, an example being co-developing content with your high-growth clients. (See point 5 on this list.)
10. Participate. Content marketing isn't someone else's job. It's yours. Set the example. There are far too many ways to create short-form content for you to get away with the excuse that you are far too busy. It takes seconds for you to curate content on Twitter, post branded content on a company Instagram account, or use your LinkedIn page to write a short blog post.
Follow the examples of GE's Beth Comstock or Jonathan Becher of SAP, who regularly share thought leadership. Think they have a lot of time on their hands? And yet they understand the value of using their visibility to create influence through their own ideas.
Content marketing is so fast moving that you might feel hesitant to jump in and expect to stay on top of its myriad developments. You might be feeling a bit of embarrassment if you've been neglecting content marketing or if you are one of the many who have failed to document a strategy.
Don't let embarrassment stop you from trying, and, if needed, find a trusted guide to help you stay on top of what you need to know about content marketing's evolution once you become an active participant. With content marketing, the worst course of action is to stand still. Don't be afraid to fail. We're all failing and learning every day.