We’re entering an era where content marketing is no longer just a creative tactic. It’s core to business success.
Content marketing has exploded in recent years: More than 5 exabytes of content are created and 27 million pieces shared each day, making content an essential component of marketing departments everywhere. With the convergence of paid, earned, and owned media, content marketing budgets have similarly scaled: 93% of B2B marketers use content in their marketing efforts.
Today, everyone is a publisher. Brands of every industry and sector create content on a daily basis because they know that it works. But with this opportunity comes the harsh reality of the content battleground. With thousands of brands clamoring to be heard, the competition is stiff, and it’s creating a new impetus for marketers to be more strategic as they fight for audience attention. With so much content out there, how can audiences push past the competition to reach even a small sliver of it?
The answer, of course, lies in data. By 2020, IDC predicts that the digital universe will consist of 44 zetabytes of data. While humans can process the equivalent of 1 million gigabytes of memory, there’s simply too much data for humans to handle on a daily basis. So how can we make sense of all the data out there and leverage it to impact marketing strategy?
As the increase of data and content come to a head in 2015, the content marketing industry is at a turning point. Right now, 2% of CMOs simply use their managers’ judgment to measure marketing ROI—but it’s impossible to understand success and progress without measurement. The time is now to rally the troops or accept defeat. We can either continue with the guess-based strategy we’ve weathered for years, or we can go to battle for the attention and results we need to drive business. And as marketers gear up to take on the challenge, one question will make the difference between blending in and standing out: How do you define success?
Understand Your Audience
On the content battleground, audience understanding is an essential piece of any winning strategy. It’s natural to try and appeal to what consumers want—but in today’s technology-heavy, data-driven marketing landscape, it’s never been easier to actually target demand. Leveraging both historical and real-time data to determine what types of content resonate with your audience helps mitigate any trial-and-error methods of content production—and cuts costs at the same time.
While creating content that checks the right boxes is all well and good, who wants to just survive on the content battleground? If consumers aren’t engaging with your content, performance plummets—and you run the risk of losing out on precious engagement opportunities. This is where many brands ultimately flop: They don’t optimize content at the time of creation.
It starts with rallying around consumer behavior. Brands that map their content back to the buyer journey are rewarded with greater purchase potential. Think about it: Understanding what your audience wants while optimizing your content accordingly is a win-win. Many companies face the challenge of optimizing content at scale, but it’s not a death sentence. It just takes some finesse.
After understanding the demand of your customers, map content topics to purchase funnels, audience personas, and event calendars. From there, ensure you’re using that knowledge to appeal to what you know. And don’t forget competitors. If they’re covering certain topics, make sure you’re doing the same and then some. Brands that understand audience demand and produce and optimize their content accordingly are rewarded with stronger conversions, high value business impact, and higher quality interactions.
Take Nordstrom, for example. As a major department store chain, bringing customers high-quality fashion is high on the list of business objectives. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted in dozens of cities across the country, Nordstrom’s customers began searching not only for scarves, but also for content around “how to tie scarves.” Knowing that, the brand featured scarves on its Web site and created a series of rich media pieces that resonated directly with consumers.
Know Your Opponent—And Measure Progress
It’s impossible to win a battle without understanding what you did wrong during the last one and how other brands are stacking up. The same goes for marketing: There is simply no way to grow as a brand without careful content performance monitoring. As Jake Sorofman of Gartner puts it, “Today, we see marketing leaders reining in a portion of their content marketing spending until they can reliably measure its performance, point to business impact, and achieve the scale and control currently afforded by paid media.” Measuring content performance affords marketers the ability to increase the lifespan of any piece of content and compare performance with competitors.
Historically, marketers have relied on first-party data, which only works on a limited scale. Today, however, there has never been a stronger impetus to leverage third-party competitive insights into the wider market. Plus, as machine learning technology gets increasingly effective, brands can automate their secret weapon of competitive data on the content battleground.
Outdoor retailer REI is a great example of using performance measurement as a catalyst for content strategy. In preparation for ski season this past year, REI pushed ski jackets, expecting to sell almost $1 million per week, as it has done in previous years. However, about halfway through the first week, the company had barely reached $200,000 and wasn’t tracking for the expected revenue. Data analysts monitored social data, search engine data, email marketing data, and more, but the first-party data approach didn’t have the scope to take competitors into account.
After deeper, more careful competitive analysis, the company discovered that Zappos was marketing its skiwear with price cuts, free shipping, and deeper inventory. Zappos was dominating the category, and REI gained the information it needed to make adjustments during the next go-around. With the secret weapon of machine learning on its side, REI could have automated the entire process and actually prevented this from happening, measuring the pulse of the entire content landscape and iterating on the results. Gone are the days of guesswork and basing campaign plans on first-party data alone.
Successful content marketers are tasked with a major challenge: to produce engaging, well-optimized content that can be measured. In today’s competitive content battleground, it’s no surprise that content remains the enigma of the marketing industry. However, with a strategy rooted in understanding demand, optimizing content, and measuring progress, brands can not only survive the content battleground, they can win.