Content Marketing’s Chicken & Egg Budget Problem

baby-chick-and-an-egg_4473966_lrgIf you’ve been around digital marketing since the Pleistocene Epoch, which correlates roughly with the mid-1990s, you’ve doubtless noticed a trend. Whenever a new channel or medium appears — and appears to have staying power — marketers’ first instinct seems always to be: throw a teenager at it.

During the Web 1.0 era, businesses were literally hiring the senior vice president’s 15-year-old nephew to build the company website. After all, he knew HTML. When email was ascendant, the first email program managers were a mere notch above summer interns. Search, social media — the operative fallacy is that these channels are for the young, and therefore only the dewiest of candidates are qualified to tackle them. The kernel of truth inside that fallacy is that newer channels are poorly understood, marketers (and the C-suite) are reluctant to allocate budget, so they take baby steps — with babies – and staff that may have tactical proficiency but are lacking in business experience, a strategic approach, an understanding of business goals, and overall maturity.

Now that web development, email, search, and social have developed into fully-fledged disciplines, they often have their own departments, staff, and oversight.

Content marketing? Not yet. Although without content there can be no paid, owned, or earned media, content doesn’t have a formal home in most organizations. Heck, 70 percent of organizations that practice content marketing don’t have a documented content strategy (according to my research, and corroborated by numerous other surveys). Without a formal strategy, there is rarely a budget, an org chart, or an infrastructure for content.

And this gives rise to another wave of amateurism. Too many organizations still subscribe to the “hire an unemployed journalist” school of content marketing. The reasoning is that this low-rent ink-stained scribe can churn out blog posts at a regular cadence, perhaps even thought-leadership pieces and some marketing copy.

I’ve got nothing against journalists — having been one myself for many years — but literacy and a flair for writing isn’t enough. This “content associate” (as these positions are often called) hasn’t been trained in marketing and too often doesn’t understand the core business they’re working for. Ideas such as personas and brand voice are alien to them. Recently, I was regaled with the story of a meal-delivery start-up whose in-house blogger not only wasn’t producing copy, but flat out confessed to having little interest in food, dining, or nutrition as a topic.

Even those organizations lucky enough to land talented, interested writers aren’t going the distance. Content isn’t text alone. Increasingly, it’s visual, and audio-visual. It requires the talents of editors, videographers, and graphic designers. If content is embedded in or reliant on apps, it can also require developers. The content price tag has just shot up considerably from that out of work journalist, hasn’t it?

Business will soon leave the era of content managed by barely-past-their-teens practitioners. Content will be formalized and institutionalized. Organizations are on the verge of realizing no content equals no email, no search, no website, no social media, no PR, and no advertising. All these are channels and containers for content.

Content is growing up. Budgets and organizational structure must and will rise accordingly.

This post originally published on iMedia

Steps Toward Developing A Content Strategy

business-people-office-ss-1920-800x450Organizations are finally getting the memo: They need a clear, cogent, documented and well-communicated content strategy to govern their content marketing efforts.

My research (at Altimeter Group), corroborated by that of several other studies, indicates that currently 70 percent of companies practicing content marketing lack a documented strategy. But thankfully, this is slowly changing as the need to align content with actual goals, processes and procedures comes into focus.

What are the steps to outlining that documented strategy? The following is a list of my asks the moment I’m brought into an organization to help them develop a content strategy road map.

The first, and most critical part, is goals. What is content trying to achieve? What are the business reasons for creating and publishing content, and how are these goals aligned to broader company priorities?

This critical first step is determining the big “Why” of content. Without the why, there can be no strategy.

Part 2 may be secondary, but it’s of equal importance. It answers the question “How?” People, process, governance, tools, technologies, assets — all of these and more must be present and accounted for, aligned and communicated to numerous stakeholders. How is ongoing, but adheres to a broad procedural schema.

In order to determine Why and get to the How, these are my “Day One” requests when beginning a content strategy engagement.

List Of Tools & Technologies

What tools do you use to create content? To publish it? To store, archive, share and retrieve it? To optimize and measure it? What other tools do these tools have to play nice with?

This list might include Web or social analytics tools, SEO or SEM software, CRM solutions, marketing automation, even intranets and telephony software.

No tool or technology is an island anymore, so a holistic, 360-degree consideration of technology — what’s used today and what’s planned for deployment in the future — is essential.

Content Audit

A content audit is a painstaking, exacting exercise that many would be only too happy to skip. But you can’t.

If you don’t know where you are, you can’t chart the journey forward. A content audit is both a quantitative and, more importantly, a qualitative analysis of all the content for which your organization is responsible.

In order to conduct an audit, you’ll need a list of all your public-facing online properties, from websites to social media. When I conduct an audit I want to see your email marketing, your ad campaigns. I even (this surprises many of my clients) want to examine offline collateral, perhaps that big annual report or research study undertaken annually or semiannually.

It’s not enough to just have at the content itself. I’ll also request access to analytics software (Web, social, email, and so on). The purpose of an audit isn’t just to evaluate whether or not I like your content. I want to see if it’s being seen, found, used, shared and amplified — or not.

A good audit (they vary by purpose and type of engagement) is a 50-point diagnostic. They’re very deep and reveal often-surprising insights, not just about the content itself, but also requirements for the processes and technologies to create and sustain the flow of content. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.

Stakeholder Interviews

The stakeholder interview is the most interesting part of developing a content strategy.

I’ll ask for a list of 10 to 15 stakeholders for in-depth interviews on content needs. What are their goals? Their wants and needs? Their vision of process? It’s usually up to my client to identify the stakeholders I’ll interview, but I don’t want all of them to be senior executives. I also want to speak with the techies, the creatives and tacticians to get a pragmatic, from-the-trenches perspective.

I don’t want to interview groups larger than two to three people (otherwise some will clam up), and I don’t want a senior executive present at all my conversations (self-censorship can be an issue).

While stakeholder interviews aren’t a democratic process, really asking people what they want and need around content can be incredibly revealing, and unveil very interesting levels of consensus.

There are, of course, other asks dependent on the size, scope and purpose of a content engagement strategy. But for anyone approaching their organization as a client in need of a content strategy, these three starting points are mandatory.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Content Strategy Isn’t Set in Stone

To market effectively requires a strategy, but a simple fact that eludes many marketers is that you are allowed to change the strategy. I hadn’t realized how intractable strategy is perceived to be until a few recent calls with clients, as well as a student writing a PhD thesis on content marketing, left me shaking my head. All expressed reluctance to commit to a documented content strategy lest priorities, processes, technologies, or other resources change. What then? Strategy is, after all, inscribed on stone tablets, Ten Commandments-style, when it’s documented. Or so the belief seems to go.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. In fact, this misbelief may be precisely what underlies the fact that 70 percent of organizations that practice content marketing don’t have a documented content strategy. Not only does my research as an analyst point to that statistic, but that 70 percent is corroborated by virtually every study out there.

Strategies can, and do change. They have to. That’s where sustainability comes in. Media consumption patterns change, messaging changes, goals shift, customers change, and so do products. Target audiences might shift, new products are introduced, old ones changed. Budgets rise and fall.

There are a zillion and one reasons why a content marketing strategy can — indeed, will — change. Yet for some reason, marketers believe that once a strategy is established, it’s set in stone, immutable, and unalterable. In the rapidly shifting landscape of digital marketing and media, it’s essential to establish a strategy — to know why you are doing what you’re doing and how that goal will be achieved.

But that in no way precludes frequents checks, shifts, tweaks, and adjustments to stay on course. That’s how marketing becomes fluid, agile, sustainable, and successful.

How, why, and when should a content strategy change? Changes can be large or small, but the following are a few of the many reasons strategy should be reexamined, reevaluated, and re-jiggered to address priorities at hand.

Metrics/KPIs/optimization

What metrics and KPIs are important to gauging the success of a content strategy? Sales are an obvious choice, but there are a panoply of other KPIs that will take on greater or lesser significance as a strategy, as well as organizational priorities, evolve.

Content audit

Audits must be conducted periodically, ideally at least twice per year, to inform content strategy. Audits address what’s working, what’s not, and where gaps exist and how they might be filled.

Products/services

As offerings (and offers) change, so too will content strategy. Shifts might be seasonal, event- or launch-driven, or perhaps a new product line appeals to new customers with different needs, wants, and habits. If the organization itself isn’t static, content strategy will never be a set-it-and-forget-it box to tick.

Audience

Who comprises the target audience? Where are they online? Have they switched their alliance from one channel or platform to another, either in aggregate or by persona? Are personas and buyer profiles changing? What about their needs and wants? These and similar questions help to inform one of the most essential components of a content strategy: defining, and finding, who that content is supposed to reach and to influence.

Channels/formats/media

Ten years ago Instagram and Twitter weren’t part of anyone’s content strategy. They didn’t exist. Mobile was a department, not part and parcel of digital. Video, for many, was a nice to have, not a must-have. Shifts in platforms and the overall digital landscape necessitate periodic reevaluations of content strategy.

Resources

This can include tools, technology, personnel, budgets, processes — anything it takes to get content done. Content strategies don’t just define the goals content is intended to achieve, but also the procedure, processes and governance required to get there. Changes in resources necessitate changes to the overarching strategy.

This post originally published on iMedia

The TedCruz.com Domain #Fail

You don’t need a lot of content to make a big impact.

Mere hours after Sen. Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring and announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land, TedCruz.com went live. The site consists of one sober page, white text on a black background:

Unsurprisingly, social media lit up with (deservedly) derisive comments. The same would have been the case 10 years ago. Cruz is hardly the first politician to flop so spectacularly online. I can recall Rudy Giuliani’s MySpace profile during his presidential bid — the page was marked “private” so no one could see the posts.

But that was then. I don’t think that today it’s going too far to say that a candidate that doesn’t have the foresight to secure his own name (not to mention any and all related domains) doesn’t deserve my vote. It’s bad decision-making. It’s bad politics. It’s bad content, image, spin, and PR. What would have been a big “oops” 10 or 15 years ago is now indicative of someone who (politics aside) is not making informed decisions.

Because today, digital is too important to ignore. Barack Obama owes his two terms not just to a platform that resonated with the electorate, but with one of the all-time greatest digital CRM campaigns. The White House has a chief digital officer now.

Contrast that with Cruz, who doesn’t have a top-level domain in his name.

This choice, or oversight, or whatever you care to call it, speaks volumes about Ted Cruz as a leader. What kind of people has he brought on as campaign advisors if this critical element of his messaging has been completely overlooked? A president is only good as his lieutenants. It’s hard to imagine a candidate who can’t buy a web domain becoming the most powerful politician in the world and appointing a qualified cabinet.

My friend Vin Crosbie has pointed out that ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) could, in fact, return TedCruz.com to Ted Cruz, because the current owner is using it in bad faith. To do so, Cruz would have to file a complaint.

“I could get it for him by the end of the week,” an SEO and reputation management expert commented on my Facebook page. “But he isn’t going to ask.”

It’s going to be an interesting election season. Simply from a digital marketing perspective, I don’t think the first candidate in the ring is going to be able to go the distance.

This post originally published on iMedia 

A Personal Transition & Career Change

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I’m in the bittersweet process of transitioning out of my role as industry analyst at Altimeter Group. I plan to remain with the company until early summer, finishing obligations and projects for some wonderful clients, including research and strategy work, as well as public speaking.

Then I’ll strike out and do something new. What, exactly, is still TBD.

I’m sharing this news for two reasons. First, transparency. At Adobe Summit last week, it was awkward to meet old friends and new acquaintances and answer the “what do you do?” question. Yes, I’m still at Altimeter, but one foot is inching toward the door.

I also want to signal my availability. I’m pleased to be in talks with a diverse list of organizations: brands, analyst firms, and agencies. I’m considering a variety of options, from remaining an analyst to putting my practitioner hat back on in a senior marketing role. I am also taking on client projects (advisory and thought leadership), as well as booking speaking engagements.

I’ve also been asked to join a number of advisory boards, an exciting prospect (unless I remain an analyst, in which case that’s a non-starter). I’m energized, daunted, nostalgic and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, my head swimming with possibilities. It’s all good, and still very open-ended. I’m figuring this out while juggling a full workload and all the while maintaining my elite level frequent flyer status.

Working at Altimeter is one of the best jobs I ever had. I’m very proud of having produced a significant body of research on content marketing – more than any other researcher or analyst in the field – as well as my work in converged media. I’ve shared that knowledge in literally hundreds of keynotes and speeches on three continents, from major conferences to private events.

I’m also proud of my advisory and thought-leadership work with clients ranging from major banks, healthcare organizations, big-box retailers, and government agencies, to start-ups and non-profits. Recent clients include Home Depot, Adobe, Nestlé, Facebook, Gannett, Honeywell, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Fidelity, Wells Fargo, Anthem, American Express, IAB, as well as major ad and PR agencies.

I’m also honored to be frequently tapped for commentary by media outlets such as National Public Radio, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the BBC when there’s breaking news about digital marketing or media.

And it will be my privilege to continue to contribute to the dialogue, the development, and the definitions of the disruptive technologies in marketing and media.

I’m also grateful. Charlene Li believed in me and took my career in an exciting new direction. Jeremiah Owyang supported me wholeheartedly and unconditionally as a fledgling analyst, and was an early co-author of a major piece of research. Brian Solis invited me to serve as editor of several of his reports, and to speak at his Pivot conference.  The brilliant and talented Susan Etlinger is another co-author and collaborator. We published new research together just last week.

I couldn’t ask you to name a smarter, more supportive or inspirational group of colleagues. The research team has also been exceptional. If I look good at Altimeter, so much of that credit is due to crack researchers Christine Tran, Jessica Groopman and Jaimy Syzmanski (so many names I’m omitting….)

What’s next? I’ll keep you posted. Rest assured I’ll continue to research, write and speak under my own banner in the long term.

A Business-Oriented Content Measurement Framework

The foundation of content strategy is goals. Without knowing why content will be created and published — to what end, for whom, where, and how — content marketing is at best a spurious, ad hoc activity.

Yet when my colleague and partner-in-research Susan Etlinger and I sat down around a year ago to discuss the state of content measurement, we quickly realized growth in that sector is nowhere near commensurate with the overall growth of content marketing. This lead to research into what KPIs marketers should be working toward and measuring for in content, the subject of our latest research report titled Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact (free PDF download).

Content can indeed lift sales, but it can achieve so many more measurable, revenue-linked goals associated not only with marketing, but with other business areas, from product development to customer service.  Our research outlines some of these KPIs, but goes further in that it helps marketers determine not just what to measure, but how to measure it.

Following, the key recommendations that resulted from our research:

Measurement must be the foundational principle of content strategy

In fact, there is no content strategy without measurement strategy. Before embarking on a content initiative, irrespective of medium or platform, it’s important to know what you want to achieve. Is it to drive more awareness? Build an audience? Encourage people to convert? Reduce call center expense by deflecting appropriate queries to a digital channel? Each requires different metrics — for content, yes, but also to calculate whether you have achieved your goal. Set and prioritize goals and desired outcomes, develop KPIs to track these, and measure and iterate constantly.

Every measurement strategy must focus on business outcome

Content metrics can be notoriously volume- or vanity-based, rather than outcome-based. This means that counting likes, shares, or organic reach in and of itself likely doesn’t demonstrate business value. To do that, you need to show a business outcome, using the compass in Figure 1. For example:

  1. An increase in reach can show audience growth.
  2. An increase in shares (preferably combined with other measures of engagement) can show engagement.
  3. To understand whether a content strategy has affected brand reputation, you must have a benchmark, measure sentiment, and look at the before and after. It’s critical to have an analyst who can perform this correlation with an eye to other confounding factors. For example, a “viral” video may be immensely popular, but if there is a product recall, pricing change, or other factors, it may be difficult or even impossible to assess the impact on the business overall.
    A business-oriented content measurement framework

Know your metrics and your data

Some signals, like click-through rate, are clear and relatively easy to assess. Measuring sharing behavior requires that an analyst assess multiple platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. — to define what “sharing” actually means. Compounding this issue is the fact that some of the most valuable data — for example, private Facebook data, or Snapchat data — are not available for privacy reasons. So analysts must take that into account as they assess impact and create defensible benchmarks as part of their process.

Be realistic about organizational capabilities and tools

Because content performance data comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from various platforms, it often requires a great deal of manual intervention to analyze properly. This is simply a reality of the market today; content vendors often supply their own analytics dashboards, while social media tools also serve to measure content reach, resonance, and other (content-specific) outcomes.

It is not uncommon to require a mixture of web analytics, content measurement, marketing technology, and social media tools to assess the impact of content. As a result, content strategists should work with their analysts to develop a realistic (short-term) and aspirational (long-term) measurement strategy. Otherwise, content strategists and business leaders will inevitably become frustrated, while analysts will burn out from all the manual work needed to deliver reports.

This post originally published on iMedia

A Meaningful Framework For Content Measurement

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Content has become pervasive. It fills websites, social media, advertising and collateral. It comprises words, images, audio-visual material, infographics and a host of other form factors. As media and channels proliferate, so too does content.

Yet, according to recent research I conducted, measuring content effectiveness remains the single most daunting task facing (content) marketers.

On my content marketing maturity model, applying measurement and strategy to content initiatives is the third of five levels of maturity.

content_marketing_maturity_model

But measuring only for sales and leads – or simply relying on volume or vanity metrics such as “likes” and “views” that contain little innate business value or meaning – undermines investments in time, media, employees, technology, and vendor relationships.

Content Metrics That Matter (Beyond Sales)

Together with my colleague Susan Etlinger, whose area of expertise is data, measurement and analytics, I’ve been researching content metrics that matter beyond those applied solely (and rather bluntly) to sales.

Clearly, sales matter. But as participation in content initiatives increases and permeates outward-facing and non-marketing divisions such as human resources, customer service and support, product groups, research and development, etc., which we call the Culture of Content, the metrics and KPIs that are applied to content correspondingly shift.

Non-marketing divisions don’t directly support sales but instead have their own success criteria. To encourage participation in content initiatives company-wide, content marketing must support these other departments’ goals that clearly, while not always in a manner that ties directly to sales, are of high value to the organization. Demonstrating this value only occurs through measurement.

In the course of our research we repeatedly found most organizations are at a loss for how to create and deliver useful, insightful and business-building content, and they’re equally puzzled about what KPIs to put in place to measure content benefits.

Content Strategy Is Fundamental

Content strategy would solve for this as strategy is, after all, founded on establishing goals and benchmarks for content marketing, then selecting the tools, processes and governance that will best achieve these goals. But since most companies still lack a documented content strategy, they also fall short in knowing what they want to  (or can) measure. Additionally, they lack the tools and expertise to understand how to measure it.

Our recently-published research (free with registration) is a portfolio of case studies and examples of metrics applied in ways that illustrate the less-obvious benefits of content across a variety of scenarios: e.g. improved customer service, operational efficiencies, marketing optimization, etc. The reality is that content can support these goals, and all these goals can, in turn, correspond to monetary value.

It surprised both of us how much we had to struggle to find these case studies and examples, which underscores the underdeveloped state of content metrics.

Content Marketing Is Becoming As Integral To Business As Is Social

In 2011, Susan developed  “A Framework for Social Analytics,” in which she introduced “The Social Media Measurement Compass.” We updated that graphic in our current report to apply to content. The intent then was to demonstrate the many ways in which social media could deliver value for the business.

Now, the market has evolved to a point where content — which resides not only in earned media channels, but also in owned and paid media — has become a separate entity that is integral to organizations’ ability to scale their communication efforts.

Beyond marketing and sales, content can play a critical role in improving brand health, augmenting the customer experience, reducing cost and risk, and many other goals of the business.

Here is the updated compass, illustrating the key value propositions of a well-crafted content strategy.

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Each point represents an opportunity for business-centric measurement; that is, measurement that directly ties to business objectives and strategies. For example, operational efficiency metrics may refer to cost savings, risk, crisis management, or even productivity improvements.

These six points are by no means exhaustive, but provide a starting point for organizations eager to derive deeper insights from their content performance.

In many cases, the same “raw” metrics can be used as ingredients to answer many types of questions. In other cases, there are business or strategy-specific metrics that require data from other tools or sources, such as web analytics, business intelligence, market research, email marketing or CRM systems.

This post originally published on MarketingLand