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

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

content-marketing-box-ss-1920

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.

Lieb

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

New Research: Content Marketing Performance

16162748854_0b283dbcae_oMy latest research, Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact is hot off the presses (virtually speaking, of course). Please feel free to download a copy from the link above.

Here’s how my esteemed colleague Susan Etlinger introduced our project today, cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog:

About a year ago, Rebecca Lieb and I had a series of conversations about the emerging need for analytics that would allow content and marketing professionals to evaluate the success of their content strategies.  We discussed the predominance of “volume metrics” in content performance analysis, and the focus on linking content to conversion.

As we’ve both written before, that can be a significant challenge, for reasons having to do with attribution, browser complexity, and the complexity of human behavior in the buying cycle. So we wanted to take a look at some other ways that content marketers can gauge the success of their efforts.

The resulting report, “Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact,” is a look at six ways that content marketers can measure value. If that sounds familiar, it is: the social media measurement compass—which looks at brand health, marketing optimization, revenue generation, operational efficiency, customer experience and innovation—is relevant to content’s value as well.

You’ll notice that some of these case studies only include a few metrics; that is partly because some companies are reluctant to share their “secret sauce,” and because we are still in a very nascent state for content measurement. For that reason, we enriched the case studies with other metrics we’d recommend, so you can see how we might approach a measurement strategy to support specific business objectives.

 We hope this report starts a conversation on content measurement, and will be happy to link to substantive posts that discuss the issues in detail. As always, thanks for reading, and we hope you find value in this document.

– Rebecca Lieb and Susan Etlinger

I’d also like to take a moment to extend deep thanks to Senior Researcher Jessica Groopman and Research and Marketing Manager Christine Tran for their unflagging support on this project.

How To Conduct A Content Audit

writing-content-ss-1920A content audit is the cornerstone of content strategy, which governs content marketing. The aim is to perform a qualitative analysis of all the content on a website (or in some cases, a network of sites and/or social media presences — any content for which your organization is responsible).

Why perform a content audit, which admittedly is a painstaking and exacting exercise? Lots of reasons.

First and foremost, an audit helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to the goals of the organization. It can help answer important questions: Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the organization? Is it optimized for search? Are tools and software, such as the content management system (CMS) up to the task of handling it?

Essentially, an audit helps assess needs, shape content governance, and help determine the feasibility of future projects.

Create A Content Inventory First

Start by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a text document by page title or by URL. Organize this information in outline form, i.e. section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages.

If it’s an e-commerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like: Shoes > Womens Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Dr. Scholl’s. An informational company website’s headings might look more like: X Corporation > About Us > Management > John Doe.

Content strategist Kristina Halvorson recommends assigning a unique number to each section, sub-section and page (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1, etc.). This can help tremendously in assigning particular pieces of content to the appropriate site section. Some content strategists also color-code different sections on spreadsheets. It gets down to a matter of personal preference, as well as the size and scale of the audit in question.

It’s also highly recommended that each section, sub-section or page contain an annotation regarding who owns each piece of content, as well as the type of content: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Is it created in-house? If so, by whom? Is it outsourced (third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who’s responsible for creating, approving and publishing each piece?

The resulting document is a content inventory.

Conducting The Content Audit

Once you’ve created a content inventory, it’s time to perform the content audit. This will essentially involve digging into the quality of the content.

As you go through the audit, it’s helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page – e.g., a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “pretty crappy” and 5 being “rockstar fantastic.”

Following are the questions you should be asking about each piece of content:

1. What’s It About?

What subjects and topics does content address? Are page and section titles, headlines and sub-heads promising what’s actually delivered in the on-page copy? Is there are good balance of content addressing products, services, customer service, and “about us” information?

2. Is It Accurate & Up-To-Date?

In other words, is the content topical? Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated and/or inaccurate information lurking in nooks and crannies of the site? As mentioned above, localities, employees, pricing, industry data and statistics and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as “update/revise” or “remove.”

3. Does It Support Both User And Business Goals?

Many stakeholders feed into a company’s digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing, PR and customer service (to name but a few).

Different divisions may be trying to achieve varying goals in “their” section of a site or blog, but fundamentally all content must very gracefully serve two masters: the needs of the business and the needs of the customer.

This means, for example, that calls-to-action must be clear, but not so overwhelming that they get in the way of the user experience. The content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while staying in balance.

4. Are People Finding And Using The Content?

This is where web analytics comes into play. What types of content — and what pages in particular — are the most and least popular on the site in question? Where do users spend time, and where do they go when they leave? Are they taking desired actions on a page? What search keywords and phrases bring them to the site?

It’s not enough that content is simply there. The data can reveal what’s working (and what’s not) and help inform a strategy that supports more of the types of content users prefer.

5. Is It Clean And Professional?

Is page copy consistent in tone? Are spelling, punctuation and grammar consistent and correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it being followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner, and properly placed/oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any predesignated rules (e.g., open a new page in a separate browser window)?

6. Is Content Logically Organized?

Does the site contain tacked-on pages that don’t follow navigational structure? Does the overall navigation make sense? Are there redundancies, such as a site that includes a “Personal Finance” section in the top-level navigation, then again lists that section in a sub-menu under the heading “Money & Careers”?

7. Does The Content Have A Consistent Voice?

Every brand or business has a distinct voice that expresses its personality. Serious, irreverent, scholarly, authoritative – all are valid, but the tone, language and mode of expression must be a fit and must be consistent with the brand. This step evaluates the content’s tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder.

8. Are Basic SEO Elements In Place? 

Review the page’s title, keywords, metadata, headings and image tags.

Are target keywords and phrases used on the page? Are page descriptions and metadata employed appropriately? Are images and multimedia files captioned, and is metadata employed to make them search-engine friendly? Are headlines optimized for search?

Search engine optimization begins and ends with content, so evaluating to what extent content conforms to best practices in search is an essential part of an audit.

9. What Content Is Missing?

Conducting a content audit focuses so much attention on what’s there that it’s often too easy to overlook what’s not there. An essential step in any audit is therefore to identify weaknesses, gaps and content needs.

A site may be rich in information on how to order, for example; but, are issues surrounding shipping and order fulfillment adequately addressed? Is the press/media section strong on press releases, but weak on photos and video offerings? Does the company blog address company issues heavily, but general industry trends not at all?

What’s missing speaks volumes about the forward direction of a content strategy.

Use Your Findings To Identify Needed Changes/Actions

This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s not enough to produce a giant spreadsheet. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.

This post originally published on MarketingLand