Content Marketing: What To Consider Before You Outsource

How many major brands want to create their content marketing in-house?

One hundred percent.

That isn’t a made-up statistic. This was an actual finding a couple of years ago when I was conducting content marketing research, interviewing senior executives from over 50 brands such as Nestlé, GE, Adobe, IBM and Coca-Cola.

The next finding was even more interesting. We asked these brands what type of agency they were likely to select for content creation: an ad agency, PR agency, social media agency, or one of the much smaller breed of storytelling agency (e.g., Story Worldwide) when they did outsource.

Once again, a result was universal. While responses were divided more or less equally among the shops they would consider, some 95 percent of these executives said social media shops would notbe considered candidates. “Too boutique-y” “too trendy” were the top reasons provided.

There’s no shortage of agencies of all stripes that are eager to get your content business. In addition to the aforementioned flavors, there are also the custom content divisions at established publishing brands, as well as more channel-specific tactical expertise from any number of companies that formerly branded themselves as email or search engine marketing providers, but are now in the content marketing business. Finally, of course, there’s no shortage of smaller, more local content marketing agencies.

The trend really picked up momentum around 2013 when, in the PR sector alone (just to pick one of these verticals at random) Weber Shandwick launched Mediaco, Porter Novelli birthed PNConnect. In early 2014, Waggener Edstrom created Content360. The momentum is still going strong – at CES just this month, FleishmanHillard unveiled FH ContentWorks, a global initiative. (As an analyst covering content marketing, I’ve worked with Edelman, Ketchum and their clients on content marketing training and initiatives).

So what should you look for when engaging a content agency? There are many criteria you should consider – here are the primary ones.

Why Do You Want An Outside Agency?

Content creation? Technical expertise you lack in-house (e.g. video production or mobile app development). Strategy development? There are myriad reasons – nailing yours down will help to limit and focus the range of candidates.

Industry/Vertical Expertise

Don’t expect them to be peers in the knowledge sector, but they should possess a fundamental understanding of your vertical and/or industry, audience, region, or other individual criteria that are essential to your strategy.

At the very least, they should be great listeners who are genuinely interested in you, not just the job.

Strategy Before Tactics

If a documented content strategy doesn’t already exist, you need one in hand (or to commission one) before diving into tactics with an outside provider. If you need to create one, make sure you choose an agency with a proven capability for developing strategic frameworks.

Reminder: “You need a Facebook page” is not a strategy. It’s a tactic.

Are The Cobbler’s Children Wearing Shoes?

Does the company practice what it preaches? Look at its own content marketing: the quality, quantity, channels and responses to it.

Its dedication to both strategy and practice will be demonstrated if it is as dedicated to content marketing as it likely claims to be.

Relevant Case Studies

Request them and evaluate them. Discuss them with the firm. Even if they don’t reflect your industry or vertical, the shop should help you to understand how they relate to your issues.

Talk With Current & Former Clients

References matter. A reluctance to put you in touch with former (or current) clients also speaks volumes.

What Are The Success Criteria?

Any plan or proposal should be accompanied by success criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs).

How will the plan be measured? What indicates success? Look for metrics that impact business results (e.g. increased leads, revenue, shorter sales cycle), not mere volume metrics (30,000 likes!).

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Four Digital Media Trends to Follow This Year

Content strategy and content marketing are where a great deal of my time and attention are focused as an analyst. Last month I discussed the trends in that sector that my research indicates will expand in 2015.

But wait — there’s more. Not only around content marketing, but around technology, channels, media and advertising, that bear watching this year, either because they are at the beginning of the disruption curve or about to hit its peak. Here’s what I, as well as many of my colleagues, will be watching this year with interest and curiosity.

Internet of things (IoT)

There’s plenty to be fascinated by in this emerging sector: wearables, smart devices, new equations of interoperability and integration, and of course lots and lots of new types of data. I’m also having many fascinating conversations with my colleague Jessica Groopman about her ongoing (and soon to be published) research on the IoT related to use cases for connected devices, and to a lesser extent, what kinds of content surround and are generated by the IoT. This represents the tip of a very big iceberg that will garner much attention this year — and for the next decade, at least.

The ethics of big data

Again, credit due to a colleague here.  Drawn from her inspirational TED Talk, Susan Etlinger is researching an important and too often overlooked aspect of big data: its ethical implications. From data collection to communications (remember Target telling the father that his daughter was pregnant based on her buying pattern data?), Susan has pinpointed six broad categories, each with a host of specific areas, in which brands will be challenged with unprecedented ethical choices and policy issues. As more data stream in from areas such as the IoT, big questions will continue to swirl around big data.

Native advertising

In late 2013, I published the first research on the topic of native advertising. Native is still new and still disruptive, but this year we’ll see it normalize. Every major and reputable digital publisher and social media platform now offers native advertising products, and more formats are rapidly being developed. At the same time, policies, guidelines, ethics and technologies are not just springing up, but are also maturing. I predict that this year, native takes its place at the table as a critical and permanent component of digital marketing and advertising.

Channel convergence

A couple of years ago, together with then-colleague Jeremiah Owyang, I looked at how paid, owned and earned media are overlapping and combining to create new forms of media that, to consumers, are just…media. Distinctions between advertising, content, and social are blurring, if not dissolving. The same is beginning to happen with media channels. Is it radio? TV? Digital? Print? Is it projected or is it streaming, and do consumers care? (My hypothesis is that they don’t.) When all media can be consumed on all devices (large or small screens, phones, billboards, watches), what are the implications for media? Entertainment? Advertising and marketing? Mobile is TV is digital is audio is news is visual — portable, mutable, large and very, very small.

Those are the four trends I’ve got an eye on this year. What are yours? Let me know in the comments.

This post originally published on iMedia 

A Culture Of Content: The Success Criteria

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Fundamentally, content has become bigger than marketing; it spans across the enterprise, particularly in public-facing divisions such as sales, customer care, recruiting, PR and product groups.

All these constituencies have the capability to create and to distribute content, to contribute to the overall content pool, and to become part of the content circulatory system.

But how does an organization foster a culture of content (CoC)? We identified the following seven success criteria.

1. Customer Obsession Guides Content

An obsession with understanding customer wants, preferences, behaviors, trends, passions, and so on, helps drive a culture of content (CoC) because these data inform how brands use content to serve customers.

Whether listening to customer feedback directly or monitoring customer interactions across various touch points, companies with a well-defined CoC are equipped to optimize rapidly based on customer insights.

This is embodied in the convergence of media, where paid, owned and earned must work together because the consumer sees only one brand, not specific departments. As such, content helps define the human side of a brand – creative, helpful, passionate, contextually sensitive, even vulnerable.

Instead of letting editorial calendars dictate content cadence, try the following:

  • Listen for consumer insights across channels.
  • Design content to unify the customer-brand experience.
  • Assess all content for worthiness.

2. Align Content With Brand

Every company should have its own understanding of purpose, differentiation, philosophy, and vision — and brands must be able to articulate how content serves those elements underlying the very identity of the brand.

How content embodies brand values must be clear to every level, from the C-suite to functional leads to practitioners. This alignment should be a guiding force and benchmark for what constitutes worthy and authentic branded content.

To align the content with the brand:

  • Crystallize how the content supports the brand vision.
  • Incorporate that vision into training and evangelism.
  • Only publish content that supports the brand vision.

3. Drive Content Leadership From The Top Down & The Bottom Up

The content leader must facilitate a top-down and a bottom-up approach to drive a culture of content.

Top-down content leadership helps drive investment in content marketing initiatives and promotes a company-wide mentality of the value of content. Simultaneously, a strong leader or advocate is nearly always required for education, evangelism, training, and testing, which drives buy-in from the bottom up.

Bottom-up content leadership can manifest through greater departmental buy-in, alignment, demand for content, and internal participation down to the practitioner level. As the value of content is translated across other business functions through evangelism and small, inexpensive programs supporting those functions, hard numerical results aligning with business objectives help justify deeper executive support.

To drive content leadership:

  • Evangelize and test department-specific initiatives to drive bottom-up support.
  • Leverage cross-functional results and support to drive top-down support.
  • Both C-level and content leaders must reinforce an ongoing culture of content.

4. Culture Requires Constant Evangelism

While culture is pervasive and powerful, it is not built overnight. It slowly gains acceptance and takes steady reinforcement. Terms such as “constant,” “relentless,” “frequent,” and “reinforcement
” are commonly used to describe the process of creating a culture of content.

Why? Because content leaders must constantly demonstrate business and consumer value across the organization. Securing participation from divisions, groups, and territories is based heavily on WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) and demonstrated by metrics that relate to their goals.

This evangelism must continue over time through results, case study and best (and worst) practice sharing as well as centrally shared tools and resources. To create a CoC:

  • Content leaders must lead the content evangelism.
  • Articulate and demonstrate WIIFM, both bottom-up and top-down.
  • Commit to ongoing cross-functional evangelism, support, communication, and optimization.

5. Test & Learn

Brands must be willing to take risks in the content they produce. This requires a spirit of piloting small, tightly scoped content initiatives with predetermined key performance indicators that align with business objectives.

These initiatives, especially early on, don’t necessarily have to be resource intensive. Testing and learning are less about new channel, device, or content plays and more about creating ostensible business value that can be reported back to leadership in order to drive program and resource expansion.

These tasks are inherent to a CoC because they require taking risks, which may result in failure or in tangible justification to use when evangelizing content across functions and to leadership.

6. Global Must Enable Local

Whether you’re a large multinational corporation with presences across dozens of countries or a company with numerous locations in one country, a CoC must be enabled locally.

Divisional authority and autonomy with strategic oversight is important; large brands must empower local practitioners with local content that reflects local tastes, context, and language.

Perhaps a local division would like to use a case study better suited for a German-speaking audience. Or perhaps they wish to tweak branded content to reflect regional realities, such as weather or news (for example, promoting snow tires in New England and beach umbrellas in Florida).

As brands are forced to become publishers, enabling local authority is critical to standing out. To enable local:

  • Global must provide strategic oversight, support, resources, and direction.
  • Enable local teams with appropriate cultural, linguistic, and contextual resources.
  • Appoint regional and/or local content leaders to scale training and ongoing evangelism.

7. Integrate Across All Cultural Components

In a true culture of content, integration and shared insights should exist across every component of the culture: people, processes, mindsets, and the content itself. A CoC doesn’t work in an environment rife with silos.

Integrated workflows across teams, business units, and internal and external parties help streamline and scale content deployment. Integrated technology systems with shared access, reporting, data, and automation enable agility and meaningful measurement.

Even media itself must be connected through workflow and divisional coordination, designed for optimizing resources, as outlined in Altimeter’s report, “The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Will Combine Paid, Owned, & Earned.”

Integrate Insights:

  • Integrate across people: workflows, tool access, collaboration, best-practice sharing.
  • Integrate across technology: data sets, systems, third-party tools, and analytics.
  • Integrate across media: paid, owned, earned, local, and so on.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Content marketing in 2015 (Research, Not Predictions)

Predictions? Humbug. Never done ‘em, never will. As a research analyst, predictions are antithetical to my methodology, which is research followed by analysis. My job is to work with data, information, and pattern recognition to draw informed conclusions — not gaze into a crystal ball.

The scene thus set, let’s look ahead to the new year and what it will bring insofar as content marketing is concerned. Based on my research in the field, I’m seeing seven overall trends in the field that will develop and strengthen in the coming year.

Content-Tool-Stack-HierarchyThe content stack

The next big thing in content marketing technology, the content marketing stack, will develop significantly in 2015. Content stacks are necessary to consolidate the eight content marketing use cases identified in research we published on the content software landscape. No use case is an island. As organizations mature and become more strategic in their content marketing initiatives, it becomes imperative to seamlessly link execution to analytics, or optimization, or targeting, for example. We’ll soon see end-to-end offerings from the big enterprise players: Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. All are scrambling to integrate multiple content point solutions into seamless “stacks,” similar to the ad stack. In fact, content stacks will talk to the ad stacks, helping to integrate paid, owned and earned media. A couple years out, these two stacks will comprise what we refer to today as the marketing cloud.

Culture of content

Content is bigger than just the marketing department. It’s rapidly becoming nearly everyone’s job — and with good reason. Not everyone in marketing is a subject matter expert. Or understands customer service or sales concerns. Or is charged with recruiting new employees. Or develops new products or product features. That expertise and knowledge is embedded deep within the enterprise. Organizations that foster a culture of content by educating and training employees to participate in the content ecosystem can better ideate and create useful, meaningful content at scale that addresses numerous goals and serves a wide variety of internal, and well as external, constituencies. Watch for many more organization to follow the lead of companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, and Nestlé. They will train and empower employees, partners, and stakeholders to create, ideate, and leverage content.

real-time marketing use case quadrantReal-time

Time is a luxury, and will only become more so as brands face the challenges of remaining relevant and topical. Moreover, research indicates real-time campaigns can raise literally all desirable marketing metrics. Success in real-time is grounded in content strategy and often isn’t real-time at all in the literal sense. Instead, it’s meticulous preparation and advance creation of relevant content assets that can be deployed at the appropriate time or moment. Starbucks, for example, has content for warming beverages locked and loaded, so when the snow falls in your town, you’re tempted by that pumpkin latte. Training, assets, preparation, workflow — all these and more are elements of “real-time” marketing.

Social media normalizes

Social media will fade into the background. It’s not that social media is going away. But it’s fading into the background, which is a good thing, because it denotes normalization. “Social” will become just another channel, like search or email (the bright, shiny objects of earlier eras). Social media software vendors will reposition as content marketing purveyors. Their offerings will essentially remain the same, but this new positioning is more topical, and more broadly relevant.

Native standardizes

We define native advertising as a form of converged media that’s comprised of content plus a media buy. Native is surging in popularity, much more quickly than best practices are being established to govern it. This growth will fuel more disclosure, transparency, and policies in 2015 as native becomes much more closely scrutinized by regulators, industry associations, consumers, publishers, and brands.

Rise of context

For most of digital marketing’s relatively short history, personalization has been the ne plus ultra of sophisticated marketing. Addressing the customer by name, knowing their age, gender, date of birth, purchase history — all these data points help marketers deliver messages that are more meaningful and more relevant — and that, by extension, result in higher conversations and deeper loyalty.

Personalization is now being supplanted by technologies that can drive even deeper marketing and experiential relevance. Context’s untapped opportunity is to get an extremely granular understanding of customers, then to anticipate their needs, wants, affinities, and expectations, and develop unique insights to power better marketing across all devices, channels, localities, and brand experiences. Context, in other words, takes not only the “who” into account, but also the when, where, why, and how. Simply put — it’s deeper targeting, and more on-point messaging.

This post originally published on iMedia

The Three Components of A Culture of Content

Content. It’s not just for the marketing department anymore. These last few months I’ve been researching how organizations are forming, and benefitting from, what my co-author Jessica Groopman and I are terming a “Culture of Content.” Our findings have just been published in this report.

What’s a culture of content? Here’s our definition:

A culture of content exists when the importance of content is evangelized enterprise-wide, content is shared and made accessible, creation and creativity are encouraged, and content flows up and downstream, as well as across various divisions. A formalized yet not immutable content strategy is the framework upon which to base culture.

In other words, content is becoming nearly everyone’s job — and with good reason. Not everyone in marketing is a subject matter expert. Or understanding customer service or sales concerns. Or recruiting new employees. Or developing new product features. That expertise and knowledge is embedded deep within the enterprise. Organizations that foster a culture of content can better ideate and create useful, meaningful content at scale that addresses numerous goals and serves a wide variety of internal, and well as external, constituencies.

Our research covers many aspects of the culture of content, perhaps none more important than its anatomy. We identified four foundational elements upon which content culture is based.

Vision

Establishing a common vision is a critical first step to developing a content strategy and is typically most effective when generated, embodied, and exemplified by senior leadership — this is ideally both the C-suite, as well as a content leader or champion. Disseminating vision from the top down helps employees understand how their day-to-day tasks serve a higher purpose and align with organizational and even social or humanitarian goals.

Creativity

A drive to think beyond content as “just” marketing inspires a Culture of Content. Training across the organization to creatively think about and produce content serves two ends. First, it helps differentiate the organization through its content, an increasingly important tactic in a crowded and noisy media environment. Second, it grants the individuals who create content as part of their jobs (e.g., designers, copywriters, bloggers, videographers) freedom to flex their creative muscles to reach current and new audiences.

Creativity flourishes with multiple perspectives. Customers and employees alike can serve as an inspirational source for creative content. Content marketers (among other business functions) can leverage both earned media and listening analytics across all media to extract insights on how to evolve existing artifacts and justify new approaches.

Risk — and a willingness to fail

Risk coupled with a willingness to fail repeatedly emerged in our research interviews as a critical force for empowering a culture of content. Assurance and permission to fail mitigates fears such as fear of failure, embarrassment, and job termination, all fundamental obstacles to the creative process. Strong content is valuable — it informs, educates, entertains, or solves a problem. To differentiate through any one of these uses, content marketers must be able to, comfortable with, and empowered to take risks, to fail entirely, and to move on, all the while applying learnings from failure.

This post originally published on iMedia 

Facebook: The Paid/Organic Distinction

When Facebook announced last week that it will soon become more difficult for brands’ page posts to appear in the news feeds of their friends, fans, and followers, the outcry was predictable. This was the latest move, many brands asserted, in Facebook “forcing” them to buy ads to reach their rightful audiences.

After all, the thinking goes, news feed post appear only the in the feeds of people who hand-raised to follow the brands. So any incidence of Facebook filtering, editing, or otherwise controlling which posts are seen, and by extension, which are not, is pay-to-play statement.

On the one hand, that’s true, in part. Facebook is a business. Its monetization model is ad sales, and that’s the way it works. Of course it wants brands to buy ads.

But what Facebook also wants and needs even more than it needs ad revenues is users. Facebook researched user complaints that their news feeds were ringing too commercial and promotional. Upon probing deeper, the company learned users weren’t complaining about actual ads so much as they were complaining about the brands that they follow on the platform. Posts were too click-here-buy-now, and loaded with promotional calls to action.

So Facebook will now institute a system that requires actual humans to check the quality of brands’ news feed posts for overtly commercial, promotional content. If the human factor deems posts to be to promotional, they’ll plummet like stones in organic results.

Quality score. Organic feeds versus paid placement. If this vocabulary sounds familiar, it should. By checking feeds for quality and determining whether or not they appear prominently (or at all) in users’ feeds, Facebook has just taken a page from Google’s playbook. Google, as you’ll recall, applies this selfsame human evaluation technique not to organic search, but to ads. Actual human beings evaluate search ads based on a number of criteria such as copy, landing page, call-to-action, etc. The ads that Google deems higher in quality are positioned more prominently (i.e., higher) on the search results page.

And of course, Google famously has algorithms to determine the relevance and ranking of organic search results. In no small part, these criteria center around content that is well-crafted and well-written, relevant, useful, shared (i.e., linked to), and credible.

There’s something fascinating about Facebook doing for organic what Google is doing for ads, isn’t there?

There’s also a lesson being reinforced here, namely, there’s a difference between organic content and advertising copy. Between owned and earned media (content and social) and paid media (advertising).

Media are converging, but the medium also determines the message. It’s fallacious to blindly accuse Facebook of trying only to sell more ads because they are trying to up the quality of the news feed. The same accusation was (and continues to be) lobbed at Google when brands’ organic search results suffer: “They’re just trying to make us buy ads.”

Both Facebook and Google aren’t going to turn away your money. But the fundamental reason brands are prepared to pay money to advertise on both these very different platforms is because of the size and breath of the audiences they can deliver to advertisers; audiences they wouldn’t be able to build or maintain without a steady stream of content those audiences are eager to return to consume again and again.

The takeaway from Facebook’s adoption of a quality score (let’s just use Google’s term for it) is that brands must learn to distinguish between advertising content and content marketing content. The latter is never overtly commercial in nature. It’s pull marketing — the marketing of attraction, rather than push, the marketing of interruption. Content requires very different skill sets and strategies than does advertising.

Facebook’s decision in this arena doesn’t just do its users a service. Ultimately, it’s doing a favor for brands, too, by helping them to make this important distinction.

This post originally published on iMedia

The Components of a Content Engine

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What goes into creating and fostering an organizational culture of content? As an analyst that’s the topic I’m currently researching.

Broadly speaking, organizations that have fostered a culture of content have spread the importance of content beyond the marketing organization. Content education, evangelization, creation and distribution flows upwards and downwards, from the C-suite to the shop floor. Marketing gets content flowing out into the organization, but also fosters a circulatory system in which various divisions across the enterprise: sales, recruiting, customer care, product groups, etc., are creating, inspiring and leveraging content to better fulfill their roles.

We visualize this as an engine, one comprised of gears and cogs, contained in a strategic infrastructure. There are four primary components to the content engine.

Content Engine

  1. People Beyond the content or the marketing staff, people are critical to this machine’s success. Leadership understands the value of content and fosters it. People across the organization are tapped for their ability to create content (this needn’t be complicated – it can be as simple as the occasional tweet, or capturing images with a cameraphone). They understand and can identify stories that can be turned into content by other creators in the company. People can also be outsiders: agency and vendor partners, for example.
  2. Process Process involves many tactical elements – it’s what gets content done. Tools, technology, workflow and governance documents are just part of what creates process. So are editorial calendars, editing guidelines, metrics and analytics, as well as well-defined roles and responsibilities. Process also involves training, education and evangelization.
  3. Inspiration Fostering a culture of content requires inspiration, as without inspiration there can be no creativity. A core requirement for inspiration is vision, which ladders out to goals and benchmarks. Inspiration is also an understanding of both the elements for content success, as well as risks and failures. But (as one of our interview subjects so eloquently puts it), “The biggest risk is not taking a risk at all.”
  4. Content The content engine begets content, but it also ingests and distributes it, creating a circulatory system of content that can be re-used, re-purposed and re-aligned across paid, owned and earned media channels and platforms. This engine helps content to beget content: creating more of what resonates, repurposing strong content into different channels and form factors, and distributing the right content to the right people across the organization.

No two content engines look exactly the same, but we believe this to be the overall schematic model.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know, and help contribute to this research.

This post originally published on iMedia