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

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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 

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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

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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

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The Role Content Plays In B2B Social Selling

Social selling has become a hot topic.

Organizations in every industry are working feverishly to leverage social platforms and social networks for a number of reasons such as to:

  • Promote their products and services
  • Find leads
  • Connect and bond with prospects
  • Provide information
  • Generally push sales through the purchase funnel

All noble goals. Yet, the majority of organizations hoping to leverage social sales leave content strategy out of the equation. A fatal mistake.

Without “content,” all you have left in social sales is “social,” i.e., a platform, a forum or a social network. Devoid of content, all these channels amount to empty containers.

Researching social selling and working with a large global brand on social selling has helped me develop a short list of seven basic social selling content factors that can benefit any B2B (and not a few B2C) organizations.

1. Align Content To The Sales Funnel

Content can address every stage in the sales cycle, from awareness and consideration through purchase (and even post-purchase).

Assign relevant content types to each stage of the cycle and leverage content to help bridge buyer pain points and address their decision-making criteria. This might encompass comparison guides, tools and calculators or case studies and case examples.

2. Empower Staff To Curate & Aggregate

Content curation and aggregation are processes that aid in leveraging extant content in a meaningful way that’s both on-brand and relevant to campaign goals.

This can be particularly valuable if sales staff are empowered to share content with their constituencies of prospects and leads, provided they add value to the content they are sharing, and have access both to appropriate content and the tools with which to share it.

3. Listen & Respond

Social listening is a terrific way to know what kind of content to create. (And, content creation is the biggest B2B content marketing obstacle, according to Content Marketing Institute research).

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Content can be crafted to address common questions, obstacles to conversion, issues and resolutions. It also provides opportunities to jump into conversations about the brand, product or product category.

4. Apply Metrics

And not just sales metrics! Content effectiveness can be measured through each stage of the customer journey and sales funnel.

Examples include decreased cost per lead, shortened sales cycles, increased traffic, engagement (but only if you define “engagement”), or the frequency of inbound inquiries or referrals (just to name a few).

5. Build Social Sales Content Into The Overall Content Strategy

Not all, but most organizations are committing “content marketing” without first having committed to content strategy. Though the Content Marketing Institute’s latest survey found that 83% of B2B marketers claim to have a content marketing strategy, only 35% have actually documented that strategy.

2014-10-27_11-43-13

A documented strategy is what must underpin all content activity. It’s comprised of a thorough content audit, playbooks, assigned roles and responsibilities, an organizational chart, as well as tool and agency/vendor partner selection. Content strategy answers the essential questions: “what are we doing, why and how?” Don’t ignore it!

6. Train

Most employees who “do” content do something else with the bulk of their time. It may be sales, PR, social media, general marketing or something else.

Take the time to train these content producers on their content marketing roles and responsibilities. They are, after all, publicly representing the company, products and brand.

Great content doesn’t just happen, especially not on a consistent basis. Ensure they understand the value and potential of content marketing in general, and social selling in particular.

7. Hire Accordingly

Content is slowly but surely becoming part of company culture as organizations mature and embrace content marketing. More advanced companies are already showing a readiness and willingness to embrace content skills (creation, distribution, listening and responsiveness) as part of all kinds of job descriptions across departments and functions.

As social selling grows in importance, sales staff with content chops will have the edge over their less content-centric colleagues.

B2B organizations that try out these basic social selling tips should discover many benefits once the effects of implementation begin to show.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Four Pillars of Recombinant Content

rainbow-test-tubesNow more than ever, content must be recombinant. This means a critical component of content strategy is the ability to rapidly dissemble, reassemble, reuse, repurpose, and remodel discrete elements of digital content.

Consumers live in a multiscreen world that’s becoming more complex and multifaceted daily. Laptops. PCs. Tablets. Smart phones. Phablets. Smart watches. Google Goggles and other forms of wearables. Digital signage and digital television.

Like hummingbirds, they flit from message to message, channel to channel, screen to screen. Sixty-seven percent touch two devices daily, while 30 percent touch four devices. Regardless of how many screens, touch points and channels, 60 percent of consumers expect a consistent experience when interacting with brands.

Got that? The bottom line isn’t channel, device, or media strategy. It’s experience.

This grazing, snacking, multimedia, and multiscreen behavior is in hypergrowth mode — digital screens are now in taxis, stadiums, and retail outlets. As digital becomes less coupled with the concept of “online,” consistency of experience, of voice, tone, look, and feel are essential.

Otherwise, how are customers to recognize a brand as they (and it) travel across all these devices and media?

Advances in advertising push the envelope further still. Facebook’s revamp of Atlas, announced last week, means advertisers can achieve hitherto impossible targeting and frequency capping, regardless of the device or channels in which an ad appears. Whether an in-app in-game message on a phone, or a display ad on the web, the messages — and the creative — can be kept in sync, appropriate for the device, channel, media, as well as the consumer receiving the message.

The technological ability to connect messaging across devices and channels is a clarion call for recombinant content. Marketers require both the tools and the strategies to create content that works in multiple media and channels, that can be displayed across the ecosystem.

There are four fundamental pillars of recombinant content in this brave and fast moving new world:

Content strategy

Content strategies must be devised with a view toward the reuse, repurposing and redeployment of content. Every message must be viewed as a bundle of component parts that can be broken down and rebuilt in myriad ways. Think Lego set. Can you change the headline? The copy? Turn it into a video, a podcast, an infographic, a display ad, or a PowerPoint? You’re on the right track.

Content agility

This is part of strategy, but agility needs its own call-out. Content must be modular enough to be quickly broken down and reassembled to respond to a real-time (or near real-time) marketplace. Creation, too, is often rapid and reactive. This requires training and empowerment of stakeholders, as well as cross-functional and departmental coordination.

Content tools

All these content assets and content demands cannot be wrangled by hand. Recombinant content requires publishing tools, a digital asset management system, and a myriad of other content marketing software. Content marketing, you’ll remember, is nothing new. It’s technology that makes it accessible.

Connected technology

Content tools must work in a connected fashion to create and deploy assets across channels and media. This doesn’t just apply to owned and earned marketing channels, but also to paid media (advertising). We’re not quite there yet, but when the content technology stack starts talking to the ad stack (this will happen in about two years), it will be the real dawn of the era of recombinant content.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Orchestrating Content Marketing On A Global Scale

Content Marketing: How do we do it globally?

Enterprises are only just beginning to integrate content marketing into their mix — and they are quickly realizing that content must permeate the organization. This applies globally just as much as it does regionally.

The need for content is universal, yet each region, country and locality in which a brand operates has diverse and specific needs unique to language and culture. Fundamentally, these needs can be divided into three buckets: Teams, Tools and Channels.

Creating a global content strategy is exponentially challenging, but absolutely essential, as so many of my clients are realizing.

Without orchestration, time and money are wasted, employees become frustrated, efforts are duplicative, and customer experience suffers, as do consistencies in brand and messaging.

Teams

Creating content marketing teams and governance is essential. Last week, I discussed the topic with a team of real experts: Michael Brenner, formerly of SAP, now with Newscred; 3Ms content lead Carlos Abler and Kyle Lacey, ExactTarget’s Director, Global Content Marketing & Research.

We unanimously agreed that content marketing requires centralized leadership, but also local authorities. Michael aptly likened this to the editorial model of a news organization’s Brazil desk, London desk, etc.

Tools

The content marketing software landscape is rapidly evolving and shifting. Selecting tools comes with additional concerns when they must serve global teams.

Do they support multiple languages? Diverse alphabets? Can they handle country specific barriers, such as firewalls or local privacy regulations? Will licenses differ on a country-by-country basis?

Research on the content tool landscape I recently conducted found 40 percent of marketers cite a lack of inter-departmental coordination as leading to investment in disparate, incompatible toolsets. And that’s just on a domestic level.

Channels

What content should be created? Where should it be published, and in what form, and for which audience? Publishing on Facebook isn’t the same as engaging with audiences on VK.com, Line,  Mixi or Weibo.

Then there are regional holidays, local sporting events and festivals, superstitions, news events – ignore these differences and you’re an outsider, not a credible source of information or a potential partner.

Local input, local knowledge and an injection of local culture are all essential. It’s not nearly enough to translate content into a local language, or to push content created at headquarters out into regional divisions.

In fact, often the content surfaced in far-flung markets can bubble up into fodder for HQ, or for other markets.

Content is a team sport, and running content on a global scale is a bit like running the Olympic games.

Each regional must have teams, those teams must have captains, and they must be equipped with training, an understanding of the universal rules of the game and be equipped with the necessary equipment to play the game.

Yet at the same time, each team flies its own flag, and continues to wear its own colors.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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