Content Marketing Software RFP: A Framework to Determine Needs & Solicit Proposals

Seven Steps of Content Marketing Software Selection

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New strategies demand new processes. And in a digital world, new processes demand new technology.

This couldn’t hold more true for the burgeoning content marketing sector. We’re fond of saying that content is the atomic particle of all marketing. Without it, there’s no owned media, but also no social, no PR and no advertising (where it’s called “creative”).

Brands and agencies alike are scrambling to create content, and also to distribute it, measure it, target and optimize it. To do so, they require tools.

Altimeter Group recently took a hard look at the burgeoning content marketing software landscape, and helped break down content marketing into use cases and scenarios to help marketers identify their needs as well as pinpoint the vendors in the space who might be able to address them. But that’s only the beginning of a solution to a large disconnect between need and solution.

As a content software vendor recently put it, “Most brands aren’t yet able to clearly articulate their content marketing needs or end KPIs. This makes creating an RFP and asking the right questions incredibly difficult.” Brands [and agencies] can’t frame “what’s needed” or how to get to the end goal.

This is where our new report: Content Marketing Software RFP: A Framework to Determine Needs & Solicit Proposals comes in. We recognize that existing RFP templates cannot be retrofitted to the task of soliciting content marketing solutions due to a number of specific challenges:

  • Establishing content governance, processes, strategy, and inter-departmental coordination.
  • Matching content software needs to planned investments.
  • Finding solutions that scale toward the future (e.g. new technologies, vendor partners, or channels).
  • Scoping software integration requirements, both with other marketing software, and often with enterprise software packages such as CRM or customer data.
  • Accommodate existing workflows and processes – it’s much more difficult to retrofit process to software than the inverse.
  • Winnow down to a shortlist which vendors may meet requirements.

Our report includes a two part, customizable template that guides marketers and agencies through our recommended process. First, by helping them to conduct an internal assessment and soliciting key stakeholders for input and priorities. And second, creating an RFP to be used with selected vendors. This second part contains both essential background information and a response sheet for the vendor.

All in all, there are seven steps to this process, including looking beyond marketing into cross-functional needs, as well as integration with other software systems.

We hope our report and template facilitates your own proposal process, and welcome feedback on where it’s working, and where it can use improvement.

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Additional Resources

Cross-posted with the Altimeter Group blog

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How Much Does Content Cost?

How much does content marketing cost?

Tough question, right? So let’s break the question down a bit to try to simplify it.

How much does content creation cost?

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There are still no easy answers, are there? Yet it’s a question marketers persist in asking, in much the same way people were asking back in the day, “How much does a website cost?” (Once, when my interrogator wouldn’t take “It depends” for an answer, in exasperation I countered with, “Well, how much does it cost to buy a house?”)

But even a website (or a house, for that matter) is much more easily quantifiable than content marketing when it comes to breaking down budgets and expenditures. It’s difficult to impossible to conduct credible research in this area due to a list of variables and mitigating factors longer than your arm.

Attempts At Quantifying Costs Aren’t All That Helpful

There’s research out there. The Content Marketing Institute, in its latest study (PDF) of content marketing budgets for small businesses, states, “On average, 30% of B2B budgets are allocated to content marketing.”

Helpful, kind of, but there’s no breakdown of that self-reported spend. What one business may be spending on a clear content marketing line item (outsourced writing or design talent, for example), another might attribute to event marketing, which has plenty of content marketing potential and traction, but is highly debatable as a line item in and of itself.

The Custom Content Council publishes research around budgets as well. Its research looks at how much its members are spending on “branded” content. This primarily translates into advertorial, which is assuming other meanings as well, e.g. native advertising, a form of converged media (content + advertising). Such nuances of meaning are barely beginning to be accepted as industry standard, so it’s unlikely they’re crystal clear to every individual survey respondent.

This isn’t to cast aspersions on anyone’s research, but to frame the discussion. Let’s consider some of the mitigating factors in the “how much does content cost” question.

Why It’s More Difficult Than One Might Think

• Salaries: The overwhelming majority of organizations don’t yet have dedicated content roles or staff, but instead source content from a wide variety of internal sources: marketing, product leads, customer service, senior leadership, etc. When considering content costs, are content contributors’ salaries broken out in terms of time spent, or the percentage of their time dedicated to content?

• Freelance Creation Fees:  Unlike staff only partially dedicated to content, freelance fees are a much clearer line item. But if images are commissioned for advertising, then used in content (or vice versa), where’s the budget attribution? What about those press releases that were outsourced? Is it communications or PR, or is it content ? Even when outsourced, the lines blur around content budgets – or lack of same.

• Agency BillingsIf you accept the definition of content marketing that it’s owned media and therefore precludes a media buy, you can deduct media spend from content marketing budgets straightway (Or can you? We’ll get into that below.). That leaves agency creative, which is subject to the same blurred lines as are freelance creation fees.

• Software/Hardware Are marketers including their investments in the tools of the trade in their content marketing budget breakdowns? If so, which ones? The ones around creation? Measurement? Syndication and distribution? Recent research I just published breaks down eight use case scenarios for content tools, yet I don’t know that any of these are included (or not) in content marketing budgets or costs (amortized or not).

• Paid and Earned Media If you build it, they may come. Then again, they may not. With so many marketers jumping on the content marketing bandwagon, more and more of them are finding it necessary to invest in paid (advertising ) and earned (social and PR) media to draw attention to their content efforts, at least at the beginning to foster awareness. Where do these costs fall in the budget: content, PR, social, advertising, or all or none of the above?

• Converged Media While we’re on the topic of paid, owned and earned media, it’s clear the three are intermingling to form new types of marketing and advertising. We define native advertising, for example, as content + advertising (or owned + paid media). You can immediately see where the lines blur when content is created modularly for different types of media channels, or used in converged channels that create multiple attributions.

• Events (And Other “Generated” Sources Of Content): A corporate event, a conference, a trade show, a customer showcase – these are all marketing and sales line items, but they generate content, too. It’s not unusual for a single speech, for example to be blogged, tweeted, Slideshared, YouTubed – you name it. All are forms of content marketing, yet the core intent of the content wasn’t necessarily content marketing. Another content budget grey area – and yet one more reason why the cost of content will remain highly nebulous for a good, long time to come.

 

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Investing in Content Tools? Get Out the Vote!

Lately I’ve been doing a ton of work around the content marketing vendor landscape: conducting research, as well as helping clients ascertain what their technology needs are and pinpoint the vendors that can solve their problems.

Again and again, one step arises in this process that’s absolutely essential and mission-critical both for the short and long term success of any content marketing technology investment, yet it’s also one too often overlooked by stakeholders: soliciting shareholder input into the decision making process.

Gathering cross-functional input goes far beyond getting stakeholder requirements – though requirements are, of course, critical.

After identifying the broad outlines of your organization’s content needs, the next step is to identify stakeholders and end-users both within and outside of the marketing organization and solicit them for their requirements, input, and collaboration. It’s important to gather requirements across teams: cross-functionally as well as across workflows.

Some brands actually submit mini-internal RFPs or surveys to stakeholders to help gain very specific documented input on needs, pain points, and feature requests. Not only does this step help identify needs that may have been overlooked, but collaboration also creates a sense of ownership and goes far to facilitate end-user adoption.

The alternative? Tools are foisted upon the teams that will use them. The very human reaction is – almost universally – pushback. Not a very desirable scenario.

Another reason to solicit stakeholder feedback when selecting content tools is integration concerns, and integration almost always goes far beyond marketing. Content marketing tools can easily require integration with enterprise systems ranging from HR to data, storage platforms to customer service, even finance.

What’s the Big Idea?

When circulating the feedback request, including the purpose of the exercise and vision and is critical. Carlos Abler, 3M’s Online Content Strategy lead puts it this way,“Never lose and opportunity to ‘sell’ the idea to stakeholders in order to gain the deepest and must useful stakeholder input, and to rally their support for the long haul and how departments are benefited. Note that there are cross-functional benefits that can be highlighted, such as optimized asset sharing, customer/audience knowledge sharing, economy of effort, and long term reduced redundancy and effort.”

Compiling stakeholder feedback to glean insights, ideas, ideas you may have overlooked and pattern recognition is essential. Getting out the vote is obviously not a democratic process. A person or committee is charged with leading the selection process, and lead they will. But the input of the people who will be using the technology informs not only better decisions, but also better, smoother adoption once that final decision has been reached and investment is made.

We like to end of questionnaire to stakeholders with a single, vital question to distill the process to its essence:

If this new tool could accomplish just One Thing, what would that thing be?

Food for thought – and invaluable input for decision making.

This column originally published on iMedia.

 

 

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Quick! What’s a Digital Newsroom?

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What’s a digital newsroom?

Seems like such a simple question, until you start pondering the potential answers.

The question arose the other day in discussion with an agency client. We were discussing the competitive landscape; how a variety of digital agencies, PR agencies, and the brands they serve are all beginning to establish digital newsrooms.

But what does that even mean?

Do these entities create news? Media relations? Branded content? Social media? Advertising? Native advertising? Brand journalism? Native advertising? Some, or all, of the above?

“Real” newsrooms aside (à la New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets), the term “newsroom,” like so many digital marketing terms, means many things to many people.

Conduct a search on Google and some media relations sites rank high, such as the  Intel Newsroom. So does Red Bull’s Content Pool, constantly updated with a rich variety of extreme sports material, much of it premium and available for license to commercial media companies for a fee.

The Cisco Newsroom also ranks high for the term newsroom – it’s a hybrid technology news and company news site.

Other tech brands run what you’d consider more traditional newsrooms.  Dell’s Tech Page One is branded content – but also the only branded content site that has passed Google News’ rigorous hurdles for qualifying as “real” news and making it into that feed.

Marketers at one major brand I know of were touring digital news publications last year, studying how their operations worked, in advance of setting up their own newsroom operations, while a direct competitor was hiring seasoned journalists to do exactly that in-house.

Those same journalists are also decamping to PR firms, which are setting up their own newsroom operations. Weber Shandwick’s mediaco and Edelman’s Creative Newsroom, which both launched last year, are newsrooms staffed by former newspaper, television and magazine staffers, as well as digital and content strategists, planners, analysts and syndicators. They’re creating not just “news,” but also content for owned and social media, as well as multimedia production.

Agencies can get hyper-specific with the definition and focus of a newsroom. Deep Focus’ social media newsroom Moment Studio creates Facebook content for Pepsi and Purina.

Adidas recently announced it will establish video “digital newsrooms around the world” for its shoe brands to tap into trending topics and real-time marketing.

Clearly, there’s no one definition of a digital newsroom, there’s not even a single defined purpose or function. Unless you’re an actual news organization, the purpose – even the reason for being – of a newsroom is governed by one principal only: content strategy.

This post originally published on iMedia

Photo Credit: The Front Page

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A Major Executive Move In Content Marketing — Q&A With Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner, SAP.Michael Brenner has long been a recognized leader in content marketing in his role as VP marketing at SAP.

Very recently, he joined content marketing technology vendor NewsCred to head strategy for that company. NewsCred is a rapidly growing content marketing technology platform that also offers licensed and original content. Clients include Bank of America, Time Inc. and P&G.

This is a rare moment when an executive from the brand side of content marketing has decamped to the vendor side of the industry.  In light of this, I decided to interview him to hear his motives for the move and to look back at his accomplishments at SAP.

What’s the new role?

Head of strategy. Basically, my main area of responsibility is to help each client build out a content marketing model, which obviously then get supported by the technology by the content marketing cloud platform.

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that an executive has moved from the client to the vendor side in content marketing. What prompted the decision?

At SAP, I was building content marketing as a practice, and I had tremendous support from the CMO. We built a blog presence for thought leadership, not only creating an effective platform butdoing so on a very limited budget. It wasn’t a significant investment; if anything, it was a reduction in some other expenditures — for example, on the advertising landing page side.

So when I was looking at what to do next, the options were to continue to mature that model in the brand that I was working with, or to take a leadership/CMO type role within a small company.

I jokingly define content marketing as the gap between what businesses generally do when they market and what customers are actually looking for. So I made the decision to help other brands take the journey to close that gap.

Most marketing sucks — or at least most marketing is highly ineffective. This move will allow me to help other brands be more effective, to reach more customers and generate more sales.

I hear education will be part of the new job?

The first step when I talk to marketing leaders is to explain the value of content marketing — or, more specifically, to arm them with the knowledge to help them obtain buy-in from higher-ups.

CEOs (and even some of the older-school, traditional marketing professionals) still see marketing largely as promotional activity: the email blasts, the ads, the logos all over everything, etc. That’’s why most marketing is still in the stage that it’s in. But as consumers, the digital/social/mobile world has changed the way we expect to interact with brands.

We’re not going to put up with cold calls at dinnertime, or with emails we don’t want, or with banners that interrupt the content experience we’re looking for online. So if we, as marketers, are not going to be doing those things anymore, what do we need to do instead?

That’s the educational part. It took me some time, but I’ve slowly come to realize that ineffective marketing is not really the fault of the majority of marketers — they’re just doing what they’ve been asked to do. So we’re arming them with the information to educate those who are asking them to execute.

Most organizations don’t have infrastructure, roles, or even a documented content strategy. Where will you start?

After education, the next step is to identify the problem. When I worked at SAP, we helped the organization understand there was a definite content problem.

Part of that process included highlighting all of the customer conversations we weren’t a part of. For example, we looked at our analytics to estimate how much of our website traffic was coming from people who are in the early stages of the buying process — and we realized we weren’t getting any traffic from early-stage search terms.

None of the people who were in the early stages of the buying process for products related to SAP were being exposed to the brand through search. That’s a massive content problem.

We then did an inventory and found that we were already creating content and targeting the people talking to our sales guys. So we identified that budget and that content and asked, “How much of that content is actually being used?”

To this day, I’m shocked. We looked at all the content repositories we had — I think there were 62 — and noted the content that was either viewed or downloaded by the intended recipient. Something like 60 percent of the content uploaded to these repositories was never looked at or downloaded by a single person.

That’s why often I tell people, “You don’t need any more budget. Just look inside your organization at the places that are creating content and see if it’s used at all.”

That’s the most rudimentary type of content audit you can perform.

Exactly. So if we took 40 or 50 percent of this budget, we would have more than we would ever need to build an effective content marketing platform.

So the first step is education. The second step, as you said, is the most rudimentary type of content audit.

Then it’s building the new thing. That starts with understanding search, understanding content requirements by stage. Personas can be helpful here, but only when done correctly. When creating personas, a lot of companies stop short of understanding the types of content each persona is looking for, the channels through which they can be reached, and their stage in the buying process. Yet that’s where a persona actually becomes effective — you can implement an activity against a persona when you know what they’re looking for, where they’re looking, and when they need it.

Once you know that, that’s where the infrastructure, tools and the technology come in.

Looking back at your SAP achievements, what are you proudest of?

In my seven years at SAP, the first three and a half years were specifically online lead generation. An inbound marketing project turned into a content marketing role. My legacy is building the thought leadership blog. I’m proud of it because it was really up against the tide and flow of the organization. I really had to fight every step of the way to get it done.

There were detractors, and it was surprisingly easy to prove them somewhat wrong — and to do so with very little budget. I had to find the resources around the organization… but with 60,000 employees, you’re going to trip over a few smart people who understand the context of online marketing.

A lot of the interaction we had was with external thought leaders. We were looking at Klout scores, we were looking at bloggers we already knew in big data and cloud computing and analytics. We didn’t have the budget to create our own positions, despite the fact that that it was what my boss wanted, so we decided to “curate” the position from thought leaders. I was proud not just that we built it, but that ROI was so clear from Day One.

What are your new success metrics?

We’re going to figure that out as we go. The main objective is to make sure they’re not walking around with a hammer so that every problem looks like a nail. We truly want to help the entire discipline of marketing get better and improve. It’s not just technology that can do that. Our mission is to help marketers evolve to the changing world.

That involves three different things:

One, there’s going to be a services business helping customers build an effective content marketing platform.

Two, we’re going to work on pipeline acceleration — helping customers get onboard quickly and effectively and generate a return from their investment.

Three, we’re going to focus on retention. That means going back to the happy customers and making sure they’re stretching themselves to think about what the next thing is. It also means helping with the product pipeline and make sure the product is staying up to pace with the needs of the marketplace.

Where do you see the content marketing vendor landscape going?

In the last six months, this industry has changed so rapidly. Some early players are starting to relegate themselves to the position of niche players. Folks like Contently and Percolate and NewsCred almost came out of the blue. At SAP, we were talking to Percolate two years ago and thought they were an interesting sort of CMS — it’s unbelievable what they’ve built in such a short period of time. You’re starting to see these new horses in the race.

This conversation was edited for brevity.

Originally published in MarketingLand

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The New Anything/Anyone Goes Competitive Landscape For Content Marketing Firms

Recently, I was chatting with the CEO of one of the leading digital agencies. Talk turned to competitors, and I asked what firms his firm found itself bidding against most frequently.

Usual-suspect names cropped up (Digitas, Sapient Nitro). But so did PwC, a name that would have never cropped up in the same discussion five years ago.

Neither would Cap Gemini, or other old-school consulting firms. But they’re increasingly common today. Even IBM is an agency now!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Recently we, at the research-based advisory firm I work for, were in the consideration set for a project and asked to submit a proposal. Some of the other organizations the client was considering for the project included an independent content marketing agency, a holding-company owned PR firm, and one of the world’s largest advertising agencies.

Who ya gonna call? These days, clients honestly seem to have no idea. Strategy? Execution? Advertising? Social media? Content? Digital experiences?

This new up-for-grabs state of the competitive landscape is a byproduct of converged media. When advertising marries content marketing and becomes native advertising, or social media merges with media buys, or user-generated content and community become essential to an owned-media presence, then who’s driving? Who’s riding shotgun?

Media Convergence Drives Stack Evolution

Not long ago, I asked close to 70 very high-level marketers, most at Fortune 100 companies, where they outsourced content marketing responsibilities. Did they engage ad agencies, PR agencies, social media agencies, the new breed or storytelling agencies, the custom content divisions of media companies, or “other” to handle content creation?

Interestingly, their answers were spread entirely equally across the board (with one verynotable exception: every single one of them said they would not entrust content duties to a social media shop).

A Tough And Transitional Time

This is a tough and transitional time for clients and agencies alike. More and more, we’re seeing clients who are asking for execution before strategy. Who are uncertain of desired outcomes. Who often look to agency partners with one field of expertise to assist them in areas in which they have little or no experience. Who remain looped in an RFP process that lasts much longer than expected because they’re uncertain which type of candidates to vet.

Then, they find themselves making apples-to-oranges comparisons when they receive responses from a wide variety of candidates, ranging from agencies to consultancies to PR, search and social media firms.

Marketing professionals, too, are challenged to respond to RFPs from prospects unsure of what they want or need, much less who might be qualified to supply it. Arguably, there’s been an education gap in needs vs. wants for as long as there’s been digital marketing, but never more so than now.

In the meantime, RFP processes are too often leading nowhere — or alternately, all over the map, as clients so often learn how much they don’t know from the process. (Often, they learn that they’re asking the wrong service of the wrong provider!)

This will shake out. Agencies are aligning and partnering (you do the strategy, we’ll do the execution). Clients will gradually gain a deeper understanding of what types of organizations have expertise in which types of work.

But at present, it’s a competitive free-for-all out there, a world in which it’s hard to understand who — or what — you’re up against.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Davids and Goliaths of Content Marketing

The content marketing vendor landscape is big, complex, growing, and sharply bifurcated. It’s a David vs. Goliath game in which enterprise giants are pitted against much smaller (sometimes downright tiny) startups.

Research we recently published on the content marketing software landscape (available for download at no cost here) reveals some interesting findings around where this developing market is, as well as where it’s headed in the near future.

content marketing competitors

Bigger doesn’t mean better (and vice versa)

Zoomforth is a two-year-old San Francisco startup you’ve probably never heard of, and one that definitely falls in the “downright tiny” category. Yet with a mere three employees, it already serves enterprise clients such as Deloitte, AT&T, and adidas.

The Goliaths on the scene are, of course, Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. In addition to enterprise clients, they all service small and medium-size businesses alike. They are striving to buy, partner, and integrate their way into the sector, but these intentions and long-term visions are far from realized.

Who will dominate by being first-to-market with a content marketing stack? At this point in time, it’s clearly Adobe’s battle to lose, given its robust and well-established Creative Cloud. However, that family of products is geared far more towards publishing than marketing. Many essential content marketing use cases reside in the company’s Marketing Cloud products. While Adobe recently announced its intention to integrate the two clouds, that’s easier — and much more quickly — said than done.

The Goliaths are also partnering with smaller companies to cover capabilities they lack. For example, Adobe has also aligned with startups such as Thismoment that offer needed capabilities around legal, compliance, and UGC. Salesforce.com recently partnered with Kontera for better audience targeting capabilities.

The above reasons account for the fact that when vendors are questioned about their competitors, Adobe’s name trails after more marketing-oriented solutions. The other giants, Oracle and Salesforce.com, are aggressively acquiring capabilities, while IBM is a laggard.

Of the Davids in the space, our research reveals that Percolate, NewsCred, and Contently are viewed by their peers as their primary competitors. Each has recently attracted additional rounds of investment and boosted capabilities around image-based content. It’s also worth noting the trio is focused on content creation and thus poised to reap the benefits of marketers planned investment in the short term. Others simply have unique capabilities not available anywhere else, such as Mass Relevance’s access to Twitter’s firehose.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

 

 

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