The Speculator: An Interview with me in Content Magazine

I’m honored to have been featured in an interview in the Summer, 2015 edition of Content Magazine

Screenshot 8:6:15, 9:33 PMRebecca Lieb sees a rosy yet crowded future of content marketing through the lens of her exhaustive research.

Content: A year ago you said that the future of content marketing tools will be in stacks that accommodate everything from content creation to compliance. Teradata provides software for these types of solutions. Where are we at now in that evolution?
Rebecca Lieb: When I started doing this research in 2014, in the six months it took me, I saw the software landscape increase from about 80 companies to about 150. Now there’s well over 200 companies in the content marketing software space—and there would be even more if the big players like Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce weren’t buying some of them up. So there’s tons of activity on the product development level and we’re seeing some of these players get very, very successful.

You also said at that time that no vendor has an end-to-end solution but you did mention that Adobe was best poised to do that.
We identified basically three main buckets of content workflow and eight separate workflow scenarios: everything ranging from creation to curation and aggregation through to governance, legal and compliance. Nobody’s got an end-to-end solution, a content stack in the sense that there are advertising stacks that do it all. Integration is very hard when you’re a company like Adobe building software and then getting it to play nice with all the other software. So, Adobe has the most pieces of the puzzle but nobody has integrated these eight different workflow scenarios into one seamless software solution yet.

IBM has not gotten involved. Can you speculate as to why they haven’t?
I think IBM is the proverbial 2,000-pound gorilla in this space. I can’t tell you why but if they wanted to do it tomorrow they could. One thing that IBM has invested in very heavily is the social marketing software space: we call it the SMSS. I’m predicting that over the next couple of years the content marketing stack is going to absorb the social marketing software space and we’ve already seen very big players in social media marketing, like Sprinklr, move very aggressively into the content space and that’s just because social media is really just a platform for content. Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn: they’d all be empty if it wasn’t for content. So that can be applied to IBM. You could argue IBM is in the space in the social respect if not across the entirety of the stack.

Between ad agencies and PR agencies, which do you think has the biggest challenges when it comes to storytelling?
I think they both have equal challenges and the reason is converged media. We’re seeing PR agencies, for the first time in history, make media buys; but, by the same token, advertising agencies are terrific at media buying but really don’t look at content as content. They look at content as creative: something to fill space or time in the context of advertising. So, all of these agencies are learning new skill sets and nearly all of them, certainly all of the major ones, have opened up global chains of newsrooms and grand storytelling plays. At the same time we’re looking at publishers trying to be a content marketing agency. This is a way for them to get incremental revenues and they’ve always done this in the context of advertorials, haven’t they?

Please read the full interview on the Content Magazine website

 

Five Content Strategy Shortcuts That Aren’t Shortcuts At All

businessman-shortcut-ss-1920According to my research, corroborated by other studies, while virtually every company is now practicing content marketing, a full 70 percent of them are doing so without first constructing a content strategy that addresses not just why, but how, they will create, disseminate, measure and apply business-related goals to their content.

Anecdotally, I find that’s changing. I’m getting more and more inquiries from companies that need help building content strategies, and so are my peers in the industry. But with those inquiries often come requests for shortcuts and cut corners.

Clearly, everyone has to work within budget and time constraints. But it’s also true that strategy doesn’t just happen. It’s based on business goals, resource requirements, and other marketing and branding activities.

When organizations ask me to work with them to create a content strategy, some will understandably push back a bit on the scope of the engagement. Here are some of the most frequent asks for shortcuts — and why they often aren’t shortcuts at all. And also, as a sort of bonus, the one ask I hear most often that’s a shortcut in and of itself.

1. Content Audit

“We don’t need a content audit” is an all-too-frequent refrain from clients. Sorry, but unless you’ve been conducting content audits yourself (which I’ve only once encountered), you do.

A baseline audit is a cornerstone of a content strategy. You can’t chart where you’re going unless you know where you are. A content strategist needs to study the content, the channels it’s published in, the metrics and analytics around it, and learn how it’s created, approved, produced, reused, stored and interacted with.

An audit is not only about what’s there, it’s equally about what’s missing; gap analysis is a huge part of the process.

Audits should be conducted, at minimum, twice per year. Once the baseline audit has been conducted, you’ll know how to move forward with future audits that adhere to the same template. In that sense, an audit is a gift that keeps on giving.

2. Process

I also often hear: “We already create content, so process isn’t a problem.” I hope not. But it might be. Content strategy is in large part about process. It’s not just establishing goals and benchmarks for content. Content strategy is equally about how those goals will be achieved with repeatable, governed processes.

This often involves numerous organizational divisions, staff, approval trees, legal and compliance, many steps of which can be overlooked or ignored. Efficient processes lead to substantial savings of both time and money. Ignoring process when establishing a content strategy is a surefire way to building time and money inefficiencies into process.

3. People

“We don’t have budget to hire new staff, so there’s no point in evaluating roles,” is another frequent refrain. I feel your pain. But like processes, people can’t be ignored in content strategy.

Often, tasks will be uncovered that can be filled by a temporary contractor, or even an intern, such as tagging assets for a digital asset management system (DAM). It can be the case that with additional domain or tools training, existing staff members can assume new responsibilities, creating greater career satisfaction and filling much-needed gaps.

Just because increased headcount isn’t an option doesn’t mean staffing needs go away. These needs can be dealt with as part of the content strategy.

4. Tools

Like people, above, there’s frequently pushback in the form of, “We’re not going to invest in it” (or “My department doesn’t make technology determinations”). As with people, audits and processes, ignoring tool and software needs doesn’t make them go away.

I attempt to work through this with my clients by taking a two-pronged approach. I’ll make broad recommendations (consider investing in digital asset management or a content creation platform), or I’ll take a much deeper dive, conducting stakeholder interviews and scrutinizing workflow scenarios and integration needs to make highly specific recommendations (consider these three software solutions).

Content doesn’t create itself, publish itself, measure or optimize itself, or make determinations about what channels and audiences it should connect with. Tools are a must-have, not a nice-to-have

Finally, that bonus “ask.” I hear this one a lot. It’s a shortcut in and of itself.

5. “Just Tell Us What Content Will Work For Us”

I wish I could; really I do. And I can probably tell you, from a strategy standpoint, what content will work this week, this month, or this quarter. Longer term, no one has a crystal ball that can automatically conjure the best content (and place it in the best channels to reach the right audience).

“Tell me what content will work” is a request akin to “Make me a viral video.” There will always be someone out there who will promise the moon (while cashing your check), but that’s not what a content strategy does.

What a content strategy will do is teach you how to learn what content will work against your goals and how to realign and readjust that content for different channels, audiences, projects and products, as well as external forces. What content works during the winter holiday season? When there’s breaking news around your industry? When consumers are talking about your brand or your product category?

Content strategy isn’t magic hocus-pocus. Instead, it’s “teach a man to fish.” The purpose is to develop sustainable, repeatable processes aligned to higher business goals. The content will invariably change. The bigger strategy? Not so much.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Weaving Influencers into a Content Strategy

By definition, content marketing means working with owned media. Media you own (or largely control) can include properties such as a company website, microsites, blogs, and social media platforms. The idea is you build it and hope that they will come.

Often, they (i.e., a target audience) will come, enticed by compelling, well-crafted, search-optimized, useful, funny, clever, delightful content. And sometimes, all best efforts to the contrary, more reach and more subject matter authority are required to meaningfully connect the message to the desired audience.

This is where an influencer strategy often comes in for many content marketers. Influencers are domain knowledge experts in a field. That field could be enterprise software, beekeeping, baking, or national defense. No matter the topic, the influences are the go-to subject matter experts. Their writings, videos, tweets, and/or blog posts enjoy broad followings with what’s likely your target audience: the people who follow that given topic.

Influencers can be leveraged in a wide variety of ways. They can be interviewed for your own owned media (e.g., an e-book or a blog post). They can be briefed on company news in the hope that they will share it with their networks, which is good old-fashioned PR, updated for a world in which journalists no longer have a corner on the media influence market.

Influencers can also be commissioned to create and share content on a relevant topic with their followers, providing ethical guidelines and disclosure protocols are followed. A large technology company recently commissioned a dozen technology influencers to create a total of 120 pieces of content (mostly blog posts) which enjoyed, in aggregate, over a million views. In B2B, that’s paid media reach for an earned media investment — not too shabby.

The basic steps for connecting with and working with influencers are fairly simple, yet frequently overlooked by harried, deadline-driven marketers.

This checklist should help.

Identify the influencers
Media, analysts, researchers, and academics are all obvious choices. So are the people active on social media with the biggest and most passionate followings on the topic in question. They post frequently and reliably on the topic, and their messages are amplified by readers and followers. Find influencers via search, hashtag research, or through social listening software. Influencers can also be located the old-fashioned way: who’s quoted in articles, cited in research? Those are the names to get.

Weave an introduction into the initial contact
Genuine influencers are frequently courted and receive a great many “asks.” Don’t assume influencers you reach out to know your company/product/strategy. Provide background information, with an offer of more. They’ll want to know who they’re dealing with. Communication is a two-way street.

Craft narrow, highly specific requests
Influencers are often asked for quotes, or to respond to interview questions via an initial contact email. Nothing wrong with that, but a response is more likely if that ask is laser targeted. Instead of requesting a quote about “content marketing,” go straight to the specifics. “What are three best practices for using curation in content marketing?” or “What’s the difference between content marketing and content strategy?” Providing direction is more likely to elicit not only a response, but a good response.

Deadlines matter
Always, always, always provide a deadline for response. If there isn’t one, make it up. There’s a world of difference — and responsiveness — between asking someone to do something whenever, and requesting that they do it by close of business on Thursday.

Ask for everything upfront
Need the influencer’s headshot? Bio? These aren’t afterthoughts — they’re part of the content plan. Request all deliverables upfront. It’s polite, considerate, and saves everyone a lot of time and email traffic.

Be easy to work with
Really, this is the cardinal rule of everything stated above. Are you requesting a call with the influencer? Providing three or four available timeslots in the initial request makes their life much easier than throwing the ball into their court with a “When are you available?” So does providing options, e.g., offering to conduct an interview either by phone or by email — their choice.

Follow-up is essential
It’s not just what an influencer contributes, content-wise. Distribution and amplification are huge components of an influencer strategy. Ensure the influencer has access to all published artifacts (e.g., the interview, the e-book, the webinar link). Mentioning their contribution or participation on social media makes them more likely to reciprocate and broaden the reach of that tweet or post. Using their Twitter handle or favored hashtags also helps get the message to their following.

Working with influencers needn’t be difficult or complicated. It’s easier than it ever was not just to find the important voices in the field, but to easily connect with them, too. The rest is basic Golden Rule territory: do unto influencers as you would have them do unto you.

This post originally published on iMedia

Publish or Perish

wall-of-booksIt’s impossible to spend any time in academia without encountering the ominous and omnipresent phrase “publish or perish.” It’s long been a reality in academia, and it’s become an equally real state of affairs in business, too.

Wikipedia describes it thusly:

Frequent publication is one of the few methods at scholars’ disposal to demonstrate academic talent. Successful publications bring attention to scholars and their sponsoring institutions, which can facilitate continued funding and an individual’s progress through a chosen field. In popular academic perception, scholars who publish infrequently, or who focus on activities that do not result in publications, such as instructing undergraduates, may lose ground in competition for available tenure-track positions. The pressure to publish has been cited as a cause of poor work being submitted to academic journals.

The need to publish, and to publish early and often, means living life in a pressure cooker. There’s the pressure to come up with the ideas, to translate those ideas into artifacts (blog posts, articles, speeches, PowerPoint decks, social media communications, and other formats too numerous to mention). Then there are the vetting and publishing processes.

Small wonder the publish or perish model has been under scrutiny in academia for decades — for demanding too much content, too fast. For leading to subpar content that’s not up to academic or research standards. For leading to cheating, plagiarism, and other unethical shortcuts. For leading, in short to too much low quality content.

Sound familiar?

The too much noise/too little signal problem is as innate to content marketing as it is to academia. Large brands now publish more content on a weekly basis than did “Time” magazine during its heyday. The pressure to feed the beast is real, whether you’re building a corporate or a personal brand. This isn’t just an observation, but a fact my research confirms. The majority of spending on content marketing technology this year will be on content creation tools, even though when I surveyed marketers and asked what they need (as opposed to what they plan to buy), they cite better tools for audience targeting and measurement.

The only means at a marketer’s disposal to address “publish or perish” is with a content strategy, something my research — as well as others’ — indicates 70 percent of organizations don’t formally have, though at this point virtually every business is regularly publishing (or trying to publish) content. Businesses are trying like crazy to plug the gaps. They’re investing in software solutions and trying to recruit talent to run their content operations. Executive content marketing roles barely existed two or three years ago. This week alone, three recruiters have rung me up, fishing for candidates.

Publish or perish isn’t just for academia anymore. Consistent, frequent, high-quality content in a multiplicity of channels is a business and marketing imperative. It won’t happen by itself, and tactics without strategy are a quick route to a downward spiral.

So, what’s your content strategy?
This post originally published on iMedia 

Image: http://www.theragblog.com/

Discussing Content Strategy with Fast Company

3048025-poster-p-1-the-big-problem-with-your-content-strategyI don’t often share my media citations, but I’m very pleased with this piece that published in Fast Company, so wanted to share it.

THE BIG PROBLEM WITH YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY

AS THE NEED FOR CONTENT HAS EXPLODED, THE TACTICS FOR GETTING IT OUT TO THE PUBLIC TOO OFTEN OVERRUN STRATEGY.

Our lives are overflowing with content. Our inboxes are flooded, Our smartphones are constantly pinging.

“Everything is going content,” says content marketing expert Rebecca Lieb, previously an analyst at Altimeter Group, and now VP of content marketing, Teradata Marketing Systems. That includes advertising (think native advertising), social media, marketing and other disciplines. Indeed, IBM, GE and Red Bull are creating more content thanTime magazine did in its heyday, according to Lieb.

Meanwhile, companies struggle to fill the need for content fast enough. Email. Search. Social. Banner ads. Blogs. Websites. Newsletters. Brochures. eBooks. White papers. Native advertising. And more . . . And more . . . Yet as the need for content has exploded, tactics too often have overrun strategy.

“Seventy percent of companies are operating blindly, without a documented content strategy to guide them,” according to Lieb. “They are throwing stuff on Facebook, creating videos and white papers because all the cool kids are doing it. It’s just tactical. And they’re equally puzzled about what KPIs to put in place to measure content benefits.”

Read the rest of the piece on Fast Company

The Difference Between ‘Content’ and ‘Content Marketing’

content-marketing-question-ss-1920

Increasingly, brands are making room for executive content roles within their organizational structure. I’ve been studying content roles in the enterprise for some time now, and realize there’s an issue that’s not yet been addressed.

What’s the difference between content and content marketing?

There’s a much-vaunted, but rarely-seen-in-the-wild title of chief content officer. That role has executive purview and cross-functional authority.

A chief content officer has reach into R&D, product, HR, customer care, internal communications — all areas that don’t ladder up to marketing. And of course, the larger the organization, the greater the remove (or the silos) can be between departments and divisions.

A content marketing executive, in contrast, focuses on content exclusively within the confines of the marketing organization. While the content marketing chief (or vice president, director, etc.) can and almost certainly should work with divisions external to marketing to develop ideas, campaigns, input and inspiration for their initiatives, his or her strategic goal will always align with marketing’s mandate.

Content marketing will be designed and developed for marketing purposes, not for wider company initiatives, be they internal or external. This content will address various segments and/or personas at different stages in the purchase funnel. The content calendar will align with sales, customers, products, partners, trade shows and other externally focused initiatives.

Both types of content must align, of course. Voice, tone, look, feel, consistency, brand guidelines — all these and more are components on the governance that forms the guardrails of content strategy, no matter how broadly or narrowly focused.

The Blurring Line Between Content And Content Marketing

Having recently taken up the mantle of VP of content marketing at a large, global organization, the blurry area between “content” and “content marketing” became immediately apparent.

Are product demo videos content — or content marketing? What about product brochures? Web pages that document regular software updates and upgrades? The customer support and help sections of that same website? Product specification sheets? All these are (and require) content.

The questions come in when a content strategy is being mapped. A content strategy outlines governance, resources and processes. Part of my new challenge is determining how, where and if all these non-marketing pieces of content will fit into content marketing.

Do we create that content? Check it for look and feel, voice and tone, adherence to brand guidelines? Into which division and under whose purview fall the creators and administrators of non-marketing content?

There’s practically no business area that content doesn’t somehow bleed into. Many gray areas are emerging around the differences between content-content and content marketing.

What’s Ahead?

What will most likely emerge in the next year or so will be a career path for content professionals. Organizations are hiring content executives across the hierarchical spectrum. Editors and managing editors are almost commonplace now at companies ranging from Dell to Adidas.

Content marketing leads are also slowly, but surely, being created within the marketing department.

The growth path? The career apogee is, of course, a place in the C-suite. Will content take its place alongside the CEO, CMO, CTO, CIO, CRO, and other senior leadership roles?

It won’t happen soon, and it won’t happen everywhere. That’s simply not realistic. Corporate boards are hardly tripping over themselves to create new leadership roles (and the salaries that accompany them).

But increasingly forward-thinking organizations will realize that content isn’t just the atomic particle of marketing — it’s the currency with which we relate, interact, communicate and signal who we are and what we stand for.

Chief Content Officers will likely never be ubiquitous. But your chances of meeting one will likely become greater in the next couple of years.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Six Content Marketing Realities

Content marketing: It’s certainly nothing new — it’s been with us since the dawn of marketing — but in digital channels, it’s rapidly changing and evolving. As content changes, so too do the policies, processes, priorities, and governance organizations require to effectively market with content. This applies not only to owned media channels — content has a strong gravitational pull that cannot be decoupled from earned and paid media.

Conversations these past few weeks about content with some preeminent brands and marketers have yielded insights worth sharing and pondering.

Content is the product

Susan Ridge, vice president of marketing and communications at Save the Children said in a recent meeting, “content is our product.” For most marketers, and for a significant number of brands, truer words were never spoken. As a non-profit charitable organization — and, for full disclosure, one of my clients — Save the Children doesn’t sell widgets or services. They craft stories and evoke emotions that ignite action, involvement, support and evangelism. What organization — even the ones that do have actual products — wouldn’t want the same of their customers, prospects, partners, and stakeholders?

Content achieves functionality

Twitter, Facebook, and Google now offer ‘Buy’ buttons on specific types of content, another indicator of the blurring of paid, owned, and earned media. This means content will increasingly be measured by its ability to convert, whether conversation (which is a desired action) is to bring customers in-store with inventory information, serve in an e-commerce capacity, or some other transaction of money and/or information.  Still, it’s important to bear in mind that selling widgets is not the only KPI for content. Far from it. As I’ve previously mentioned, marketers are far too uncreative when it comes to establishing business-oriented KPIs for content. Please combine transactional functionality with other business metrics that matter, and that have dollar value.

Vertical matters

As visual and audio-visual content continue to rise in prominence thanks to the pervasiveness of mobile, designers, content creators, and UX experts will rethink orientation. Most print and banner images are oriented — and intended to be “read” — horizontally. Phones and handheld devices flip, of course, but the most intuitive interface, particularly for content snacking, is vertical. Plan accordingly.

Concept above product

This is not a new notion, but as more brands pile on to content marketing, it is a strategy worth repeating. The brands most successful in content marketing don’t talk about themselves very much. Everything General Electric does, for example, ladders up to “Ecomagination.” IBM’s concept is “Smarter Planet.” What’s yours? It should inspire and command interest, as well as involvement. It’s what the intended audience cares about.

Plan everything, and prepare for the unforeseen

Competent content marketers don’t just maintain highly detailed editorial calendars, but those calendars incorporate workflow, governance, and process. They also know that even the most tightly-orchestrated plans require leeway. Save the Children has designated staff on-call evenings, weekends, and holidays. Ebola, the Nepal earthquakes — all are calls-to-action to the content teams. Julie Ryan, executive director of worldwide digital marketing at 20th Century Fox, has a great addition to this piece of advice: “Don’t delegate everything to your agency. Things will come up.”

Organize for content

Content is too big, too important, and too ongoing a need to leave to happenstance. Putting organizational structure around content initiatives across paid, owned, and earned media is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. And it needs to be connected with the entirety of the enterprise. This week, Chris Murphy, managing editor of adidas’ newsroom, shared that he has no fewer than eight counterparts worldwide, and that the company moved media buyers to Portland (where he is based) so there can be closer collaboration between the media and content teams — in real-time.

On a personal note, I’m putting my money where my mouth is on that last point. This week I joined Teradata Marketing Applications as vice president of content marketing. I look forward to continuing to share insights and experience on content marketing and content strategy as a practitioner instead of as an analyst.

This post originally published on iMedia