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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Context: The Next Digital Marketing Frontier

Context screenshotFor 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.

Under the auspices of our client SDL, I recently authored a white paper, Why Context Is Essential to Digital Marketing (PDF downloadthat looks at marketing beyond the right message, to the right person at the right time. Contextual marketing goes further by considering the platform consumers are using; their physical location (perhaps, using iBeacon technology, down to the store shelf level); even real-time information such as atmospheric conditions (is it raining?) or geo-spatial movement (whether they are in a vehicle stopped at a red light, for instance).

What type of coupon should a customer receive? When, and for what type of offer? MGM Resorts makes these determinations contextually; sending offers to guests’ smartphones based on where they are on the resort property (which restaurant, shop, show, or casino) as well as in the context of their individual loyalty member status and stated interests.

Context in marketing can only be fueled by powerful, integrated technologies. Its components range from semantic technologies to machine learning and predictive analytics, customer data, product/service data, flexible, dynamic content, and journey-mapping.

Without a doubt, context is complex. Moreover it is growing in importance, not only because it’s increasingly technologically feasible and effective, but also because newer technologies (the Internet of Things and Beacons, for example) will enable additional layers of context to meet consumers’ growing expectations for contextually relevant experiences and messaging from the brands they interact with in an increasingly digital world.

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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

Image

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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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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Beware Parochial Content Marketing

Content marketing is hot — finally! It’s the term du jour in digital marketing and advertising, getting its figurative place at the table and its own literal track at every marketing conference of note. Content is even getting its own dedicated conferences now — several of them.

With great power comes great responsibility, as well as a not-insignificant number of “me too” arrivals at the party.

Enter the age of parochial content marketing.

What’s parochial content marketing? It’s a trend we’ve seen in the past when new marketing channels suddenly erupt into prominence, most recently social media.

Five years ago, every email marketing solution was suddenly a social media company. Every search engine marketing vendor was suddenly a social media solution. If digital video was the offering, it was a digital video for social media providers. I think you get the drift.

Now all those email companies, search vendors, video providers, and so on down the line are — you guessed it — content marketing solutions. Even one of the largest social media platforms has begun a major marketing initiative for its content marketing product.

There’s a good side to this. It means content marketing is maturing, mainstreaming, and that its importance is finally recognized. But there’s a not-so-great darker side too.

The dark side is a parochial approach to content marketing, the view that “content marketing” means screwing search, or email, or video, or blogging into a container labeled “content marketing” and ticking that box off the list of “must-do marketing tactics.”

Yes, vendors struggle to remain relevant — often a tough job in a landscape in which tactics such as email and search and site design couldn’t be more relevant, but have also been relegated to wallpaper status by virtue of the fact that they have aged out at a ripe old decade of service mark. A couple of years ago, I interviewed more than 50 Fortune 500 marketers on the content marketing channels they were using. One cited search. Zero cited email. (Ha! As if!)

Email is a container for content. Search has nothing to find if there isn’t any content. Ads are filled with content — it’s just called “creative” in that channel. There simply is no marketing without content.

Smart marketers know that, and they know that the best content begins with a strategy. Not with a channel.

This post originally published on iMedia Connection.

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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?

shutterstock_206842363-1920-content-marketing-man-points

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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