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by James Perrin on 28th June 2013
With Content Marketing being on every digital marketer’s lips at the moment, it’s time to really sink our teeth into the subject. As businesses all over the world begin to invest larger sums of money into this burgeoning marketing form, we thought why not ask the leading voices on the subject a question or two? So we did, and here’s what we found out.
In one form or another Content Marketing has been around for a relatively long time. However, it’s only really been in the past couple of years that companies and businesses have started to take this form of marketing much more seriously, especially in the world of SEO. Yet, as with anything digital, the techniques and tools we used yesterday may not apply or be relevant today, and especially not in the future.
With this in mind, we wanted to know what the big issues are surrounding Content Marketing. We asked 9 of the best and well-known Content Marketers in the world their thoughts. But before we delve into their answers, let’s introduce them…if you didn’t already know them.
Ann is CCO of MarketingProfs and co-author of Content Rules, a best -selling book on Content Marketing. She is also a monthly contributor to Entrepreneur magazine.
Joe is the founder of Content Marketing Institute, and author of Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers.
Heather has 20 years experience in marketing and runs SuccessWorks, an SEO copywriting company. She developed the SEO Copywriting Certification programme for best practise in SEO copywriting.
Jonathon is a content strategist who has given talks on content strategy, SEO and social media at MozCon, and the Content Strategy Forum.
If you’d like to joint the discussion, please get involved in the comments section below, or don’t hesitate to continue the chat on Twitter. So let’s kick off with out first question…
Ann H: For me (personally), I’m most excited about visual channels — Instagram and Vine and Slide Share, particularly. Vine and Instagram aren’t necessarily the most effective at the moment, but I think the potential is great. Effective for MarketingProfs is consistently our seminar program and our site content. One of our recent webinars – Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That: How to Become a B2B Content Brand with Limited Resources - was incredibly successful at both delivering great content, and in driving interest to our flagship event taking place this fall in Boston, the B2B Forum.
Joe: We have better odds of someone becoming a loyal customer if we deliver compelling and quality content to them as a prospect. That said, our efforts are really focused on acquiring subscribers. Our subscriber program is built upon a daily blog post delivered via email to our opt-in subscribers. A secondary tactic that is working really well is SlideShare. We use our SlideShare channel to deliver opt-in subscribers and the program is really taking off.
Ann S: Definitely content re-packaging. While doing some research for my future article, I am looking for possible ways to visualize it, create a ppt presentation, cheatsheet, video tutorial or a survey. This way I have all my social media channels covered. Besides it’s great for productivity as I produce a lot of solid content that way!
Simon: I think it really depends on the client and the standard of execution to be honest. For instance in the automotive niche we’ve just completed a very very successful simple infographic campaign, while we have launched much more complex interactive content in others with a similar result. I think it comes down to really understanding the audience and delivering something that resonates. And that’s not always a really obvious fit. As I spoke about at the Content Marketing Show, social data is giving us insight into other interests now and we are finding that really effective when creating content ideas built for sharing.
Heather: Right now, I’m having a lot of fun repurposing existing content. I think many site owners forget that they already have a content gold mine locked away (old blog posts, customer service scripts, old white papers.) You can take that old content and turn it into something new and valuable. It gives the content a new life – plus, it’s great for readers.
Barry: We find that regular blogs about exciting stories are highly effective, as is targeted content outreach to key influences. The trick is not to go for the hard sell but to build relationships around common interests and issues, and using content as the currency in these exchanges.
Kelvin: What’s right for the client and the brief; and that can vary hugely, a lot of the time it’s small projects that see immediate reviews, sometimes it’s higher stakes where you need to achieve great results. One piece of work my colleagues produced recently that I’m hugely proud of is an interactive HTML5 microsite dedicated too the Boeing Dreamliner, it’s already achieved some great results for the client and I think a great indication of where ‘branded content’ might be headed in the next few months.
Doug: Content-rich microsites, eBooks and video. For promotion: email, social media and influencer relations.
Ann H: More of: Content your customers will thank you for. Less of: Content only your CEO thanks you for.
Joe: Longer-form, truly helpful content is back in vogue. I think you’ll see less shorter posts and more impacting 1,000+ word posts. I think we will also see more sponsored content out there, which will increase the heat on this area.
Ann S: We’ll see more and more author brands being developed. Personal branding has been hot for a while but only now, with authorship trend, companies start *helping* individual representatives grow. As for “less” I really want to say less paid-per-post models (easiest way to get covered by micro-celebrities), but I think it will take a while…
Simon: Like everything in creative industry things come in and out of fashion but nothing dies and the same is true in content. There is a lot of love for infographics right now but that will fade away as the economic principles of supply and demand take hold but they will come back again as they are a great vehicle. We will definitely see more around data though. We are creating lots more and as a result tools are becoming more sophisticated in mining it, which will bring out some amazing insight for us all to visualise in a plethora of ways.
Heather: I think we’ll see less of content curation, only because people are realising it takes a LOT of work to do it well. I would like to think that we’ll see more companies focusing on quality content – and hiring strong writers who can help achieve their readership/marketing goals. I’m hearing of more companies hand-picking particular writers because the writers are experts in their niche, they have a following, and they have a fantastic writing style. We shall see…
Barry: Less cheap and nasty content, and more crafted pieces of work – be it long form, interactive articles, or rich media. Audiences expect to be entertained as well as informed, and it takes content crafted with genuine skill and effort to do that.
Kelvin: In the same way you get trends in films and music you’ll get types of content that seem to be more popular because people like and share them which inevitably means more people will produce them. In each case these new “types” or formats will probably go through a classic Gartner Hype Cycle as a marketer you’ll probably want to grab content ‘types” before the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ or during the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.
At the moment it feels like interactive infographics and parallax scrolling sites are heading towards the peak while others, like ebooks, will hit that plateau. Something I think we’ll see more of is physical offline ’things’ created to drive online objectives. Partly this will be people like contract publishers getting involved in Content Marketing, but it’s bigger than that. Is your packaging part of your content marketing? What about your point of sale? Or what about products like Nike+ which exist to create content?
Doug: More in-house content teams governed by a Content Center of Excellence. Less ad hoc, cowboy content. More personalised content, less one-size-fits-all. More dynamic screen experiences, less content that mimics print (like eBooks).
Ann H: The most effective brands are looking more strategically *and* creatively at not just producing “content,” but at creating content that matters: That’s seeded with inspiration, customer empathy, and utility. We talked about this in Content Rules 3 years ago, but I’m starting to see signs that it’s finally happening. Which thrills me.
Joe: We are seeing the evolution of the marketing department look and feel more like a publishing enterprise. I believe in the future it will be very hard to differentiate the business models of publishers and non-publishers. If I’m a brand right now, I’m looking to hire an experience chief editor to serve as my chief content officer, and get content integrated and working throughout the enterprise.
Ann S: There’s a great article at Social Media Sun about how guest blogging should evolve on a larger scale. I think it describes the whole content marketing evolution. Brands will hunt for micro-celebrities and involve them into their content marketing efforts.
Simon: Two things underpin content marketing – consistent (good) idea creation and a well founded strategy. Without those things, long-term any content led approach will fail, expensively in the majority of cases! We need to get better at that bit and understand how new tools can help us do that as the overall standard we compete against will get better, so you’ll have to have serious ‘game’ to compete.
Heather: Many companies are totally overwhelmed right now. They know content marketing is important, but they don’t know what to do. Should they post new and unique content on Google+? Should they create a YouTube channel and hire professional videographers? Write an ebook? They do a little bit of everything and wonder why things aren’t working the way they should. Instead of focusing on the next big, shiny thing, many companies are slowly starting to turn to “what works.” They are trying new things, measuring the results, and changing strategy accordingly. That makes so much more sense.
Barry: Like I said above, I think relationships with key influences will be the driving force behind successful content marketing. Relationships enable content placement, collaborations, and exchanges of ideas that in turn will lead to more great content.
Kelvin: I think you will see more and more brands where content is part of their core DNA, BrewDog, a brewery are a great example, they’ve always produced video and other content assets, but it’s the complete follow through to all aspects of their business. What’s so clever about them is they’ll launch a campaign like Equity for Punks which ostensibly was a scheme to raise cash for the business to expand, but at the same time it could have been a PR stunt, or it could have been a campaign to get more of their buyers into a CRM or just to increase brand loyalty by making the customers feel like their customers ‘own’ part of the business. As a campaign it ticked so many boxes at the same time.
Doug: We’ll rely less on search and more on building our own communities. Content will become more closely aligned with product – so we’ll see content-rich tools that help people actually do their jobs as opposed to content that simply advises them on best practice. [I summarise some of this in The Five Beyonds slideshare].
Jonathon: As the content marketing community of practitioners starts scaling up their work, I think that they’ll find that the quality of their content suffers and/or that they hit bottlenecks or limits in terms of content management. Portability of content to emerging platforms as well as modeling content for niche-level, long-tail visibility in systems outside of Google will become greater concerns.Yes, there are systems outside of Google. How will your content work with them? Will it be findable? Will it display well? Will your content be flexible enough to fit within their constraints?
Think of the search engine on your own site. How would you optimize that experience to return all of the great content that you produce at the right time for the right people in the right way? Now think of a platform that’s out of your control, such as Flipboard, Pinterest, an app store, or an emerging e-commerce community like Mulu — how ready is your content to be viewed outside of its original context? That’s why I think that future of content marketing is content strategy, which “plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content,” according to Kristina Halvorson, who quite literally wrote the book on the subject. Another way to understand the field is with this quote from Rachel Lovinger: “Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.” Bottom line: if you think of your content as just being copy, images and other media that are just commodities to drive you traffic, you’re simply not thinking big enough.
Want to know more? You can dip your toes into the waters of content strategy with this list of 200+ of the best free content strategy resources that I’ve curated from the community.
Ann H: Start looking at the world from your customer’s point of view. Your story is not what you do, it’s what you do for others. That’s Marketing 101, but there’s still an awful lot of corporate-centric drivel being produced from corporate-centric content marketers. Don’t be that guy. Or those guys. You know what I mean.
Joe: By creating truly epic and helpful content that cuts through the clutter. Bad content has always been produced…and always will be. Smart consumers will find the good stuff. Consistency and quality are the keys to making this work. Content marketing is not a campaign. Content is a long-term promise to our customers.
Ann S: Education is the slowest but the only way, sadly. Educating content creators of missed opportunities and publishers of better options will eventually work, but low quality is always easier to notice just because it’s easier to produce and comes in higher numbers!
Simon: Make more good content! Understand your audience and have a solid idea creation process in place to ensure you weed out the crap before it makes it into any strategy. Let the spammers spam and take care of what you can control is my motto!
Heather: This one is tough – I’ve been railing against thin content for years. Certainly, Google is cracking down on poor quality content and I see this trend continuing. However, what I also see are agencies/SEO firms/end clients who are looking for cheap writers and expecting quality work. There are still folks out there getting paid (by agencies, no less) $15 for a supposedly in-depth article – and yes, these articles are posted on the client’s site. It’s sad.
As an industry, I think it’s important for us to understand that good content costs money (and we need to educate our clients accordingly.) That doesn’t mean that you have to pay $1,000 per Web page. But it does mean that companies need to look beyond “how much does this cost” and instead consider “what can this content – especially high quality, optimized content – do for our bottom line?”
Barry: I think that situation will resolve itself over time, as the audience’s appetite for cheap content diminishes and search engines get better at spotting – and downgrading it. Content for the sake of content is quickly becoming an untenable tactic, and will be replaced by properly crafted content.
Kelvin: We don’t need to do much, poor quality content doesn’t hit objectives, eventually people find this out the hard way. But as individuals we need to stand our ground, never give in to the temptation to deliver anything less that great work. I think pretty much everyone producing poor quality content knows it’s not going to deliver what they want, we just need to be more confident in our opinions.
Doug: By not contributing to it! Less crap, more passionate, well-considered, entertaining, intelligent and useful content. We can’t just make content that ticks the box for a persona and a buying stage. We need to make pieces that leap out, grab people by the lapels and give a good shake.
Jonathon: I spoke about this topic at Searchfest this year in a presentation called Why our Content Sucks and How to Make it Better. Generally, our content sucks because — even in an industry that proclaims “content is king!” — we only value it as a commodity to drive incremental traffic growth, not as an expression of our brand that helps our users and customers to meet their goals, solve their problems, succeed at their tasks. Let’s face the facts: It’s easy to scale weak content. It’s easy for an agency to charge for weak content. And it’s unbelievably easier for an in-house practitioner to get weak content past leadership and out the door than it is to do user research, create personas, test your brand’s voice and tone, manage your content instead of having your CMS manage you, measure what works (and what doesn’t) and constantly iterate your approach.
The solution to low-quality content requires making some hard decisions and choices. First of all, whenever you discuss topics like content and quality, you must recognise that you’re talking about people… and that means that you’ll have to grapple with politics. Among the political aspects of our work, you’ll have to recognise the need for an accountability structure that incentivises quality — not just quantity — of content. Then there’s the need for resources and investment in systems, standards, and governance to ensure that “quality” isn’t just an intellectual construct, but rather a documented and well-understood (and iterative!) expression of the brand. That notion of quality should be well-informed by our research and analytics, but ultimately carried out by a cross-functional team comprised of members of different disciplines who are incentivised to break down silos and do what’s best for users. You know, content strategy.
A big thank you to all of the experts, some really insightful thoughts and opinions. What do you make of it? Do you agree or disagree with what’s been said. Have your say in the comments section below. One thing we do know for sure is that Content Marketing isn’t going away for a while.