Monday, January 4, 2016

The One Question that Simplifies Content Marketing

Outside of social media, no other practice has garnered as much attention (and consternation) among marketers than content marketing. You may have heard the term or read about the growth of content marketing, but you may be unclear exactly what it is. A definition offered by the Content Marketing Institute, an authoritative source on trends and best practices, is:

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

OK- CMI’s definition of content marketing may be a mouthful, but it should be thought of as using content (information or entertainment-based) to influence a target audience at various stages in the sales funnel. While the use of content is hardly new- information delivered in formats such as product brochures and case studies have been around for years- the channels available to deliver content precisely and on demand have grown significantly. Email, podcasts, social networking sites, and website landing pages are relative newcomers to the menu of content delivery options.

A Dearth of Content

The ease of content creation and distribution has led to a significant increase in content produced… but no more time in the day for a person to consume content. Also, content production has increased as brands seek to stay a step ahead of competitors. The resulting glut of content has been labeled “content shock” by marketing expert Mark Schaefer. Evidence of content shock cited by Schaefer includes data from Nielsen that indicates that a person’s content consumption has grown from two hours per day in the 1920s to eleven hours per day. Do you see any signs of that figure decreasing? Me neither.

Our appetite for content is fueled by the ability to consume anytime on any device. The ubiquitous nature of our Internet connectivity coupled with competitive pressures to reach consumers where they are leads to more content creation. The amount of marketing content created will likely continue to grow, with one piece of evidence being Content Marketing Institute data that reveal eighty-eight percent of B2B marketers and seventy-six percent of B2C marketers use content marketing. Content quantity is growing, but what about quality and more importantly, effectiveness?

One Question Can Deliver Valuable Content

As marketing content becomes more prevalent, the result will be a more cluttered environment, if not the content shock Mark Schaefer described. How does a brand make its content stand out in today’s crowded content landscape? The answer is relatively simple: Give your customers content they want. The way to make that happen is even simpler: Ask them what they want.

Golf equipment maker Titleist did just that. In mid-December, Titleist used its Twitter account to ask followers a very straightforward question: What type of content would you like to see more of in 2016?

Titleist used a Twitter poll to gather feedback and received more than 1,500 responses. The content users want to see the most? Behind the scenes stories (36%) followed by instruction (25%), tour features (23%), and R&D stories (16%).

The power of asking what content Titleist’s community valued cannot be overstated. Too often, marketers assume to know what will resonate with their customers. In this case, it may have been tempting to make the assumption that golfers would find content related to Titleist’s R&D efforts interesting. Although they may indeed find such content interesting, Titleist found out that other content themes would be of greater interest. Asking simple questions can yield valuable insights.

Find Content Inspiration in Other Obvious Places

Customers and brand community should always be tapped as a source of ideas for creating marketing content, as Titleist did. Besides directly asking for input, here are three other ways to determine content themes:

Customer inquiries – Phone logs and the email inbox can be helpful in identifying content topics. What are customers asking about when they call or write? What questions or problems tend recur in customer support channels? Content adds value by educating people or helping solve their problems.

Sales force – A company’s sales reps are on the front lines dealing with buyers. Whether the buyer is the end user or an intermediary that sells to end users, sales reps can learn from them what content types would create value when making a buying decision, using the product, or both.

Social media monitoring – Similar to sales reps having their ear to the ground to learn from customers and prospects, social media monitoring can give marketers a glimpse into what is relevant to their audience. What topics are they discussing? What are their aspirations? Their frustrations?

Always Room for Useful Content

Mark Schaefer could be right about impending content shock. The prospect of an oversaturated market for information should be a call to up brands’ content game. Creating and distributing content is easier than ever; that ease also makes it harder than ever to reach and engage through content. That challenge should not dissuade marketers from committing to a content marketing strategy. On the contrary, now is the time to be more intentional about the role content plays in overall marketing strategy for an organization.