In 2015, media intelligence platform Isentia bought global content marketing agency King Content in a massive deal worth US$48 million. It was a signal that brand content really was ‘king.’ In August, however, the company announced it had axed King Content due to poor performance. It wrote off US$37.8 million of its investment and closed the brand’s offices in New York and Hong Kong.
Perhaps, that’s what led Isentia’s (now former) global strategy director Hedvig Lyche to say, “Content marketing…as a term or a craft has lost its focus and failed to evolve…”. Her comments echoed those of Isentia CMO Richard Spencer, who recently called content marketing a “trendy” term through which to sell a “fairly traditional business model”.
I don’t agree. Content marketing is all about using data to make informed decisions about what content will be of greatest value to your audience, when to deliver it and through what channel. It should be focused and evolve with your business. The only thing ‘traditional’ about content marketing is that, at its core, it’s about storytelling – one of the oldest traditions in human history.
That’s not to say that everyone is knocking it out of the park – far from it. I often see PR ‘thought leadership’ initiatives masquerading as content marketing. It may be ‘storytelling’ but often not backed by data or achieving anything beyond a media ‘hit’. And of course, there’s plenty of bad content out there – or ‘content for content’s sake’.
So, let’s break down what sets the good from the great in content marketing.
1. Content marketing is data driven
Just because content development is a creative skill, doesn’t mean it can’t (or shouldn’t) be data-driven. Content should always add value and be relevant to the readers, but you won’t know what’s relevant without data. Content works best when created in response to data about the topics, questions and keywords that are important to your audience. There are numerous tools available to help you start better understanding your audience, from Google Keyword Planner to solutions for A/B testing and heat maps that reveal what content and services are resonating with (or tripping up) your consumers.
2. Content marketing should reach the consumer where they ‘live’
Too many brands churn out blog posts, add them into a social media calendar and call it a day. But, your customers aren’t waiting around hitting refresh until your next post goes live! And you’re wasting a lot of time and energy if your consumers don’t see your content. Focus on developing customer personas that help you identify the best distribution channels and formats for your content, based on the media that they use at different parts of the buyer journey. Do they listen to podcasts or download the latest ebooks and whitepapers? Do they typically speak to someone in person or use comparison sites before they buy? This information should guide your content marketing strategy.
3. Content marketing isn’t an opportunity for shameless plugs
The CEO of Marketing Interactions, Ardath Albee, says content marketing is, “…the practice of sharing information your target audience will find helpful and valuable with the intention of creating a profitable customer relationship.” Relationship is the key word there. Don’t think of content as a vehicle for shamelessly promoting yourself, your products or services. Content marketing is a long-term strategy for building your brand, enriching your audience members’ lives, and earning trust. (And no, ‘long term’ isn’t a synonym for ‘no business value’. Remember to use data to test how content impacts your key metrics, such as traffic, clicks, conversions, sign-ups etc).
4. Content marketing is consistent(ly good)
When I speak to brands, one of the key challenges they mention is keeping up with content development over time. The idea of adding content creation to you or your team’s existing responsibilities may be a hard sell and I certainly understand the daunting feeling of staring at a blank content calendar or blog post. Consistency is key, especially if your competitor is regularly putting out great articles, so develop (and stick to) a plan that works for your brand. You don’t need to create brand-new content everyday – repurpose, update and reuse content to fill in the gaps. Having a dedicated content specialist will also lighten the load and keep the strategy progressing. What’s most important is that the content is always engaging, relevant and adding value.
Great content marketing isn’t about your brand – it’s about your customer! If you’re helping them learn new skills, gather important information, laugh, grow or connect, then your content is doing its job.