Content marketing is benefiting from fundamental shifts in technology and customer behavior, but still faces measurement challenges, according to multiple presentations at the Content Marketing Institute's Content Marketing World expo and conference, held this month in Columbus, Ohio.
Inexorable trends are putting pressure on marketing overall, said Mitch Joel, president of marketing consultancy Twist Image, in a keynote address. He cited the rise of social media, inbound marketing and softer, educational approaches to sales nurturing as disrupting to marketing tactics.
Content marketing is “particularly primed” to take advantage of these trends, Joel said, but it must solve the “relationship” challenge to realize its full potential.
“Marketers have to figure out how to create relevant marketing in a world where you're in direct competition with so many others,” said Joel, author of “Six Pixels of Separation” (Business Plus, 2010). “What are you doing to tell a better brand narrative?”
Joel cited major trends that enable successful content marketing, including needing to help prospects and customers solve problems and having the opportunity to deliver messages across multiple screens. Most important of all is the power of direct relationships, he said.
“You have to give people a reason to connect with you,” Joel said. “It's not about just recreating a press release for a blog post.”
Greater portions of marketing budgets are being devoted to content creation and distribution, according to a new study by the Content Marketing Institute. According to the report (based on an online survey of 2,400 marketers in August), marketers on average are devoting 31% of their budgets to content marketing, up from 26% reported in a similar survey last year.
Fifty-four percent of the marketers polled said they planned to increase their content marketing budgets over the next 12 months, while only 2% said they planned to cut them.
The study also found significant discontent among marketers, as just 36% of respondents said their content marketing is effective.
According to the CMI survey, respondents' most-used content tactic is social media, followed by their website, email newsletters and videos. However, assessments of the most-effective content delivery system are vastly different. Here marketers listed, in order: in-person events, case studies, videos, webinars, blogs, research reports, e-books and white papers.
Social media, despite being the most-used type of marketing content, was deemed the least-effective tactic by respondents to the CMI study.
Effective content marketing requires rigorous strategic planning and measurement rather than gut assessments, said Content Marketing World presenter Jay Baer, CEO of content and social marketing company Convince & Convert.
“Know why you make content,” Baer said. “More content is being created, but does it equal more success or just more noise? Remember that content helps achieve business objectives, not content objectives.”
Baer laid out four different categories of content metrics: volume of consumption; degree of content sharing; whether the content produces leads; and the sales generated by specific content.
Marketer's unhappiness with the effectiveness of social content distribution, despite it being their No. 1 content tactic, may be because they're asking it to be a gauge for more than it is equipped to measure, Baer said.
Instead, he said, marketers should use email subscriptions and blogs to assess content's lead-generation capabilities; special offers available only via the content to gauge sales results; and repeat website visits and interactive behavior to assess the effectiveness of marketing-content consumption.
The implication: There may be too much emphasis on social media as an all-purpose content marketing tactic. Appropriate metrics would correct this, Baer said.
Panelist Rachel Foster, CEO of content development company Fresh Perspective, urged marketers to concentrate on developing content tailored to the early, middle and late stages of a prospect's buying cycle and to focus on solutions for specific audiences.
“Stop selling and start helping,” Foster said. “That's the essence of what content marketing is all about. And pay attention to people beyond the ultimate user of your product or service, including procurement and the C-suite. The number of b2b decision-makers can get as high as seven to 10 people, all involved in the buying process. At some point, you have to answer each of their questions in your content.”
The crafting of marketing content also was the focus of panelist Ardath Albee, CEO of content consultancy Marketing Interactions. She agreed that problem-solving is at the core of effective content.
“If content isn't creating activity to solve a problem or customer pain point, it isn't doing what it needs to do,” Albee said. She said this can be accomplished by establishing the company's position statement and developing solutions surrounding that statement aimed at various customer personas.
Albee cited major content mistakes that marketers make, including talking too much about their own company, distributing content across the wrong channels and not addressing troubles their customers are having.
“Your company's distinct value drives your content themes,” she said. “That allows for a pivot for all your offerings.”