Unfortunately failure to launch isn't limited to space travel; it happens all the time in the realm of content marketing. Plenty of companies undertake ambitious content marketing programs, only to abandon them before they ever launch, or soon after they begin.
In its B2B Content Marketing Report on 2015 Benchmarks,Budgets and Trends, the Content Marketing Institute identified the key challenges that content marketers face. They identified a wide variety of obstacles, from producing engaging content (#1) to technology-related challenges. Clearly this content marketing thing isn't always a cakewalk. B2C marketers reported many of the same challenges.
While plenty of things can go wrong with a content marketing plan, most failures can be traced back to a handful of underlying causes:
- An oversimplified understanding of content marketing. Many novice content marketers presume that content marketing will have simple, immediate and profitable results. This mindset primes you to fail before you ever start.
- A lack of structure and strategy. Without a plan, a content marketing campaign can (and often does) quickly go off the rails. While it's possible to do without a documented strategy, you're setting yourself up to fail.
- An onerous content creation and approval process. Content marketing does require time and resources. But if your internal process has too many layers, you'll likely get mired in the process before you ever even publish your first blog post.
- A failure to produce engaging content. Content marketing isn't about blasting your message across every online channel you can find. If you never consider your audience and what they'll find engaging, your content marketing is bound to flop.
You can avoid these pitfalls by grasping the philosophy of content marketing, providing structure to your strategy, streamlining the content curation process and consistently engaging with your audience. Check out these step-by-step directions for addressing each of these concepts.
1. Understand the philosophy of content marketing.
You're not just producing content. You're delving into a new craft.
The term "content" is a generic one — and necessarily so, because it refers to a broad set of items: blog posts, emails, videos, infographics, Facebook posts, case studies, etc. But each of these items requires thought, effort and even artistry. After all, every bit of content is carefully built from words and images.
Keeping this in mind will give you a different perspective on how you approach and invest in content marketing. Effective content marketing is not something that "anybody can do." It takes skill and intention. And it's worth taking the time and money to get the absolute best content you can.
This isn't the Field of Dreams.
You've heard the adage, "If you build it, they will come." But look in the mirror. You're probably not Kevin Costner (le sigh). And simply put, that "Field of Dreams" mentality simply isn't applicable to content marketing. Only about 0.1% of content goes viral without an active community already behind it. It takes time to reap the benefits of a content marketing campaign. But all too often, companies undertake content marketing, only to give up when they don't see immediate results.
Think of your content marketing in terms of compound interest. At first, you probably won't see much action. But over time you'll gain momentum, and that success will build upon itself.
Consider one metric that marketers often use to measure success: website traffic. Google's algorithms reward sites that get more traffic, because higher traffic indicates authority. Traffic begets more traffic, in a sort of self-perpetuating cycle.
Content marketing is about nurturing relationships.
Every time you hit "publish," you're inviting people to engage with your company. All too often, marketers forget that engagement should be two-way, with the intention of building a relationship with your audience. If you're truly listening to your audience, it will manifest in your content marketing. For example, your content won't be all about you. In fact, it will be all about your audience because your content will revolve around answering their questions and helping them overcome their challenges.
Moreover if you keep relationships at the center of your content marketing, your strategy will necessarily revolve around the types of content your audience prefers, delivered through their preferred platforms. If your customers don't hang out on Facebook, but they love LinkedIn, for instance, it makes more sense to connect via LinkedIn. But you'd only figure that out by listening and exploring, with an eye toward building value and trust.
2. Give structure to your content marketing strategy.
Start with buyer personas.
Who is your customer, anyway? Before you decide what to write or create, you need to know exactly whom you're creating for. You probably already have a great idea of how, when and why your customers use your product. But where do they prefer to get their news? How do they spend their free time? While these tidbits don't seem directly relevant to selling them something, they are relevant to creating a terrific experience for your audience.
Before you do anything else, sit down and build your buyer personas. Your goal is to sketch each persona's background, interests and motivations, so that you can better tailour your content to that persona's needs. Ultimately this step will help you attract more qualified leads and give you a concrete underpinning for your content marketing strategy.
Do your keyword research.
What if you created terrific content, but no one could find it? The best way to keep this from happening: Do your keyword research, and use it appropriately to guide your content marketing efforts. Remember that you might use different keywords to describe your product than your customers would, so again, tap into conversations that are already happening online. Identify the keywords they use, and begin your keyword research with those terms.
Focus on long-tail keywords, which can confer a few advantages. First, there's generally less competition for these longer, less common keyword phrases. And secondly, people who use long-tail keywords generally have a more specific idea of what they're looking for, which may indicate that they are further along in the buying cycle.
Develop and document your strategy.
It should come as no surprise that having a clear, written strategy correlates with content marketing success. According to the Content Marketing Institute, marketers who have a documented content strategy and follow it closely are 35% more likely to succeed than those who don't follow a strategy closely or have one at all.
With your buyer personas and keyword research, you're well prepared to develop a sound, thoughtful strategy and editorial calendar. Your strategy should outline which platforms you'll use, frequency of publication and topics you'll tackle. Shoot for a comprehensive overview of your goals and how you'll accomplish them. Then use your editorial calendar to get more granular, with a schedule of offers, emails and blog posts.
3. Streamline the content development process.
Integrate your teams.
Effective marketing doesn't happen in a vacuum. Its foundation is expertise and insight from individuals across an organization. While it's common for marketing and PR teams to interact on a regular basis, other departments might have little interaction or involvement in the process. But it's beneficial to break down these silos, because people in every department can contribute to your content marketing. A few examples:
- Your sales team will know what kinds of questions and reservations prospects have during the sales process.
- Your customer service staff can tell you what issues and problems they hear about most frequently.
- The product development team can provide ideas on novel ways to use your product or service.
Include everyone in the process, especially early on. That way everyone will understand your vision and have an opportunity to contribute.
Make approvals manageable.
Your content approval process plays a vital role in your ability to manage content marketing effectively. Consider these statistics from Kapost:
- 52% of B2B firms often miss deadlines because of approval delays, collaboration or "general chaos" in their content production process.
- 90% of B2B firms grapple with creating redundant content for different platforms.
- Among mid-size to large B2B firms, about $0.25 of every dollar is wasted because of inefficiencies in the content management process.
As you define responsibilities for content marketing, strive to keep the process as simple as possible. If your organization has a more intense approval process (often unavoidable in health care, for instance), build that into deadlines. You'll need plenty of lead time. Meanwhile, it's also important to clarify expectations and ensure that your organization has the bandwidth for the content marketing program you'd like to implement.
Put your analytics to work.
Data from HubSpot indicates that inbound marketers who measure their ROI are twelve times more likely to generate year-over-year return. That alone should be sufficient incentive to keep your data in mind as you move forward with content marketing.
But data-driven content marketing campaigns are also easier to run and manage, because the numbers often make decisions for you; numbers tell you exactly which content performs the best, so that you can replicate that success over and over again.
Conversely, your analytics can also tell you what not to do. If you see that you never get any traffic from a specific keyword, maybe it's time to focus on a different keyword that performs better. And if you're not getting any click-throughs from Pinterest, perhaps you could better spend that time writing a few more blog posts each month.
4. Engage your audience.
Choose the right channels and formats.
Your analytics will provide insight on which content performs best for your company. But what if you don't have any analytics yet? Then you'll need to do some research. Figure out where your clients and prospects like to hang out online, and pay attention to the types of content they choose to consume and share there. If you're unsure where to start, ask a few of your loyal customers for insight. They'll likely be happy to tell you exactly what kind of content they use already, and what kind of content they'd like to see from your company.
Don't be afraid to try a few different formats and platforms to identify what works best. And keep in mind that people will engage with your content based not only on their personas, but also on their stage in the buying cycle. Be sure to offer a variety of content tailored for each persona, at each stage of the cycle.
Include images and video.
Placing an image at the top of a blog post significantly decreases bounce rate, while landing pages with videos often enjoy much higher conversion rates. People love images. Moreover, meaningful images and video can break up long blocks of text and make your content more readable. And let's not forget that properly optimized photos and videos can give your SEO a boost.
It's easy to think of calls to action (CTA's) as sales tools. But they're more than that; they're an invitation to your visitor to engage with you further, to build a relationship with you. Every CTA you ask visitors to complete should offer concrete, easily apparent value.
Be sure to follow up with visitors who engage in a way that requires them to share contact information. Ideally, these visitors will immediately receive an automated email, thanking them for their engagement and outlining next steps for getting to know your company even better. These visitors have now become leads, and they're opting into communication with you. Give them what they want!