It’s Time Marketers Rethink Their Commitment to Content

By using their time and energy wisely

Eighty-six percent of B-to-C marketers in a recent study say they will be including content marketing in their budgets this year. That makes plenty of sense because it's no secret that as consumer attention scatters across channels, devices, times and places, simply hammering people over the head with paid advertising is becoming harder to do.

Adam Kleinberg

The word "content" means something is more than an ad. Content implies value—perhaps utility, education, empowerment or entertainment. Regardless, content is powerful for brands because a value exchange is at play.

The more value brands put in, the more value they get out—in currencies of attention, intention, loyalty, and ultimately, sales.

Of course, content has very little value if it sucks. In fact, if your content marketing is lousy, it can actually hurt your brand.

Doing content marketing well requires commitment on many levels. The same Content Marketing Institute (CMI) study mentioned above shows that 90 percent of the organizations deemed "most successful" were characterized as "extremely committed" to content marketing. That's compared to 37 percent of such commitment from organizations classified as "least successful."

"We're committed," you might be saying, "We've allocated budget and a team to getting this done."

Good on you. However, there are a number of dimensions of commitment that need to be attained to maintain a content marketing operation that delivers high value for your customers and your brand.

Commitment to Insight
It is trite to say, "quality matters," but what kind of content actually is good content? Too often the output of content marketing programs is a fire hose of crap across every imaginable channel that people don't actually want.

To create something people want, you need to invest time and effort to understand them. Maybe you achieve this through traditional research methods. Maybe with digital tools that mine trends in search or social. If you don't have insight, you're likely to flop.

Traction, the agency I run, creates content for Lenovo for an IT audience buying computers and servers en masse. When we talked to customers, we learned that IT guys loved to tell war stories about the users they serve in their jobs. Content like a music video of IT guys rapping about users helped Lenovo's engagement metrics with content soar by nearly 400 percent over previous benchmarks.

This even holds true if your content is something simple like recipes. You can settle for playing an SEO game, or you can use insight to give people a reason to seek out your recipes over the deluge of others out there competing for the same keywords.

Last Thanksgiving, I went to Weber's website—like I do every year at that time. Google has 154,000 results for the phrase "BBQ turkey," but I go to Weber every year because they understand that I'm not messing around when it comes to my bird. Their recipes tell me the exact number of coals I need to add every hour to cook my bird using the indirect grilling method.

They get my needs, so they get my attention.

Commitment to Patience
One of the overwhelming responses in the CMI study was that only half of respondents felt that they were given enough time by executive leadership to produce content marketing results. This is a symptom of a larger problem where intense pressure for short-term ROI on every marketing dollar has created far too great a focus on "digital" as a direct-response channel.

Banner ads, for example, are better at driving awareness than sales, but are primarily used by marketers for the latter because you can't put a tracking pixel on your customer's brain to measure awareness. "Content" is perceived as "digital," so it must be a revenue-driver too, the thinking goes.

Good CMOs, however, know that long-term brand building creates equity. Good CMOs are also good at helping CEOs understand why they are doing what they are doing. Often, meaningful results take time to deliver. If you're not committed to accepting that fact, you run the risk of driving results that are not meaningful.

Commitment to Working Differently
Agencies are fond of saying that the work would be faster, cheaper and better if it weren't for clients.

This is not because clients are bad people. It's simply because the traditional back-and-forth process of getting ideas developed, presented, refined, re-presented, refined again, approved, produced, tested and then finally launched is time-consuming and expensive. Clients and their partners need to be committed to embracing processes to get great work out the door without noodling it to death.

Mike Trigg, COO at creative collaboration vendor Hightail, hit the nail on the head when he said, "I'm always amazed at marketing organizations that spend thousands of dollars on agencies to produce content and thousands more to distribute that content, yet don't have any system in place to get that content through the creative process efficiently. Without a simple, unified solution for creative review and approval, your content will be weak, your results will be lackluster, and your creative team will get burnt out."

Commitment to Activation
Many marketers have been seduced by this "brands have to be publishers" mentality and choose quantity over quality when it comes to content. As a result their process winds up looking something like: produce, spray, pray, repeat.

If your conversation begins with, "I need a piece of content for ___," you're probably doing it wrong. What does your customer need?

Instead of just creating a flood of assets, do less stuff better and invest more time in thinking through how to activate that content. Just publishing for the sake of publishing isn't enough. What a marketing tragedy it is when a great piece of content fails to make an impact because it wasn't activated thoughtfully!

Don't make that mistake. Less can be more.

Abe Lincoln once wrote, "… your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing." Commitment matters. A lot.

Just make sure you are committed to the right things.

Adam Kleinberg (twitter: @adamkleinberg) is CEO of Traction, a digital agency based in San Francisco.