If you pay attention to marketing trends, you know that content marketing is H-O-T. Blogs, websites and thought leadership articles galore are devoted to the whys, how-tos, formats and best practices of growing a brand’s reputation and business via this tactic.
(One of the easiest-to-understand explanations I’ve come across is “Content Marketing 101: How to Build Your Business with Content” on Brian Clark’s Copyblogger website.)
While I’m a fan of using content as a business engagement strategy (it is, after all, a service I provide to businesses), I advise clients who ask me to randomly start spitting out white papers, blogs, slideshows, e-books, and other bits and pieces of content to slow down and take a deep breath before turning into a lemming and jumping off the content marketing cliff.
The answer is simple: A rush to develop and distribute content to simply check the content marketing box has the potential to take a huge toll on your wallet, your time and, most importantly, your credibility.
Open Up the Wallet
Unless your organization has a bevy of wordsmiths sitting around twiddling their thumbs, you’re going to need external help to produce the steady stream of content required for a successful content marketing program. To get good, well-written content (see “Protect Your Credibility” below), you need a business writing specialist who understands your industry, goals and audiences. Chances are neither the engineering dude one floor below who fancies himself a writer nor the best-seller wannabe who is friends with Aunt Bea has the skills you need. So be prepared to pull out the checkbook — repeatedly — and to find someone who has the inclination to help you figure out the best way to allocate your resources. (Check out “Save Money and Time with Content Pre-Planning” for an idea or two.)
Dedicate Enough Time
Reaping the rewards of a content marketing program requires an investment of time beyond a quarterly 10-minute brainstorming session. If you want a content strategy to work, allocate time to:
- Set goals – If you don’t know what you hope to accomplish, how do you know what sort of content to produce?
- Conduct research – You’ll need to audit and assess audience needs and expectations; the availability, suitability and success of existing content; SEO; distribution channels; competitors; and more.
- Develop a content strategy – Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson) wrote in “The Discipline of Content Strategy” that “content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” Sounds big because it is big. And the process takes time because you have to apply the knowledge you’ve acquired from your research and put it up against your goals before you can build a comprehensive plan that includes everything from content lifecycle and editorial focus to ownership responsibilities and internal processes.
- Develop (or manage the development of) content — Even if you get past the pocketbook challenges that come with developing good content, you’ll still need to devote time to determining topics, managing writers and internal approval processes, and more.
- Distribute content – Often a newly launched content marketing initiative requires evaluating, updating and establishing new distribution channels. Does your website need to be updated to provide a logical place for your audience to find content? Do you need to establish Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media profiles?
- Engage with communities – Think you can skip this part? Not in today’s world where developing direct connections between a business, its stakeholders and industry influencers is one of the most effective methods of elevating a brand above the growing digital noise.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of your program — I think Andrew Hanelly (@hanelly) in “The Only 5 Content Marketing Metrics that Matter” said it best when he wrote that lack of measurement means our “daily efforts will lack clarity, be misguided, and maybe – in some unfortunate scenarios – just be plain worthless.” I think we can all agree that putting an evaluation program in place is the best way to determine if a content marketing strategy is actually supports business goals and is worth the money and time devoted to it.
Protect Your Credibility
If you don’t take the time to work through a true content strategy and if you don’t pony up the bucks or people needed to product of good content, you risk distributing conflicting messages, spreading inaccurate information and not making good on promises to deliver regular info to your stakeholders. Bottom line: If you’re not smart about what, when and where you publish, you may end up looking like an idiot in the eyes of those you’re hoping to impress the most.
What’s a Business to Do?
Am I suggesting that a business abandon its strategy to use content marketing? Nope, not at all. Leveraging content as a means to grow a business is being talked about by lots of folks because it is a solid marketing approach that all businesses — new and established — must embrace moving forward if they are to remain visible in an online world that begs for differentiation. What I am suggesting is that you go into it with your eyes wide open instead of blindly following the crowd.