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Seven Ugly Truths About Content Marketing

Editor's Note: Today's post comes courtesy of Rachel Metscher, the director of content marketing at ICF Internationa, where she's responsible helping her clients create content that adds value, maximizes results, and contributes to the conversation. Rachel has developed successful content marketing programs for B2B companies including The Princeton Review and Fannie Mae.You can read her musings on PR, social media, and content marketing on her blog, Metscher’s Musings.

In a recent content marketing report, 93% of B2B marketers say they are using content marketing this year in their efforts. The plethora of online content is astounding on the topic; more than 1 billion search results appear.

That’s right: 1 billion results.

But, among the 1 billion search results, I haven’t found much in marketers sharing the growing pains. Here are seven ugly truths about content marketing.

Ugly Truth #1: Everyone wants to create content, but no one wants to discuss promotion and distribution

In today’s crowded digital world, assigning no distribution or promotion plan is a fool proof way to make sure your content will not be viewed. The old model of “one and done” is over.

I had an amazing, but stunning conversation recently that illustrate this perfectly. I shared an advance content budget for paid and native advertising with a client and was met with resistance off the bat. His response, “Why would we do that? We could use that money for a conference.”

Shocking response? No. I countered with addressing the great benefit of digital and paid content, “While the conference might be worth wild, you may only reach maybe 50-75 people at one time for an hour. Online, I can reach 5X to 10X more people, twenty-four hours a day. While you are sleep, your content is seen in other parts of the world that far exceed the face-to-face conference.”

Paid search and native advertising (sponsored content) gets the shaft because simply your executives and experts are not sure how it works.

Ugly Truth #2: Many folks in your organization already create content without a strategy

Fun fact: 70% of marketers say they lack a consistent or integrated content strategy, despite the fact that 82% of content marketers see positive ROI for their inbound marketing.

My role is to wrangle my content creators together so we can “pull on the same string.” Unifying your strategy is important not only for content marketing sake, but also for all the areas your content will be distributed: website, campaigns, annual conferences, social media, and public relations effort.

Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, describes content strategy as “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”  

My documented strategy: what we plan to create that is approved by all involved, when it is to be delivered, how we plan to use it and repurpose, and what channels will it be distributed. Success metrics are defined by the team and reported on a monthly basis.

Ugly Truth #3: Many folks create content they want to publish not what the customer needs.

In my opinion this is the ugliest truth of all. In my former PR role, I had the luxury of driving what content was created because my stakeholders (editors and reporters) drove what content they want. Why? They knew what the reader wanted or what is most interesting to them.

 As a content marketer working with highly specialized experts, I run into what a call “academic professor syndrome.” This syndrome of sharing information only the professor is interested in rather than the audience reappears often in my work to create content for the market.

Make sure your customer has a seat at the table by validating the content idea with research. I use the following to questions to guide this conversation:

  1. Review the number of Google searches it appears in
  2. Research in trades and national news
  3. Perform  a small number of searches on social media: Linkedin and Twitter
  4. See  what others are writing about on the contra of that idea

What your expert think is “cool” maybe better position for a blog, but not much else that takes more resources and time to write.

Ugly Truth #4: Your content is created in a silo

I recently met with an executive that adeptly identified that no one was really thinking about the big picture. Why? Most of your content writers are focused on their specific piece and not its greater impact. When you create content for your audience, you no longer think is silos. You try to build content that can be used and written across the company, not just the division.

How can you combat content silos? Create a company-wide editorial calendar. This is not an easy achievement as several of your “silos” will lament how this cannot be done since their business is “different.” Step back and ask four questions:

  • Is this content coherent with a bigger strategy or a one-off?
  • Will this piece be of value or is it noise?
  • Is this a topic of interest to our audience or do we (being the marketing team) want to push a specific message or campaign?
  • Does this tell a brand story?

You can start breaking down silos once you realize there is a broader story to tell.

Ugly Truth #5: Your content is probably one and done

This goes back to Ugly Truth #1. Organizations need to accept that in order to compete in a crowded marketplace, you need to put dollars behind your content. Jay Bear said it best, “Companies need to market their marketing. You have to consider that when you’re attempting to break through the enormous amount of digital clutter, it’s where social media and content really work together. “

Perhaps it is time to put some paid media behind your content effort. Think about your audience. Start researching what social media channels they engage in. In addition to paid media, another alternative is to use public relations to gain earn media.

I believe earned media is the new media for modern marketers: PR folks are now working on placement not only with reporter from national or regional publications, but also bloggers, Twitter influencers, and other new media targets. Want to amplify your content, puts some PR muscle behind it.

Ugly Truth #6: Interesting content needs to have a call to action. Interesting on its own isn’t enough

Probably one of the most challenging truths to convey to contributors. A lot of times when I discuss the call to action (CTA), I am often met with resistance. In fact one stakeholder shared the following, “Isn’t it obvious that our thought leadership speaks for itself?”

Pawan Deshpande wrote a poignant post why CTAs are important, “Without a call-to-action, content marketing efforts amount to little more than writing exercises. It’s not enough to publish useful information; you want readers to engage with you and take an action that will provide value for your business.

Ugly Truth #7: Few marketers evaluate the performance of the content

If you want more money, you will need to your program is worth the time, resources, and money.

So where to start? First and foremost see how your content is performing on your site and social platforms. Are folks sharing or downloading the content? Has the media picked up the report?

Check out some benchmarks on content marketing strategies. Eloqua and Lookbook HQ published the report: Eloqua Community: The State of Content Marketing 2014, which provides some perspective on metrics and measuring performance.

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