I’m amazed at the silos in some organisations. I frequently encounter processes whose individual components operate in isolation with different owners each with their own interests. This situation is usually caused when management fail to set proper KPIs for the people concerned. When this happens employees can find they are incentivised to pursue objectives that are in the interests of neither the broader process, nor the organisation. Processes like this not only waste time, money and effort, but create a vulnerability for the organisation.

Nowhere are these schisms more obvious than in content marketing. I spent months recently, putting together a content marketing team for one of my clients and was amazed at the perspective held by the candidates I interviewed for the positions. The low skill levels I encountered aside, few of my interviewees understood how content marketing works in the broader business context. They were focussed exclusively on their roles as writers, producers, camera operators, SEO experts, designers or any other the other myriad of disciplines that go into a content strategy. No wonder so few content marketing strategies work. In fact recent research revealed that, as few as 9% of content marketing programmes are performing. However, this needn’t be the case.

In fact, there is no reason why, content marketing won’t generate three times the result at a third of the cost of other forms of advertising, just as enthusiasts claim,, but it is definitely not just a case of posting articles. It’s not even about using SEO to chose your words carefully, nor even using PPC to generate readers.

Content marketing is a process that starts with your brand promise and doesn’t even end when a qualified lead landing in your in-box, so when you plan your strategy you have to keep the entire AtoZ in view.

You also need to understand your customers’ journey. Different people with differing needs and circumstances will arrive at your door from different directions and you need to be familiar with all these routes. Create audience segments based on personas and define their needs and motivations – what Google calls “moments”, then plot their journeys.

Start by asking yourself what information they will need at each landmark along their path. That will dictate the main subjects for your content. Remember, this is relationship building. Your objective is to position yourself as the vendor of choice when your prospect is ready to make their purchase and that means convincing them you are authoritative and trustworthy, so approach every piece of content with that thought in mind and be sure to reflect your brand promise every time.

The readers and viewers of your content don’t turn up by magic and SEO alone isn’t going to bring them in the numbers you’ll need. You’ll have to advertise and social media is a good place to start, but aim to capture the contact details of everyone you connect with so that you can start to develop an e-mail or direct marketing programme. I’ve done this in a number of ways in the past, but one of the most successful was a benefit club I created for a specialist retailer. This attracted as much as 60% sign-up at one point and gave us a mailing list of fifty thousand in a matter of days. Alternatively a download often hits the mark, but it has to be something of value. Either way to get figures like this you have to apply some effort. Once you have subscribers though, you have an important vehicle for staying in touch with all your prospects and that’s the key to building the relationships you need.

Ultimately though, your objective is sales, either leads dropping into your in-tray or, if you are running e-commerce, on-line. If you build all your assets on the same digital platform you will be able to monitor how your prospects behave as they progress towards being customers. This will give you the opportunity to add contact points or change the way you deal with them. You’ll be able to spot where the fall-out happens and work on tactics to circumvent this. It will also prompt you to divide your audience segments into smaller, more tightly-defined groups to more precisely tailor content to. You may start with just a handful of defined audience segments, but could expand that literally to hundreds, each treated in a different way. Of course, this isn’t as demanding as it sounds because pretty well all of the interaction will be automated. It’s a digital world after all!

Content will come into play at every stage so prospect behaviour and needs will dictate your content brief. You need to focus on reducing prospect fall-out at each point of contact. It’s a bit like painting the Forth Bridge – it’s a never-ending process of constant refinement.

It’s also important to remember that this doesn’t stop when you make your first sale. In fact, maintaining the relationships you have invested heavily in is more important that nurturing new ones. It has been estimated that it costs ten times as much to attract a new customer than to sell again to an existing one and it usually takes more than one sale to recoup the investment you have made in a customer. You should constantly monitor your relationships with customers to determine their lifetime, their value and their cost. You’ll soon discover ways to influence their behaviour and how to ensure they find their way to your content.

Good content isn’t cheap to produce, so, to fail to get full value from it is both wasteful and inefficient. Inefficiency has never been a good idea, but in the digital age it’s the primary determinant of business success or failure so the stakes are high. I’m a great fan of content marketing, but if you don’t address the entire process you might be better off doing nothing.

Phil Darby
September 5, 2018

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