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Content Marketing Conundrum

A recent post by Chief Content Officer Magazine’s Joe Pulizzi was attention-grabbing: “Content Marketing – It’s Going to Get Weird.” The post went on to state that a finding from the publication’s 2016 Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends research cited the effectiveness rate for B2B organizations actually went down (from 38% in 2015 to 30% in 2016.) It went on to state that “this is not good and the worst may be yet to come.”

content_marketing.jpgIs content marketing going to get weird?

Why the dire predictions? Isn’t content still king, or is about to be dethroned?

Pulizzi noted three reasons why marketers are disillusioned with content marketing:

  • A focus on campaigns instead of on-going programs
  • Publishing content that’s brand-focused rather than audience focused
  • Producing content that’s undifferentiated

Reading on, Pulizzi explains, “Those that have a content marketing strategy and continue to execute against it will win.” Whew!

And then, as if the content gods were watching over the B2B landscape, an item appears in the email inbox from SmartBrief:  “Telling a Good Story: Using Content Marketing to Build Your Audience.” It went on to explain that the goal of content marketing is to “build engaged audiences through the information and experiences your members and customers value.” Content that has a high perceived value will break through the clutter and be remembered. But let’s get back to this idea of storytelling.

Thinking about some of the classic stories that have been told to countless children – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, the Three Bears – what these and other stories have in common is they connect on an emotional level. So, how does one leverage storytelling in business? While the audience may be different, the concept is still the same. Storytelling helps connect with a brand’s consumers, colleagues and investors on an emotional level.

Keith Quesenberry, a lecturer at the Center for Leadership Education at John’s Hopkins University, noted that as business marketers, we need to remind ourselves of the power of stories in a business context. “We love stories. PowerPoint ruined that. Bullets are not a story.” He explained that, “everything is a story, but that doesn’t mean that everything is a good story.” Quesenberry compares storytelling to cooking: “Like cooking, effective stories have recipes – or formulas – but they shouldn’t be formulaic. It’s tricky.”

Paul Zak, a professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, notes that “attention is such a scarce resource. You need to grab someone within the first 15 seconds. People have to care about what’s going on; stories need to be of a human scale.”

According to SmartBrief, we live in a culture where people tune into their smartphones on average 221 times a day* which means that making an impression or generating a response with a standard marketing message is all but impossible. The key to grabbing attention is telling a compelling story that will earn your audience’s attention, provide solutions (not sell) for their business needs and get them to share, like and/or tweet your story on social media. It’s all about your audience. Content marketing engages people through information and experiences they value. SmartBrief explains that storytelling “focuses on building a relationship with the customer or member by providing help that translates into longer-term loyalty.”

Now, what about this strategy that Mr. Pulizzi mentions? What are the keys to getting the most from content marketing? Here’s what SmartBrief has to say:

  • Clearly define and document your goals and make sure they align with those of your organization. Also, track your results so you can understand what isn’t working and focus instead on what resonates most with your audience.
  • Document your content strategy. Make sure it covers need, what you hope to accomplish, what the marketing prospects are now and projected prospects are in six months, a year, two years. Provide as many details as possible to help you gain buy-in from the company’s leadership and other stakeholders.
  • Make sure your content is relevant and credible to make it highly valued. Says brand pundit Scott Donaton, “content must provide entertainment, education or utility.” To do this, understand your audience and know what it values, including preferred news sources and media channels. Also, position your organization as an expert worth paying attention to by showing the role your products or services play in the lives of your customers or members.
  • Create highly shareable content by keeping it brief, using links back to your website, using easy-to-grasp visuals and running polls that provoke response and instantly display results.
  • Make sure your content looks good on a variety of mobile devices.
  • Market your content through multiple channels.

Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and the Three Bears are all memorable characters. Tell stories that help your audience remember you by understanding what they care about, identifying where your business aligns with their issues, and providing practical approaches to educate, engage and entertain.

*Tecmark Survey – Smartphone Habits, 2014