Veteran technology journalist turned B2B marketing advisor and author Paul Gillin was kind enough to answer a few questions about content marketing for us. He does a great job of explaining the basics of content marketing from an executive point of view and exposes some common mistakes that are easy to avoid.
THE vCDO: Every executive today hears about the importance of “content marketing.” What is it?
PAUL GILLIN: In my view, it’s basically publishing. Content marketing is about producing high-quality material that has value for the target audience. The content contains subtle promotions for the entity that produces it, but the overall goal is to establish trust with the reader or viewer that leads to a relationship that leads to a business result.
vCDO: What are some of the biggest mistakes that businesses make in their content marketing programs and how can they be avoided?
PG: Here are five big ones:
Old Wine, New Bottle
This is traditional marketing promotion that is packaged as an article or white paper but which contains little information that’s useful for the reader. The content is created from the standpoint of someone trying to sell rather than someone trying to make a decision.
How to avoid: Hire journalists with relevant domain expertise and instruct them to tackle the topic as if they were writing for a magazine or professional journal. Be sure they know the message you’re trying to get across, but don’t interfere with their mission of advocating for the reader.
Many companies produce a lot of thought leadership content but fail to address critical lower-funnel activities like consideration, research and purchase. I suspect this is because many marketers are uncomfortable with technical details and so concentrate on the big-picture topics that they understand.
How to avoid: Create a content map that’s shaped like a cube, with the three dimensions being stage of the funnel, message and media. You should fill in as many blocks as possible so that you are reaching buyers with useful content at every stage of the decision-making process and in every media they might use.
Buyers are more than just demographic segments. They are influenced by fear, opportunity, peer acceptance, management pressure, desire for recognition, uncertainty and other psychological factors. Content that appeals only to the left side of the brain misses the critical emotional triggers that influence decision-making. For example, one of the reasons IT professionals choose large established vendors over more innovative startups is because they fear making a mistake. Marketers need to understand how their customers think, not just how they reason.
How to avoid: Spend some time interviewing five customers in depth. This can be done at conferences, in focus groups or just over the phone. Ask them what makes them proud, nervous, fulfilled, happy and sad. Learn about them as people, not just prospects.
Hidden from View
Marketers are under constant pressure to generate leads, and this sometimes drives them to invest in content and then hide it where no one can use it. There’s nothing wrong with putting lead-capture forms in front of high-value content, but when everything is hidden from view, then no one knows what they’re missing.
How to avoid: Create rich, search-friendly descriptions outside the firewall that summarize key points and findings. Make lower-value content freely available and move all content out from behind the firewall after a designated period of time, like a year.
The written customer case study has changed little over the last 30 years, and I think that’s unfortunate. We have so many media forms and interaction opportunities available to us these days, so why do we continue to package everything in 1,000-word narratives? Too few marketers think outside the box when creating content.
How to avoid: Start by subscribing to newsletters and websites that highlight innovative marketing ideas. Make a list of the best concepts and apply them to new content you create. Can that buyer’s checklist be packaged as a game? A satirical video? An infographic? A spreadsheet? Exhaust the possibilities of applying new ideas before falling back to the old ones.
vCDO: What are some organizations that do content marketing well that executives should look to for inspiration?
PG: Cisco and Intel have both remade their online press rooms as essentially trade magazines. They’re hiring high-quality journalists to write about topics that are genuinely interesting, not just promotional. Cisco’s roster of contributing writers is impressive.
Also in the B2B realm, look at what Kinaxis does with video to make supply chain software entertaining.
Coca-Cola has transformed its corporate information page into a lifestyle magazine. That company does some amazingly innovative promotions, such as the Friend Machine. Then it uses YouTube to show the results.
Barnes & Noble took advantage of the newspaper industry downturn to create its own online book review magazine. It’s still going strong after six years.
There are many more examples. Those are just a few that come to mind.
vCDO: Can most organizations do content marketing in-house or do they need to outsource to be effective? Is it only for people with big staffs or big budgets?
PG: You can do it in-house if you have the right skills on hand. Ideally, you should have someone with skills in publishing, whether in print or in multimedia. You should also have people who are knowledgeable about how to use social media for promotion, since so-called word-of-mouth marketing is the most valuable form of amplification.
vCDO: What’s more important in content marketing — quantity or quality?
PG: Both are important, since search engines favor websites that are frequently updated. However, if your content is boring, then it doesn’t matter how much search visibility you get. I would say quality is table stakes and quantity is nice if you have the means.