How to Approach Content Marketing
What is more critical, timeliness and quantity or relevancy and quality?
All four are essential, but all things are not made equal.
It is far more critical to focus on relevancy and quality before you even consider timeliness and quantity. It’s called substance, and we’ve got very little of it.
Now, if you are a proponent of agile testing and old school SEO, you’ve probably shut me out but don’t!
Substance seems to be the missing element of the vast majority of content curated digitally. It’s as if we’ve stopped caring about quality and relevancy because digital content production is a low-cost inbound marketing tactic in the digital space; an absolute contrast to that of any print publication striving for the exact opposite and trying to survive.
We’re the reason we have 10-second attention spans. It’s because we’ve put so much irrelevant content into our digital ecosystem; yet, we’re still surprised when our bounce rate is over 60%, our time on site is less than 30 seconds, and we’re scratching our heads asking “Why don’t people want to read about our banana bread recipes when we are selling office supplies?”.
It’s rhetorical. The most significant content marketing error made is focusing on writing.
I wrote about strategy in Identifying Opportunities in SEO, and once again, we’re going to find ourselves smack dab in changing our mental models about content marketing and focusing on creating relevant, quality content with a purpose. Timeliness and quantity are post-success strategies.
First, we need a fictitious business as an example; let us call the organization Wanderture. They sell adventure travel online, mainly through a mobile app that allows users to set preferences and get a curated basket of options just for them, as well as for groups of people whether friends or family.
You’re the new content marketer, where do you begin?
If you start by writing an article about adventure travel, you’ve failed Wanderture and me, and you’ve made the biggest mistake of content marketing, and that’s focusing on writing.
You need to stop yourself from executing and spend more time thinking strategically; you need to find a nugget of inspiration, a sliver of opportunity, a chance that you can surprise and delight a customer, if only for a moment. Once you have that, turn it into content.
Now you should be thinking about the customers you have, and the customers you want.
What questions are they asking? What concerns do they have? What problems do you help them solve?
Talk to your customers, understand them.
Next get off your chair, walk to the customer success team and dive deeper, go to the sales team and do the same, go to the product team, triangulate the internal voices into a stream of consciousness. Are you who you think you are? Is the customer voice matching the company voice?
Congratulations, you now have a clear understanding of your customer needs and wants, and the value proposition of your organization; you may hit a roadblock during this process and discover that there isn’t alignment. Don’t jump to conclusions, take all of the information first and take notes, you don’t want to go down a rabbit hole without a clear picture, no one enjoys being wrong without a proposed solution.
Time to circle back to your team.
Now, find out from the marketing team who your voice is, talk to them about the brand, get a feeling for the character or the persona. Are you jovial and fancy or are you stern and precise? Yes, I went with fancy.
In the Wanderture example, you’re most likely upbeat, humorous, family-oriented, and adventurous, take these words and paint a picture in your mind for how this should sound and what will resonate with the customer according to your team, if provided with the information in a style guide you may have a pre-determined voice.
Next, where does your customer live? Where do they hang out? Are they in an obscure corner of the internet? Do they associate with specific brands and content? Do they live in certain cities? You’ve got to get as much information as possible, through your team or as you progress in your role. You need to know who your customer profile is, or more commonly, your target audience. If you’ve got a CRM (🙏), get the keys and start poking around.
Identify segments with commonalities between demographics, psychographics, and behavioral data, the more understanding, the better you can craft content.
Now you’ve got some insight, you’ve got some mental heft to work into something phenomenal, but you’re not even close to creating.
Take all of your qualitative notes, and let it percolate. If you didn’t take notes, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go back to the top of this article and try again. Next, you’re diving into quantitative data.
Do you have content that’s already been launched? If you do, you’re going to want to dive into the analytics. If not, skip ahead. You’re looking for insights, direction, use the data as a compass towards success.
Let’s say Wanderture has a blog, and a few articles submitted to outside publications, you’re going to be requesting analytics or digging into the analytics on your own.
First, analyze the top performing articles and consume all of the following metrics to identify any patterns:
- Length/Reading Time
- Reading Difficulty
- Bounce Rate
- Time on Page
- New/Returning Users
- Heatmap/Click Map
- Conversions/Goals (Is it even setup!?)
Analyze as much as you can extract value. Take metrics that answer questions you have, as in “What cities are we gaining the most traction?”, “Why is that city interested in this particular article?”, don’t be ashamed of not having a question and discovering both an answer and question when in the data.
As a quick caveat, don’t assume correlation is causation; especially in marketing. What works today is nothing more than a relic tomorrow and potential brilliance in the future. If you’ve entered analysis paralysis, it’s a good time to stop.
Now, go to the blog article pages and look at the user interface and user experience of the pages, understand both the style and form and how a customer currently interacts with that content, attempting to marry the two.
No rule says you can’t provide quantitative or qualitative feedback to the team responsible for either the user interface or experience; furthermore, you can’t assume that the success or lack thereof of the content is based on the actual content, or on the interface and vice-versa.
During this investigative period, it would not be uncommon to write down considerations for multi-variant testing and considering tools such as Optimizely or other.
The most critical outcome during this period is identifying a baseline to benchmark progression which is especially vital with quantitative data.
Stop and ask yourself: “What do I know now?”
The short answer: a lot!
You should now understand your customer both directly and through your companies eyes, as well as the brand and voice which are all invaluable qualitative insights.
You should have a data dashboard with an analysis of existing content, a baseline for progression and A/B testing and a guideline for concepts that could potentially drive UI/UX adjustments in the future.
How much content have you created?
Zero. Nill. Nada.
You’ve effectively avoided the biggest mistake of content marketing: writing!
Instead, you’ve opted for thinking, understanding, which leads to purpose. It’s the difference between adding value and doing work.
Your work is only getting started.
Now that you have understanding, you’re going to want to begin extracting opportunities and assembling a content calendar; it should be 2/3 structured evergreen and 1/3 timely, create your own recipe pending product/service.
You’re identifying topics of interest to select demographics marrying quantitive and qualitative data together. If you’ve got an SEO, you’re also looking to write the answers to the questions people are asking when they arrive at your website.
As an example, Wanderture has a target audience of 25– 37-year-old couples that are affluent, that enjoy the outdoors, coffee, online subscriptions (Spotify, Netflix and Audible), and live outside urban centers.
You’re going to attempt at defining topics of interest that relate to that target audience which supports the product, and business objectives while still retaining high quality and relevancy.
If you’re stuck here, that’s fine. It’s going to take time to adjust your mental models.
First, eliminate the structure of what content is, it doesn’t have to be an article or text. You need to destroy that mental model immediately, content isn’t a vehicle, it’s content. The delivery mechanism is separate, so focus on planning out the substance of the material first, which will lead you to define the appropriate vehicle for the content. I believe this is a critical step for a content marketer in crushing how to approach content.
Second, zoom out! Focus on the macro; it’s too early to take a microscope to plan your entire content strategy, it’s a direct line to overwhelming your thinking. Begin by focusing on topics and set up a simple structure such as the following to record the concepts:
- Topic Name
- Supporting Information
Third, get feedback as you go. All roles are best when collaborative, and receiving pointed input on pointed requests for such is an excellent grounding, but don’t let anyone railroad the effort you’ve applied to think, even your superiors. It is a straightforward equation you can provide to anyone, and you phrase it as follows:
“We’ve got two options: I can start executing today and spend my time negatively impacting our brands first impression, and driving potential customers away which is money lost internally and externally; alternatively, I can build a content engine which is going to create value for the customer and our team, today and long into the future.”
If you get pushback on that, your value is that of a cog in a machine, and you’re heading for boredom, burnout, and stagnation.
Next stop: implementation.
At some point, the rubber hits the road, and you’ve done your pre-work. You’ve got confidence, comfortability, a few topics under your belt and you’re ready to begin delivering content to mediums according to a master schedule.
Now, I can keep writing but anyone can write, I just wrote this article didn’t I?
Now you have the strategic tools to stop yourself from executing too early, and focusing on the strategic intent and thinking that is going to add value. Your job as a content marketer isn’t to write. It’s to market utilizing content.
Take these concepts, rinse and repeat throughout the year developing, sustaining, growing your content strategy and in a short time you’ll begin to see immense value, and be proud of what you’re providing to the digital ecosystem, instead of cringing at another click-bait Facebook post that leads to a quiz on what fruit you most resemble…even though you sell office chairs; although, if you sold organic fruit seeds, that’s funny.