The most common challenge we see brands of all sizes struggling with is how to progress from simply ‘doing’ content to embedding a sophisticated content marketing ecosystem they can scale and monetise — ideally, as quickly as possible.
Larger brands, in particular, are impatient to move from experimentation to sophistication. They aspire to emulate marketing behemoths such as one of our content crushes Santander (more on them below), but often lack a clear blueprint on how to fast-track their maturity.
This is understandable because unless you’ve lived and breathed the experience of building a content operation, plotting the granularity to transition from one maturity phase to the next can be somewhat opaque.
And too often, the pivotal — yet unsexy — foundations such as strategic alignment, organisational integration, technology and measurement are underestimated.
This conundrum is particularly relevant right now, given that 59% of B2C marketers and 46% of B2B marketers expected their content marketing budget to increase in 2020, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2C and B2B benchmarks.
According to a recent NewsCred study, this sentiment has accelerated since COVID-19, with 72% of US marketing leaders expecting to notably increase their online content budget.
However, extra budget alone won’t solve the content and brand marketing puzzle. Instead, organisations need a clear strategy and maturation roadmap to bridge the gap between aspiration and reality.
Accelerating your content marketing maturity: A blueprint for success
Ubiquity Lab has developed a four-phase roadmap to help organisations evolve towards unlocking the true power of content marketing: walk, jog, run, sprint.
Each stage is interdependent, and the journey isn’t necessarily linear — you can straddle several stages at once.
We developed these steps to help organisations benchmark their strategic and operational capability, and to plot the journey forward.
It’s important to note that there’s only a handful of organisations in Australia that can say, hand on heart, that they’ve reached ‘sprint’.
And in many instances, this stage may only be aspirational, or it may not make commercial sense for an organisations to reach it.
However, large corporates that are investing heavily in content production, social, search, performance marketing, EDM, owned communities and other core elements that work in unison with content should unequivocally be operating at ‘run’.
Walk: Grappling with the difference between content marketing and content production
It may surprise you to know that when you dig deeper, many big corporates are only at the walking stage — or at best, they’re straddling ‘walk’ and ‘jog’.
‘Walk’ is typified by:
- Having a basic content strategy that’s not based on data, aligned to the customer journey, or that enables commercial outcomes.
- Producing content, in some instances in high volume, but in a largely tactical and haphazard fashion.
- Being unable to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of content being produced, or clearly articulating how it delivers tangible business results.
- Lacking documented governance, particularly around the roles of people, processes and platforms.
- Not viewing content as important within the organisation, and having minimal buy-in to develop a more strategic approach.
- Content being produced by discrete teams or individuals who base it largely on intuition or previous performance (vanity metrics).
- Reporting that’s too narrow and typically focuses on vanity or volume-based metrics, rather than business impact.
- Having minimal mechanisms in place to link content to business goals — and what is there is too complex to measure, and doesn’t provide access to the correct data or tools.
If this sounds eerily familiar, the good news is that ‘walk’ is the easiest and fastest stage to progress from, and it’s largely underpinned by strategy and buy-in.
Jog: Embedding a data-led content marketing strategy
You haven’t reached ‘jog’ until you have a sophisticated content marketing strategy.
Our free ebook How to build a sophisticated content marketing strategy details a 20-step methodology to achieving content utopia, which we won’t rehash here, but there are two points, in particular, that are worth reaffirming when it comes to nailing this stage.
Firstly, your strategy must be integrated across the customer journey, and the various marketing disciplines that touch it.
Your ability to monetise and scale is ultimately determined by integration, both with teams and systems.
Similarly, embedding a content strategy often requires a cultural change within the business, whereby customer intent and content marketing start to power a cohesive marketing ecosystem.
To that end, the internal change agent must embrace the fact their role is now as much about evangelism as it is delivering content marketing.
‘Jog’ is typified by:
- Formalisation of a sophisticated, data-led content strategy that’s underpinned by: (i) Clear content pillars and an audience-first mantra, (ii) First-party and search data, customer intent and user journeys, (iii) An integrated operating model, and (iv) A shift in culture, resources, integration and budget.
- Governance that enables content to be scaled effectively.
- Content starting to be viewed as a business asset, not a cost centre.
- Having a small content team, who rely heavily on agencies or other freelancers to produce content.
- Creating audience-first content; ‘storytelling’ increases in importance and impact.
- Producing channel-agnostic content with atomisation and reuse in mind, which is distributed across a variety of channels and platforms.
- Introducing an integrated paid, owned and earned campaign framework and planning, i.e. content, search, social, performance marketing, email, marketing automation.
- Validating the integrated operating cadence through multiple content pilots — this demonstrates the monetisation foundations are in place, even if it can’t be scaled yet.
- Planning, producing and distributing content at most stages of the buyer’s journey.
- Starting to measure content marketing in relation to business goals (i.e. salience, NPS, e-commerce sales, retention).
- Being championed by an executive sponsor.
Run: Integrating a content-led paid, owned and earned marketing ecosystem
This is where life gets fun. Paid, owned and earned channels truly start to converge, enabling an organisation to start nurturing and influencing customer journeys across multiple touchpoints in a far more effective manner.
Content marketing is now a living, breathing organism that delivers substantial value to the business.
A core component of this stage is earned media (people talking about you, and sharing your content) becomes increasingly important — something that can only be achieved consistently off the back of exceptional owned content, amplified through paid distribution.
The other key advancement at this stage is being more focused on the ever-increasing importance of data and technology.
‘Run’ is typified by:
- Fully integrating content, social, search and performance marketing live across all relevant digital channels, and with clearly defined roles.
- Having clearly mapped content for each stage of the sales funnel and customer journey, including micro conversions on owned properties; and commonplace tactics to actively nurture leads, such as drip campaigns.
- Using content-led activities that deliver a superior customer experience.
- Dramatically increased quality in content, which is informed by existing data; and more prolific experiential and thought-leadership content.
- Having a sophisticated content marketing measurement framework that tracks the contents’ impact on revenue and conversion rates at each stage of the journey.
- Seamlessly integrating technology to score and segment visitors, and automate the media buying process. It also helps to streamline manual tasks, including content planning, scheduling and project management.
- Increasing investment by moving the bulk of content production in-house, in place of relying on agencies and freelancers for business-as-usual activity; instead, the agency dynamic is often reconfigured into a deeper and more strategic, long-term relationship, rather than a campaign-based
- Focusing more on earned media, and improving your ability to generate it.
- Optimising owned channels to enable users to take high-value actions, i.e. email sign-up or product demos.
Sprint: Achieving content marketing nirvana
This is the sacrosanct content ground, where only the best of the best can play.
Very few Australian organisations have nailed it yet, though there are several on the precipice.
In short, the ‘sprint’ stage is typified by content being ingrained in organisational culture through lived experience. It’s part of its DNA, not a department.
Equally, content and the data it generates is leveraged to make data-based decisions at scale, and ultimately, to monetise the marketing ecosystem.
‘Sprint’ is typified by:
- Having a complete organisational buy-in to a content-led marketing ecosystem.
- Achieving a tremendous brand reach and salience. The content opportunity now becomes about generating a disproportionate share of voice and popular culture, as opposed to focusing on products or services.
- Content marketing having a demonstrable value for business divisions outside of marketing.
- The organisation’s content team operating with the same level of maturity as a media company.
- Monetising of content — and potentially licensing to media outlets. In this instance, the content team has its own P&L responsibility.
- Technology providing real-time data insights that inform content creation, personalisation and performance marketing. Automated dashboards provide insight-driven channel and content effectiveness reporting at both micro and macro levels.
- Integration of content into CRM and CX functions.
- Using content performance data to baseline and forecast future business growth.
- User-generated content powering an owned and earned ecosystem, including customer service channels.
Santander is one of the best global content marketing examples
Santander, a global financial services company, typifies an organisation that’s reached the ‘sprint’ phase.
Its Denmark team won the Content Marketing ROI/Measurement Program prize at the recent 2020 Content Marketing Awards (CMA), and is a finalist in its soon-to-be-decided Project of the Year category. (Full disclosure, Matt is a judge for the CMA awards, but isn’t judging the Project of the Year).
We’d need an article at least this long to profile their activity and results, particularly given that their UK, USA and Spanish teams are all market leading.
However, here’s a snapshot of some of the drivers of our content crush on Santander:
- It operates standalone content hubs, such as the millennial-focused Prosper and Thrive — lifetime value anyone? — and the small-business-orientated Business First.
- It’s relentlessly focused on measurement and distribution, with hard commercial targets for each campaign and holistic operation.
- In one of the best examples of branded content, its Spanish team produced an epic 17-minute film ‘Beyond Money’ targeting millennials. The film generated the Spanish bank’s fastest sign-up rate in 160 years, and delivered more than one-third of its annual business goal in just two weeks.
- Its content is brilliantly produced, interactive, easily digestible, and clearly mapped to different stages of the customer journey.
- Some of its user-generated content campaigns are breathtakingly effective.
- It seamlessly integrates paid, owned and earned channels.
We can’t all become like Santander overnight. However, you have to start the journey somewhere, ideally with a clear roadmap and maturation plan.
The most important first step is to benchmark your capability and pinpoint exactly where you sit on the road to achieving content marketing utopia.
Once you’re clear on the direction you need to take and the marketing potholes that have been hindering your progress, the road to content domination becomes a lot smoother.