Let's talk content marketing

"What's at the heart of content marketing?"
"Why does content marketing make sense for me?"
"How do I do it well?"

Chances are, you're asking yourself one or, indeed, all of the above questions. And that is why I have decided to join Forrester's Marketing Leadership research team as a senior analyst.

I've been working with content marketing since 1998, well before it was called content marketing, and most recently at an agency that specialized in it, Velocity Partners. Before that, I helped major Scandinavian brands like Kongsberg and ABB understand how to weave content marketing in their marketing strategy and mix.

Every time I discuss content marketing with practitioners, two observations regularly surface:

1. It's very powerful. The idea of doing marketing that customers want, that they even seek out, is enticing. It can create a virtuous cycle that makes everything else (social media, email marketing, events and campaigns) much more effective. Red Bull is the consumer brand poster boy for this, but companies as diverse as GE, Hubspot, American Express, Ford and IBM are also doing it well.

2. It's very difficult. Most brands have very little experience making content that customers want and seek out. Producing great content-driven experiences, repeatedly, over time and with a limited budget, that deliver visible value for customers and prospects, and that drive business outcomes for the brand, is hard. It's particularly hard for marketers accustomed to a product-benefit or brand benefit frame of thinking, and the big bang ad campaigns that go with it.

With these in mind, my upcoming research will help brands and senior marketers understand how to design, create and distribute powerful content for their brand and, at the same time, prepare to tackle the organizational, process and technology challenges that lie ahead. To get things started, my first report will focus on a discrete but critical part of the content marketing challenge:

How can you be sure you're giving your content marketing assets the best opportunity to reach your target audience? My hypothesis: Content discovery and promotion is a key component of any content marketing initiative, but is often overlooked. In the coming weeks, I'll be speaking with dozens of marketers, agencies and vendors about the challenges, the opportunities, and the best practices they see emerging in this area. If you have an interesting viewpoint or a direct experience to share, please do get in touch. The report will be out later this summer.

In the meantime, I'm eager to hear new input, ideas, and questions that relate to content marketing. You can find me on twitter @rskin11 or drop me a line (rskinner@forrester.com). Let's talk.


Content Marketing mayhem

Yes, it seems companies have trouble distinguishing product messaging from engaging content. The preferred outcome remains pursuit of the sales call. But if a prospect isn't ready to buy, don't they still deserve a decent experience?

Equally troubling is the confusion between social media management and the efficient production of quality content. Sorry, but the new girl running your Facebook page and Marketo account can't cut it as a publisher. It's like saying you can handle programming for a television network, just because you like watching TV.

Yeah, it's hard to engage an audience on a human level; beyond the product. But is it short-sightedness or a lack of talent that proves the biggest obstacle to an enterprise seeking content marketing success, Ryan?

Addressing the strategic level

David: That's a pretty accurate assessment for many companies, I think. It would be hard to make an argument for a shortage of talent; I think there will always be talent where there's budget, a strong business case and a sound strategy.

Once the challenges and opportunities of content marketing hit the highest levels in the company, it becomes much easier to get the resources and focus. I wouldn't call that short-sightedness but rather an educational process.

Content catalysts

Agreed, Ryan – elevating content marketing within the enterprise is an educational process. But the pursuit of a content-rich news feed can't always wait. So here's a simple suggestion for stratifying content:

Commerce: Yes, it's all about making the sale. But think beyond features and benefits to spin a more distinctive story – positioning the product / service as something unique that your company was 'born to build.'

Conscience: Address an issue of industry-wide concern in the market you serve. And not just the cause du jour. You've got to dig for something organic to the business (and that your CEO can feel good about).

In the case of online security leader AVG, my firm created a new program to support their Family Safety product launch. 'Little Bird’s Internet Security Adventure' was a children's book parents could read with their pre-school kids – helping to initiate conversations about Internet safety in an age-appropriate manner. Little Bird was a 'wingman brand' that added deeper authenticity to the Family Safety product messaging.

The book generated so much interest that it was translated into several languages, and later built into an iPad app. And the topic became a content catalyst for partners, CorpComm and the PR team. This all led to a successful product launch; and AVG became known as the industry torchbearer for best practices with child safety online.

Finding the proper balance between commerce and conscience is critical. And when you get it right, a smarter content marketing effort naturally follows.