16 Ways To Turn Content Marketing Into Business Value

According to Digiday, current affairs website Slate demands minimum $100,000 from brands to build an “advertising content program”. Forbes asks for $50,000 a month to give brands a platform for publishing content on their site. And many companies are spending as much or more on their own content sites.

Given the mighty spend, the silence around the economics of content is deafening. There’s the high-level question of content marketing ROI­–a topic larger than any blog post. But, at a more basic level, how many marketers plan how and where their content drives business value?

Call this the content impact model:

If marketers create and distribute content to generate value, there are two simultaneous and non-exclusive paths by which value is created:

1.    Intrinsic: Consumption of the content itself brings value to the brand, by making the reader/viewer aware of the brand, its expertise or products.
2.    Extrinsic: All of the value that can be extracted by a reader/viewer arriving at or opening the content (but not the content itself).

This post looks specifically at extrinsic value. This value is created or released by mechanisms that I’ll call catalysts of content marketing value.

An example of such a catalyst: Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert blog is a popular source of information for marketers on the crossover between social media and content marketing. Each visitor to his blog will eventually see a pop-up inviting him or her to subscribe to Jay’s newsletter. That pop-up is a catalyst of content marketing value; it aims to turn my arrival at his website into business value (subscription to his newsletters – one step closer to a relationship that he can profit from).

As more content gets published in ways that we cannot fully control and marketing automation gains in importance, it will be key for marketers to have a handle on the catalysts and when to employ each type.

So here’s an attempt to list them. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It’s meant to provide a useful review of the catalysts that marketers have at their disposal.

Brand Catalyst

The wrapper
Content generally sits in a visual shell; at the very least, this will include a logo in the upper-left corner: the masthead. Whoever has “the wrapper” benefits from any halo created by the quality of the content. This catalyst contributes to brand value, and thus branding metrics. It’s worth noting that mobile screens or plugins like Evernote’s Clearly can minimize this value.

Next Click Catalysts

The hyperlink
The fundamental economic unit of influence on the Internet, the hyperlink’s value is often underestimated. For example, many businesses maintain linking policies (particularly internal linking) that benefit neither the reader nor the publisher/brand, in a misguided attempt to boost search results. Links are power. Treat them as such.

The call-to-action
These are critical to content that’s late in the customer journey, for impulse purchases or for content-heavy ecommerce sites. In most cases, UX teams are all over these. How does on-page content interact with the call-to-action? “Which Test Won?” is a great example of this relationship.

The widget
This encompasses every attempt to present other links or options next to, under, within or around the content that’s being read. Outbrain’s or Taboola’s “recommended stories” widgets, for example, are catalysts of content marketing value for the site that hosts them.

The pop-up
Appearing when you load a page or after browsing a site over a certain threshold, the pop-up invites visitors to read something else, sign up for a newsletter, talk to someone in sales, chat on-screen or anything else imaginable. As they’re by definition interruptive, marketers tend to love these too much, at the expense of users’ experience.

The banner ad
When it comes to relevant display advertising, it’s hard to beat a banner ad sitting right next to content that feeds into it. This is often when brands want to use social content to drive interest towards a piece of content further along in the customer journey.

The navigation
Like social and sharing buttons, this is often tied down sitewide. In that respect, it can be a very powerful driver from content to business value. Particularly businesses that choose to build a siloed, standalone blog in a separate CMS may lose benefits from tying casual content traffic back to business-related offerings.

Relationship Catalysts

The cookie
Whether it’s from Google Analytics, a marketing automation company or CRM, the opportunity to drop a cookie on the browser of a site visitor is a powerful opportunity. Currently, for example, few publishing partners allow a brand to put its cookies on their sites to gather personal data or track behavior. If they’re equipped to make use of the opportunity, brands should fight for that capability.

Readers’ contact information
This is a more specific catalyst than the cookie, and applies when you’re working with a partner to publish content. Is the content gated in any way? Does the publishing partner build up user profiles, and – as such – will they give you the profile information they have for people who read your content?

The social profile
This is the same as the above, but applied specifically to the social CRM world. Imagine you could get the social profile details for everyone who reads your content. This can definitely lead to long-term business value, provided it’s managed well.

The registration
Nothing opens up the door to a closer relationship faster than getting users to register to a site. Not surprisingly, the bar is high, as few but the hardiest visitors gladly give up personal details. But companies like Intent HQ, Gigya and Janrain have been helping brands connect social registration to a valuable personalization proposition for users.

Reach Catalysts

Share/follow buttons
There’s more to this than a widget with a half-dozen buttons. It’s often a site-wide decision (where it will live, what options are given, etc.), meaning subtle design decisions can have a significant impact on sharing levels. Also, are sharing texts pre-filled, and what’s included? Is the brand’s social profile included?

Embed code
Brands that publish an infographic, slideshow or video have the opportunity (depending on the platform they’re using or HTML sophistication) to provide a snippet of HTML for other sites or bloggers to use to embed the content on their own site. This gives content new legs, and backlinks.

The unlock
This is more than a paywall, but acts the same way. A visitor or reader is offered more content or specific benefits by doing a specific, desired action for the brand. Pay-with-a-tweet is one route for driving business value via an unlock. Obviously, the initial experience has to establish the value driving visitors to pay to unlock more.

Data Catalysts

The data entry
Especially rich content offerings may ask users to enter data about themselves in order to deliver a rewarding experience. This data has value as market research, and unique value when tied with user profile data. Two examples: Calculators like Slavery Footprint, or tools like Citrix’s Project Accelerator.

The metrics/behavioral data
Getting access to metrics or behavioral data around content will often not equate directly to business value, but can be used to improve content creation and design the catalysts better the second time around. This kind of catalyst should be table stakes for content marketers on owned channels; with partners, it’ll be a point of negotiation. Google Analytics are a basic option, but tools like Simplereach, Parse.ly or Social Crawlytics can extend your insight into the shareability of content.

Wherever you publish content, create an audit of these catalysts to determine how and where they’re driving business value. On the back of this audit, you can begin to adjust and experiment with them to optimize the creation of value from your content marketing.

As final notes, it’s when working with media partners that I see these catalysts most often neglected. Marketers desperate to get impressions for their content programs neglect the long-term value of leveraging the content to achieve a bigger marketing goal. And one more point: Marketers can do amazing things where the content and the catalyst work in fluid harmony. The two are, sadly, often divorced.

Any readers who want to add additional catalysts here, or share experiences managing them, please include a comment. I’m happy to keep updating the post as a resource for content marketers.