It seems what is old is new again. However, it should be no surprise, as the cycle of business teaches us many lessons about the rise and fall of both trends and the companies that ride them.
It was 1998 during the dotcom boom that I had the fortune of being the head of marketing for a top-20 website – the tech powerhouse site ZDNet, which prospered with a collection of magazine (PC Magazine, eWeek, etc.), tech news, comparison shopping, downloads, gaming, and help-focused content for tech-interested individuals and businesses. The content was vast and varied – ZDNet embodied both the depth and breadth of information needed to attract millions each month looking to buy, use, and learn more about technology during the great PC era.
These users returned often and stayed for long periods of time, making our site amongst the stickiest in the world. Our users became a community and devoured original content produced by hundreds of journalists and editors. We spent millions on perfecting the user experience for different user segments/communities, launched highly targeted email newsletters for these specific communities, and surrounded that content with robust and innovative advertising opportunities that drove tens of millions of visitors and of dollars in advertising. It was a successful recipe.
In fact, ZDNet was amongst the small and elite group of sites that was actually making money at the time. Content was king and it looks as if there would be no end to our success as I watched the site compete with likes of Yahoo, AOL, Disney’s Go Network, CNET, and more for both more eyeballs and ultimately more advertising dollars. But then I remember getting a call in those early days from a headhunter asking if I was interested in interviewing for the top marketing spot at a new start-up search engine. I asked the name, typed in the address www.google.com, and was taken to the beta site with a simple search box.
I distinctly remembering saying to the recruiter, “Where’s the content?” His reply was there is none. No content? Content was king! I politely declined the invitation to meet the team and well, the rest is history. What I failed to realize at the time and what the headhunter himself did not drive home particularly well was that Google was also in the content business. Google was really in the business of helping users finding the right and best content for their particular needs/interests in a growing sea of sites and information on the Web. It was creating an easier, faster, and better experience than anyone else on the Web and of course remains a dominant force today.
Fast-forward 15 years later and content remains king, as content marketing is all the rage thanks in part to the rise and growing importance of social media networks. In fact, according to a recent Adobe/Econsultancy survey, content marketing tied with social media engagement as the top priority for 36 percent of marketers in 2014. This was followed closely by targeting/personalization (32 percent), conversion optimization (31 percent), mobile optimization (28 percent), and multichannel campaign management (27 percent) as key areas of focus for marketers. But why? Well, very much like they were in the late 1990s, brands are once again recognizing that the single most exciting opportunity for their organizations in 2014 is creating great, individualized customer experiences across all channels. In fact, this will increasingly help brands differentiate themselves in today’s highly competitive, always connected, real-time world. So what can marketers do to create a powerful content strategy to differentiate their brands in today’s overwhelming multichannel, real time world?
Here are my top 10 tips to building a winning content marketing program:
- Research the customer: Spend the time to understand your customer segments and their interests and needs. According to a recent Bite study, only one-third of all companies believe their agencies fully understand the content needs of their audience.
- Set some goals: Establish some key goals – driving sales, customer retention, and/or customer loyalty are often ranked as the key benefits and catalysts for a dedicated content marketing strategy.
- Create a vision/get buy-in: Lay out out a content plan/vision that highlights the benefits, strategy, and tactics used to engage target users. The most effective visions that get buy-in align the customer needs with the corporate/divisional goals/needs (engagement, loyalty).
- Set a budget/staff: Create a budget and find trained content marketing professionals. Look across the organization to leverage subject matter experts and recruit them to the cause. Look for experts that can contribute where gaps may exist. In that same Bite study, 63 percent of all companies have a budget dedicated to content marketing.
- Plan and produce engaging/enough content: Create a calendar and stick to a schedule that keeps the content fresh and engaging. Use social media to get the word out – 71 percent of marketers Bite surveyed said they produced social media content for content marketing and 53 percent viewed it as the most effective for their business. This was followed by white papers (38 percent), blogs (34 percent), videos (30 percent), and infographics (23 percent), which were also noted as being effective.
- Measure effectiveness: Use a combination of quantitative (track engagement, clicks, conversions) and qualitative measurement techniques (surveys) to measure the overall impact.
- Adapt content for the channel and customer journey: Optimize content for multiple devices (responsive design – mobile devices/Web) and channels (social, traditional). In addition, think holistically about the relevant content needed throughout the customer journey – awareness, interest, intent, purchase, post purchase, loyalty.
- Orchestrate and optimize: Use multiple channels to get the message out but use the strengths of each channel to create a unique and enriching experience. For example, you may want to increase awareness for new content by promoting it on Twitter but use Facebook to invite users to engage in a deeper discussion.
- Train and collaborate: Document policies and set up a review process. Look to offer additional training to help enrich the knowledge base and quality of content from all contributors.
- Share results: Build excitement for the program by sharing results and providing insights on key learning from the feedback and reporting received/reviewed.
So what is old is new again thanks to the realization that content is once again king in helping brands further distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace. Done well through a precise understanding of your audiences, content marketing offers brands the unique opportunity to create additional value and unique experiences for customers across channels and throughout the customer journey. Those who do will continue to drive sales, retention, and customer loyalty for many years to come.
‘Til next time.