There’s that word again: Content. Every year, there are marketing conferences devoted to it, and content often dominates conversations across multiple departments of your business.
Every brand knows they should be producing it, but no one wants to be simply creating content for its own sake -- they want to know how it can add measurable value to their business. But the fact is that your content won’t start bringing you any significant returns until you build out a sophisticated publishing program around it.
As COO of the content marketing company L&T Co., I’ve seen my fair share of failures in this space. Too many companies have heard the mantra “content is king,” but fail to devote much more than a cursory effort to content production. A blog post a month is fine, right?
This shallow approach to content marketing persists because successful content marketing requires foresight and planning -- in short, it’s difficult. I’ve met many companies who have dipped their toe in the content marketing pool and, believing that they have jumped in the pool and still failed, simply cross content marketing off their list as a tactic that “doesn’t work for their business.” In reality, there are a number of similar missteps that I see companies make time and time again, and avoiding them can help your company plan a successful content marketing program in 2016. For the marketers out there trying to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to content, here are six signs that you’re doing something right.
1) Your Company Blog Looks Like A Real Publication (One You Would Be Happy To Read on the Weekend)
Sometimes, a company blog can become a mishmash of news bulletins and mind dumps. A true brand publication says something original, insightful, and authoritative every day -- or at least multiple times a week. It’s not hard to see why you should be putting all your energies into that one outstanding, SEO-optimized piece of gated content every quarter, but the truth is that a publishing ethos gives you more opportunities to learn what resonates with your audience, which topics spark conversation, and which might be worth exploring in more depth with industry reports and whitepapers. The honest truth is that you can’t hit home runs if you don’t take plenty of at-bats.
To further the analogy, a solid batting approach requires technique, not just in swinging as hard as you can at every pitch. If you want your content to look, feel, and act like a series of articles in a reputable brand publication, you need to package those words of wisdom and actionable tips in an aesthetically pleasing design that avoids being too sales-heavy.
Your audience should feel like they are reading BuzzFeed, Wired, or whatever publication you admire -- the “publication” experience should be palpable for visitors. A little dev and design work here can go a long ways towards transforming your company’s most important digital mouthpiece.
Specifically, constructing your blog to surface as many articles as possible -- tiled two or three across -- while collating them into relevant, yet distinct topics of conversation (e.g. categories) will put the right content in front of the right people at the right time. The correct Wordpress or Hubspot template can go a long way here.
2) Add an editorial layer to your content program.
They say every great writer has a better editor working in the background. Just because you’re publishing a short blog post and not the next great American novel doesn’t mean you can’t take the same rudimentary steps to ensure quality and substance.
Even the best writers can’t be expected to produce a perfect, on-brand piece without proper guidance from the get-go. That’s why L&T Co. creates original, thorough brand guidelines before we start publishing on behalf of each of our clients. We also develop in-depth, structured prompts for every piece we write, ensuring that the inverted pyramid of successful journalism is followed, and that opportunities for boosting brand awareness are seized. That way, when it comes time to actually produce, our writers have plenty of context and direction for their assignments.
And our editorial duties don’t stop there: a solid draft is one thing, but a finished product requires at least two more sets of eyes. These further rounds of editing should focus on not just grammar and punctuation, but also a deeper understanding of a company’s services, product, market, and sensitivities. Even the very best writer can’t be expected to keep all that in mind the first go-around.
And yes, two L&T editors gave my draft of this article a look.
3) Map your content to a calendar.
We rely on calendars, schedules, and alarm clocks to organize our day-to-day lives, and there’s no reason the same shouldn’t hold true for your company’s content program. While it’s easy to get caught up in the importance of the actual words on the page, as well as a multitude of other challenges that arise every day when you run a publication, losing sight of when and what you publish is just about the worst thing you can do as a content marketer.
And the thing is, it’s not that hard! Totally free platforms like Trello offer a calendar view of your workflow, as do more sophisticated (and pricey) options like Hubspot. But the point is, you should know which piece of content scored big last month, which one is going live today, and which big story is coming down the pipeline tomorrow.
Even more importantly, your content can’t exist in a vacuum, and a content calendar can be expanded to incorporate all marketing milestones, events, and initiatives. Even better, you can start to map upcoming blog posts, white papers, and other content types to those dates. You’d be amazed how effectively this campaign-style marketing approach identifies target audiences and gets your salespeople talking to your customers more regularly.
4) Expand authorship to build a community of voices and thought leaders.
If your audience wanted to follow along with the CEO or Marketing Director’s personal whims day after day, they’d tell you so. A true brand publication shows not only depth of knowledge, but breadth as well -- and that’s best conveyed by diversifying your brand publication’s authorship.
Not only will this strategy demonstrate your company’s impressive store of intellectual capital and a roster of truly savvy people, but it also has its benefits on the social side of content. When different employees and team members are given authorship of thoughtful, original articles that align with their views of the business and market, they’ll be far more inclined to participate in a mature social content strategy. Even more importantly, they’ll want to share your company’s content with their own social networks.
Speaking of which...
5) Turn social media posting into a core operation.
It’s easy to disregard the impact of a single tweet, but the truth is that well thought-out and strategically constructed social posts make the entire publication run more smoothly -- and make your content efforts more visible.
If a tree falls in a forest…someone should be tweeting about it. Your content can’t draw interest if no one knows you produced it in the first place. Especially when you’re just starting out, you can’t count on Google to surface it in the SERPs.
But that doesn’t mean that simply any old social post will do. The key is to develop a strategy that you can implement, operationalize, and expand upon. There’s no magic bullet, but you’d be wise to start researching beyond the obvious channels, looking to post regularly on Pinterest, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn groups, and yes, even Reddit.
6) Write content that drives smart decision making.
Let me be clear: great content is not prescriptive. It doesn’t tell your reader why your company’s product is great, or why your competitors don’t stack up. It positions your company and the people who work there as leaders of relevant industry discussions, and as subject matter experts.
How sales-y should it be? At most, your publication should show the reader the unique benefits of your product, service, or brand. And it shouldn’t sell all the time. It’s more important to have a relevant, growing, captive audience on your blog than it is to force Calls to Action into pieces where they don’t belong.
Ultimately, you should publish content that makes your target audience better at their jobs or serves to benefit them in their daily lives. It should help them make smarter decisions, and readers should leave thinking “that was a clever/smart/insightful read!”
To write that kind of content, we recommend companies take a look at the data they produce as a byproduct of doing business. At L&T, we aim to determine the unique data you possess and derive original insights and narratives about it (speaking of CTAs).
You should also consider conducting interviews with your company’s leaders. Your innovative CEO -- someone who has a highly informed take on your market that no one else possesses -- could provide a slew of article ideas and original insights in a 20 minute interview, and those ideas might govern a quarter’s worth of content development.
The mainstay of content marketing is CTAs
Finally, let’s return to the Call to Action for a moment. It’s a mainstay of content marketing, yet you’d be shocked how many marketers incorrectly craft and implement their CTAs. Again, the key is in identifying and developing your audience.
If you’re targeting more than one subset, make sure that the CTA you place at the end of a blog post is consistent with the message you’ve been firing at those particular people. What the CFO at a Silicon Valley startup and a Regional Sales Manager at a Fortune 500 business care about are very different from one another -- even if your service or product can serve both of them.
To put this into practice, consider a classic CTA, one that links to the “Contact Us” form. While it’s all well and good to send readers directly to a line of communication with your brand, don’t send them there unless your sales team is truly operationalized around that particular funnel. Otherwise, what might look like a conversion to you was actually just a wasted opportunity for your brand.
These subtle judgements and shifts in strategy are what ultimately separate a sophisticated content program from one in disarray. And if there’s one resolution all marketers can agree on for 2016, it’s to make sure none of our projects or initiatives are left in disarray.
Remy is the COO of L&T Co., an agile and dynamic content marketing firm focused on delivering high-quality brand journalism to companies all over the world. Specializing in content management and scalable business strategies, Remy has overseen the precipitous growth of L&T’s full-time staff and client base since joining the company in 2014.