Tour de Content: Winning routes to real engagement

A journey planner for owner managers and in-house marketing teams looking to make the transition to content-led strategies supported by digital marketing disciplines.

Introduction

The content marketing landscape can seem like tough terrain to the uninitiated.

By signposting to the right tools and specialisms to get ready for 2016’s Grand Depart, this guide equips decision makers with a leaner, meaner itinerary for the marketing year ahead:

  • Presenting a roadmap from a pure PR starting point to a creative content marketing mix
  • Translating traditional thinking into a digitally driven, customer centric approach
  • Coaching businesses on how to think like an editor and act like a true thought leader in their industry categories

Starting your journey

Content comes in many guises: white papers, infographics, videos, blogs, news, webinars…the list goes on. Actually the format is irrelevant as long as it’s engaging. What matters most is the focus – what subject or angles can you credibly ‘own’ and create content on?

The first stop is to get tuned into the content marketing mindset.

You need to think like the customer and craft your communications to give them the answers they need, wherever they are in the journey from interested prospect to serious buyer.

In other words, you need to think like an editor. Filter out the promotional and factor in relevance – and lots of it. Delivering exactly what they need in a timely and engaging format is the crux of content marketing.

And establishing exactly what they need (focus rather than format) is the foundations for successful content strategy.

 

So where do you start?

We start with a process we call immersion. Different agencies will have different labels for this all-important step but we’re essentially doing the same thing:

  • Understanding the customer journey – What are their needs? What questions do they have about your product, service or the problem it solves? And how do these needs change along the course to conversion – be it a quick-fire decision or many months – or even years – of deliberation?
  • Knowing the customer – What makes them tick? Where do they hang out? What do they read? How do they digest information?
  • Sizing up the competition – How are your rivals claiming relevance? What opportunities are there to take the lead in your industry category?
  • Taking stock of your content library – Because believe it or not you have one. Every business has content, it might just need some reshaping to be content marketing ready. Consider too your internal and external content ambassadors.
  • Seeing your strengths – What value can you deliver your customer? How does your offer differ from everything else out there?
  • Selling your strengths. How can you tell your story in a way that resonates with your audiences and achieves stand-out in your industry category?

The last point is exactly the point of developing a content strategy.

It’s all very well having some loose themes to talk around and relentlessly churning content out for content’s sake. But what are you achieving? Without a solid content strategy, that ties into the overall brand strategy, the customer journey will be disjointed and their perceptions of the brand disorientated.

  • Setting out your game plan

Content strategy development is the process of defining the overarching purpose of your marketing communications at a brand level.

It should not be tacked in isolation. It should be informed by an in-depth knowledge of your business: both now and a vision for the future. Some points for consideration are listed below but it’s not necessary for you to have an answer to all of these when you engage with an agency or commit internally to delivering a content programme. Often discussions at this level present an evolving picture that calls for time investment from a broad spectrum of people within the organisation to arrive at a confident position on where the brand sits and how we should be talking about it.

  • Key messages (your position – where you are now and where you want to be)
  • Creative proposition/ execution (the brand – what does it look, feel and sound like and how will this transcend content)
  • Stakeholder mapping (understanding the people that matter – who are they? What are their challenges? How can we help them? Internal as well external audiences come into the mix)
  • Channel prioritisation (understanding where you need to be to impact the physical and virtual spheres of influence)
  • The KPIs – what does success look like to you, to your FD, to the owner(s) of the company?

Always keeping front of mind that content marketing must be measurable, meaningful and, critically, meet the company’s objectives.

It must not be ad-hoc, knee-jerk and overly gimmicky. Style will not win out over substance in a crowded content world. It’s OK to be bold if the brief calls for it but it can be easy to get too preoccupied with how you’re presenting the content before you even know what the story is that you need to tell.

Understand the message you want to take to market then devise the best route to delivering relevancy to your customers at the right time.

  • Talking tactics

You’ll need different types of content to cater for the entire prospect pool.

These can be broadly split into the following categories:

  • Issues-led content that assumes no prior knowledge of your offer. Entirely educational in purpose, this content exists to build awareness – not necessarily of the brand but to the industry issues that sign-post to a product or service that can solve the scenarios highlighted.

Example formats: White paper, research report, infographic, webinar.

  • Content that can afford to be more aligned to your product or service offering. This content exists to give interested buyers more information to sign-post them to a specific solution by aligning benefits and solutions in an acceptable way that still tips more to issues-led content than it does promotional.

Example formats: Video, business infographic, presentation, Q&A.

  • Evidence of the product or solution in action. This content is designed to give a highly engaged prospect the proof points they need to move closer to ‘converting’.

Example formats: Case studies, testimonials, video references, awards.

  • Secondary or supporting ‘bread and butter’ assets that complement the lead content material at each stage of the journey.

Example formats: Blogs, social posts, news, features.

These principles are based on the marketing funnel model that aims to ‘plug’ content according to where prospects are in the nurture cycle. Recent developments in the theory of modern marketing now refer to ‘digital moments of truth’ that depend on serving up the right content at a specific moment in time when that prospect is most ‘ripe’ for nurturing. But taking it further, it is acknowledged that the content marketer’s job isn’t just about making the sales-marketing integration more seamless, it’s about creating a customer experience that’s so enjoyable it’s shareable. In other words, it’s about creating the ultimate moment of truth.

In true content marketing style, we’ll serve you up another piece of content that goes into this customer journey in more detail. For now, take away from this, that you’ll need a carefully planned flow of content that can be drip-fed over time to your audiences in the avenues most likely to reach them.

  • Team Content

Who do you need on board to deliver?

It depends on how your team is structured and the in-house skills at your disposal.

The content churn can be over-facing. Especially if it is a new way of working for a business.

Whether you elect people from within the organisation or work with partners to deliver your programme you’ll benefit from allocating roles and responsibilities to those in your team and extended team best-placed to step up as a:

  • Co-ordinator – Someone to keep on top of the churn
  • Ambassadors – Spokespeople within the business to ‘front’ the content. It’s important to note that those most comfortable in the spotlight might not be those leaking the information behind the scenes. The knowledge and the personality could be one in the same but, the point is, they don’t have to be.
  • Decision maker(s) – Only one or two people within the business should have responsibility for sign-off. Too many cooks…
  • Content creator – The author of any business communications that tell the organisation’s story.
  • Editor or strategist – The relevance checker overseeing that the content programme stays on track i.e. that it’s meaningful, measurable and meeting the company’s objectives.
  • Technologist – Content marketing isn’t just a case of having an impressive stock of stand-out information. It’s about distributing and tracking where that information is going, how people are engaging with it and how we can intervene that process to push them along the funnel. There’s some impressive kit out there but what’s right for a massive corporate machine, isn’t necessarily right for a small start-up.

Other experts will come into play along the way too. Brand or creative insight when you’re starting out on the journey, PR people to help portray your personal best and recruiting digital know-how is obviously essential for keeping a track of how successfully you’re drawing in spectators and turning them into participators. Each of these roles has the opportunity to be the metaphorically speaking ‘yellow jersey’ front runner depending on what leg of the journey is being undertaken. Campaign success relies on egos being put aside and working with a team that understands what each party brings and letting them do so.

  • PR’s place in the content push

Content marketing is the new social media. Everyone’s an expert. Or claims to be. The truth is no one single discipline can take complete ownership. It’s about content and technology coming together to make more engaging marketing programmes that incite action.

But where does PR come into the mix? As a content marketing agency founded in PR principles surely we should be banging that drum hard?

There’s an argument PR agencies are in a strong position to take the content mantle – it all comes down to hunting out the most relevant story, after all. And yes it is a natural extension of what PR people have always done. But it’s not just another string to PR’s bow. Content strategy sits above PR, as it does all the other channels, to take your message to market.

Content is an all encompassing discipline of which PR is a part. It sits alongside email, advertising, social etc. as another channel to take our message to market.

The beauty of it is we’re not beholden to the media to be our mouthpiece. As long as we can stay true to the content marketing mantra of relevancy we can leverage editorial thinking to make ourselves famous within our own industries.

  • Getting ready for 2016

The Grand Depart is already nigh.

Perhaps you’ve dabbled with content but without any real strategic direction.

You may have done nothing at all.

Of course, you could be doing it pretty successfully but simply lack inspiration.

Whatever your reasons for taking the time to read this guide, if 2016 is ‘The Year of Content’ it’s time to take action.

But before going into full on production mode take a step back and strategise. It will pay off in the long run – not just in ROI terms – but by saving time (and your sanity) in understanding where the greatest effort to reward ratios lie and finding focus in and among the content chaos.

Here are a some steps you could get underway today to get a head start into 2016

Get in training:

  • Content audit – Take stock of what you’ve got. Be it in a publishable format or not. This could include anything from brochures and presentations through to papers, features, blogs and video. Use a traffic light system or similar to identify and prioritise content and potential content e.g. red = not relevant; amber = needs work; green = good to go.
  • Gap analysis – Attempt to map out your customer journey i.e. the value chain and understand what questions your prospects have at each stage and what content you could deliver to help answer those queries. You should soon start to see gaps in your portfolio for your content programme to address.
  • Industry benchmarking – Who in your market is doing a good content job? Or if there isn’t a shining example look to other markets for inspiration.
  • Create an editorial calendar – It may just be skeleton for now but there will be certain events throughout the year that will need support e.g. an annual trade event. Start plotting awards, speaking opportunities, key windows when customers are in buying mode etc.

 

Strategising for success

Thanks for joining us on this whistle-stop tour. If you want the full guided tour, or just a few pointers in the first instance, we’d be happy to accompany you on the journey.

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