A 5-step process to improve your content marketing results

Content alone is no longer enough. Here’s how the best brands are doubling-down on editorial service.

Ten years ago content was your brand’s secret weapon — a unique strategy to give you an edge on your competitors and offer something fresh to your customers.

Five years ago content started to look more like table stakes — a strategy that was becoming widely adopted and that customers were coming to expect from brands.

Fast forward to today and marketers are facing a familiar problem: Differentiate or die trying. With 9 out of 10 brands producing content to drive business growth, the mere effort of creating and promoting content isn’t enough to attract attention, let alone build a loyal audience.

Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends Report gives us a sense for how different brands are navigating the world of content proliferation. CMI cites wide differences in the strategic sophistication of brands — specifically related to their use of content to build loyalty and convert audiences. 

Among the most successful B2B content marketers:

  • 88% prioritize their audience’s informational needs over their organization’s sales/promotional message, compared to 50% for their least successful peers
  • 93% prioritize delivering relevant content when and where a person is most likely to see it, compared to 37% for their least successful peers
  • 83% provide customers with optimal experiences across their engagement journey, compared to 23% for their least successful peers use of content to build loyalty and convert audiences.

The question then becomes: How do I deliver relevant content that serves my audience?

We talk a lot about how to do this successfully, and how this can actually work for organizations. Here’s a brief snapshot of how to achieve this, taken from our experience running content strategy projects across several brands:

Step #1: Identify the white space

What are the moments that matter to your target audience, and what are the moments in which they would most need and appreciate input from a trusted partner? Finding this intersection is essential to understanding where your brand has an opportunity to play a role in the information diet of the community you serve. Think of your brand’s content as serving a purpose or doing a job in the lives of the people you are trying to reach. Our clients have succeeded when they’re committed to meeting clearly demonstrated needs (as identified in surveys, audience research, and other discovery work). This isn’t an academic exercise, but a practical one: Where is the opportunity to serve a greater purpose to your buyers?

Step #2: Find your editorial soul

It takes more than brand guidelines, taxonomy and page templates to develop content that resonates. Successful content brands have lofty ambitions and serve an editorial mission — just like their traditional media counterparts. They hold themselves to a higher level of professional execution and reader service. This requires a clearly-stated mission (Why does your content matter? How does it benefit the reader?), a strategy for meeting that mission that’s shared across titles and departments, and the right resources (writers, editors, producers, designers and developers, to name a few) who can bring the strategy to life. 

Step #3: Create signature formats

When it comes to producing content, think like you’re developing a Netflix series: How can you approach this topic in a signature and memorable way that allows for flexibility and delight, but also serialization? We’ve helped our clients create Q&A columns to manage an influx of non-product-related customer questions, step-by-step case studies that connect small business owners with best practices for growth and newsletters that serve as curators and “pocket analysts” for busy executives. Clearly-focused formats help internal strategic planning and collaboration and also appeal to the reader. To succeed, we highly recommend this approach as a key organizing principle of your efforts.

Step #4: Give each piece a plan

The individual assets your content brand produces serve as some of the best-performing brand and audience-building assets your organization can invest in. We’ve seen content assets delivered in marketing and advertiser campaigns that deliver 4-5x the social media relevance score, generate clicks at 1/10th of average cost, and deliver a positive brand association while doing so as an alternative to traditional advertising messaging. But getting this sort of return is about carefully targeting each piece of content against your audience’s interests and channel preferences. In addition, brands can often overlook the available channels where content can be marketed (think: screensavers on campus, printed posters, email signatures, events, etc.). Building a robust plan that aggregates available channels for reaching your audience — and executing that plan with each piece of content — will lead to increased content ROI. 

Step #5: Make a feedback loop of value

When it comes to performance analytics, you need to demonstrate 1) that your investment is driving return, and 2) that you are learning interesting things about your audience. Setting up tracking is just as important as circulating — and interpreting — what is tracked. This doesn’t just apply to engagement and conversion metrics, but also things like cost savings, earned partnerships, new revenue streams, etc. The best brands aren’t just thinking about “content hubs.” They are thinking about building content cultures with storytelling systems built to convert. So at every stage, from discovery to engagement to loyalty-generating revenue, they measure efficacy and help teams optimize their approach for future success.

Instead of just creating brands that produce content as an advertising asset, the best performing brands are editorial franchise developers, delivering their audiences value while generating value for their brands.

If this framework sparks ideas for how to do the same in your own content efforts, get in touch and we can provide case studies of our work with applications for any brand or organization. We look forward to hearing from you! R


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