Content marketing has been around for centuries, the company Jell-O in America were giving away free cookbooks 100 years ago to increase engagement and loyalty.

In some ways it’s unfortunate that buzz topics like content marketing get moved into a silo when they should naturally be part of the entire marketing mix. In this situation, content marketing should be the underlying principle for digital strategy. 

Let’s look at some numbers from Econsultancy’s first Content Marketing Survey Report, sponsored by Outbrain.

  • “Over 90% of respondents believe that content marketing will become more important over the next 12 months”. This is evident by the tripling of the search phrase ‘content marketing’ since 2011.
  • “73% of digital marketers agree that brands are becoming publishers”. I agree with that, even just a social presence is publishing, just remember to think like a publisher.
  • “64% agree that content marketing ‘is becoming its own discipline”. It needs to, but it also needs to be the ubiquitous foundation of most digital initiatives. 
  • “31% say they have no plans to appoint someone dedicated to content”. These businesses have their head in the sand and will lose market share, quickly, if they haven’t already. 
  • “66% of marketers do not have a specific budget for content marketing”. This is evident by the preponderance of laggards in all commerce sectors and their inability to keep up with change.
  • “38% believe content marketing is more effective than advertising in driving sales”.  This is true, owned content of integrity is more effective, I agree with that. 
  • “38% of respondents have a defined content marketing strategy”. I disagree with this result, and for the majority that have a strategy, I doubt it’s a good one. 

Many CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) and marketing decision makers think that having a blog and a social media presence, is having a content marketing strategy.

It’s a good start but far from what is needed in today’s tumultuous content marketing landscape. My own prediction is that less than 10% of business in Australia and New Zealand have a well-coordinated content strategy, suitable for the contemporary ‘age of the customer’. 

So here is your business right in the middle, your business now has multiple options through traditional and digital channels. 

The content marketing landscape

These new channels have arrived with the evolution of web.2.0 and will continue to evolve at a rapid pace as we move towards the possibility of web 3.0. 

Platforms, I was looking at some analytics figures for just mobile devices in isolation, for an ecommerce site I recently launched, and counted up to 200 handsets with multiple operating systems using our portal. So responsive design is a paramount platform requirement for your content. 

There are bountiful Touchpoints to consider, and this is where the customer fits in. Today’s consumer is the major catalyst in driving change, they are dictating the way business needs to make contact through push and pull tactics, making engagement the principle.

Engagement is key here, there is no such thing as conversion without engagement.

Lets look at the customer by reverse engineering the business landscape for the consumer. Can anyone remember the pyramid stages in the traditional purchase funnel that has been taught throughout the secondary and tertiary education system for over a hundred years? 

While there are different versions, fundamentally you have awareness, opinion, consideration, preference and purchase.  

Traditional Purchase Funnel

Well this model has been turned on its head. 

Today’s customer is reaching out and connecting with brands on their terms. If you don’t have a presence where they desire it, someone else will connect with your customer. This is likely to be happening which means you are losing market share.  

The consumer has driven much of today’s change; your customer is time-poor, attention-poor and ever discerning. They pick and choose when, where and how to engage with your products and services. You now need to know, not just where your customers are, but predict where they will be and what they will want, not just now but in the future.

If you can achieve this then you will win loyalty and advocacy, for this to be a reality you need content that allows them to discover, investigate, learn, interact and engage.

Customers want alternatives, peer reviews, user generated content, recommendations, alternatives, instant price comparison, group buying deals, local discounts, rewards and multiple purchasing options, so give it to them.

I was recently told that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years, there are digital connections and conversations happening all around your products and services at a plethora of touchpoints, at any given moment. Each conversation is an opportunity to engage, so it is essential that you posses a tailored multi-touchpoint discipline. 

So here we have the new purchase funnel, a lot more complicated and less linear than the original funnel suggests. 

The modern day purchase funnel

The traditional funnel concentrates on the lead up to purchase. Today there is also a much bigger focus on post purchase, focusing on after-sales service and preparing your audience for a renewal or a repeat transaction.

What needs to be considered now is a more sophisticated approach to help marketers navigate this environment. 

Much of the new purchase funnel is based on customers’ research (which is readily available anywhere and anytime), which has become a much more significant step in this purchase process through; search engines, content sites, comparison shopping, user reviews and ratings, affiliate sites, retailer sites and social media.

Steps are not always in the traditional order either, such as customers seeking opinion by peers, reaching out online and communicating their findings in an amplified digital voice, sharing their experience on their social and enterprise-social networks.  

Supporting your customer through the selection process, so that they feel informed and empowered before they make a decision is paramount, and you can do this with content. 

What can you fix?

Like with any change intent, you need to ask yourself many a question:

  • Is your business translating engagement into loyalty? 
  • Are you using the most cost-effective strategy? 
  • Is your business succeeding so far with a strategy across channels, platforms and touch points? 
  • Are you targeting potential customers, new customers, existing customers and old customers?
  • Are there ways you can be using your data more effectively? 

If your answers are hazy and unsure on the questions above, there is a good chance you are being left behind. It’s time to work out how to leverage the highly flexible nature of digital channels to push a broader variety of content, content that is highly targeted to your diverse audience.

A new approach is not without its challenges, but they are challenges that can be overcome. So what are some of the challenges you are facing? 

  • Lack of human resources
  • Lack of budget
  • Company politics, lack of ROI / No business case
  • Lack of understanding and training
  • Lack of content creations skills
  • Lack of ownership
  • Difficulty in localizing content
  • Don’t want to give away expertise / human capital

To help mitigate the above challenges, look to increase communication with your audience directly through the channels, platforms and touchpoints that your customers are already wired to. Control your content from a single source of brand identity and engage in the one-to-one conversations that the web allows. Social media is a great platform where content marketing is a high value, low cost initiative. 

Google heavily weights engaging and shared content, the Penguin algorithm is gaining more muscle, so tidy up all those back-links and ensure web connections are in context and relevant. Most importantly, push content of integrity to all the locations that will attract some pullback. 

A content evolution is taking place, the opportunity is now, and as each day passes it’s only going to get harder to be heard amongst your peers. The traditional channels are being diluted and are fragmenting across the media landscape. The rapid rise of digital channels, platforms and touchpoints means there are cost effective opportunities for your company to connect with the right audience at the right time.  

A content strategy sits at the heart of digital marketing; it’s a very old concept thriving on new touchpoints.  It needs as much attention as any other online company project.  So let’s transform how you communicate with your target audience, by generating effective content of integrity in the age of the customer. 

I always start by educating within the corporate domestic environment, for content marketing to work, you need understanding, buy-in and support by your hierarchy and peers. Educate the business on its importance and keep promoting your positive results.

Some early advice:

1.) Understand your modern day purchase funnel.

2.) Educate your team and everyone in the business from top to bottom.

3.) Marketing needs to own the project and work with all departments.

4.) Appoint a content manager.

5.) Research content marketing, who is doing it well, learn from them, assess competition.

6.) Start to identify who might be able to assist in creating or curating content, within and external to the business.

Has anyone got any examples of who is doing content marketing well and who is doing it poorly? 

Has anyone got any tips, tricks and tools?

There is much more to this subject and more experience that I can offer. My next post will review what you have to prepare for content of integrity, some tools worth looking at, and the benefits you will receive if executed well.

I am in the early stages of another coordinated project for content marketing that includes multiple stakeholders so I am keen to share, and just as important, I am keen to learn from you.