Content is like water. It seems to fall freely from the sky in abundance (think 4 billion drops of content per day raining down on us). When it lands it either disappears into the deep dark crevices of the web or pools in the watering holes of like-minded searchers. Just about everyone searches for and drinks in content everyday to quench a thirst for information or entertainment. Which begs the question: How do you make sure your content doesn’t get lost in the flood?
We took this slippery issue to our publisher Drew Neisser, he of “Cut Through” fame, and asked him for his undiluted perspective. What we got was a deluge of insights on content strategy, creation, channels, measurement and storytelling. We hope you’ll find his clarity as refreshing as a tall, cold, glass of H2O.
Social Media Explorer (SME): What does a content strategy look like? Where should businesses start?
Drew: At the risk of over-simplifying content strategy, here’s a cheeky acronym — PUSH — that will “push” you in the right direction while your content pulls in customers and prospects.
- If you’re a brand with a clear purpose, it becomes so much easier to create a simplified content strategy because the content just becomes a fulfillment of that purpose. Ask questions like, “Why am I in business? Why would people want to work at my company and do business with me?” This should be the foundation of your content strategy.
- Create content that is of value. Yes, it should provide some entertainment but it should also be of use.
- Brands should consider things like character, archetype, voice, and conflict. It’s helpful to think of content as chapters within a larger story where you don’t give the entire plot away in one post.
- It’s not about you or your brand; it’s about your stakeholders, customers, employees and investors. You need to have the humility to think about those around you and the stories they want to tell.
SME: How does one make the business case to the boss that content is worth the investment?
Drew: Content can do at least four things for your business: generate awareness, turn that awareness into purchase intent, encourage repeat purchases, and turn customers into brand advocates.
Assuming you know your current cost per acquisition and the potential lifetime value of a customer, purchase and repeat purchase are the easiest things to put a value on. The differential between lifetime value and cost per acquisition should yield funds for developing a content program. Most businesses will start with purchase intent and prioritize driving traffic and generating leads.
Contrarily, I would say focus on number four, which says to start off with creating content that is of value to customers and let them do the advocacy for you. You won’t lose if your main focus is helping your customers.
SME: How does content fit into the overall marketing strategy?
Drew: It should definitely be integrated from the get go. Content programs fail when they are isolated from all other activities. This is not a “build it and they will come” situation; you will need media (earned or paid) to get folks to see your content and appreciate its value. Unless you’re very lucky, you won’t have a successful content program without a paid strategy.
SME: Do you need a different strategy for demand generation than customer retention?
Drew: Yes, and by the way, we recommend focusing on your customers first when developing your content program. After you’ve cracked the cost of satisfying the content needs of your customers, then it’s time to think about your prospects. Sometimes the content will be the same but often, prospects need more hand-holding. In that case, you should provide them with info on your product or service, and also on your category in general. Keep in mind that these days, people tend to contact you after they’ve done their homework, which will provide higher quality leads.
SME: How does one figure out what content is working and what isn’t?
Drew: First, you have to decide on your priority metrics: CSAT, leads, and referrals. Then, you can look at types of content. We believe all content can be sorted into 8 buckets and then can be assessed accordingly. In most cases, we find that only 3 of the 8 content buckets deliver upon the predetermined goals.
SME: Are more companies moving to outsource their content marketing or are they keeping it in-house?
Drew: This is the age-old question. Right now, the pendulum is swinging towards doing more in-house, and you can see that in the recent moves of some of the larger companies. When the economy gets tighter, it will probably swing the other way as businesses trim non-core staff. My feeling is that unless you are prepared to build a culture of storytellers, you are better off out-sourcing that need.
SME: Which is more important, quality or quantity?
Drew: I debate with a lot of folks in the industry about this very question. To me, quality always overrides quantity. The truth is that with over 2 million blog posts a day competing for attention, you need to make sure that you are creating content that you are proud of, and that your content is worth someone’s time.
SME: How important is video and how do we create it more cost-effectively?
Drew: Video is critical, and I think every brand needs to make it a priority for several reasons. For one, Facebook has said it’s a priority so any hope of getting organic reach will be a result of native video on Facebook. Next, you have a whole generation that’s been raised on video, and would rather watch a video than read. So if you want to engage with millennials, then you need video.
The million-dollar question is how do we do this in a cost-effective manner? Some brands have figured out how to do so and are creating short videos that are at once real, relevant, and raw. This proves that videos don’t need to be feature film quality to evoke emotion in the moment.
SME: Is storytelling really a new strategic approach?
Drew: Some of us believe there is a new twist on the old yarn. First, its not about the story you want to tell as much as it the stories that people will tell about you. Second, great storytelling is about conflict, character and plot lines. Conflict is not something you typically see on your standard marketing strategy statement. Plot lines mean that you don’t have to try to tell the whole story at once, which is quite different than traditional advertising.
SME: Do we need to hire professional storytellers?
Drew: There are some businesses where the CEO is a natural storyteller so they’re able to do a lot of this work in-house. But then there are others who say, for example, “I’m not a storyteller. I’m an engineer.” These folks would much rather hire a professional.
IBM is hiring storytellers from Hollywood and Cisco has a comedy writer on staff. At minimum, I believe that companies would be well-advised to teach their executives and employees on the fundamentals of storytelling and how this can make them better communicators inside and outside the organization.
SME: How do we activate employees as storytellers?
Drew: It really requires both a top down and bottom up approach. From the top, executives need to embrace the brand story and become good storytellers themselves. This is made easier when the company’s purpose is clear and the exec can relate that purpose to a personal experience.
Similarly, from the bottom up, employees need to understand what the brand story is, and how they too can become storytellers. A lot of companies have developed employee advocacy programs, where they give employees content to share within their personal networks. These programs fall short when the employees aren’t trained on how to turn these messages into personalized stories. For example, if a company gives its employees content to promote on their own Facebook account and they do not personalize it, the content quickly looks like an ad. It’s crucial that employees know how to make the content their own.