Marketers and brands are eager to cash in on the content marketing craze, but as EContent’s Theresa Cramer points out, relatively few firms are doing it well. In this book, Cramer’s savvy guidance demystifies the discipline and presents tactics and strategies that are working today. Cramer offers definitions and background, highlights minefields and misfires, and describes exciting new roles and opportunities for marketers, publishers, and journalists. Inside Content Marketing is more than a how-to guide—it’s engaging and perceptive.
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About the Author
Theresa Cramer is the editor of EContent magazine. She is a 10-year veteran of the publishing industry with a background in both newspaper and book publishing. Follow her on Twitter @TheresaCramer.
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Inside Content Marketing
EContent Magazine's Guide to Roles, Tools, and Strategies for Thriving in the Age of Brand Journalism
By Theresa Cramer
Information Today, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Theresa Cramer
All rights reserved.
What Is Content Marketing, Really?
When you think about marketing, what do you picture? Flyers? Coupons? Billboards? Banner ads? Or do you picture a white paper, a blog post, or an infographic? If you picture the latter, then it's safe to say you are part of the content marketing revolution. Consumer expectations are changing and so are the tactics companies are using to reach them. Today's customers are looking for more than a few dollars off, and today's marketers are giving consumers the information and value they need through content marketing.
Study after study confirms what most of us already know: People respond to content, not advertising. According to "Consumers' Attitudes Toward Custom Content," 70 percent of people surveyed say they "prefer to learn about a company through a collection of articles rather than in an ad." Marketers have heard that message loud and clear, embracing the idea of content marketing wholeheartedly. The interest in content marketing has only grown since that study came out, as audiences have become even more discerning about the content they consume.
However, if you believe the numbers (and I am about to share a lot of numbers with you), you probably don't need convincing that content marketing is a must-have tool in your bag of marketing tricks. Google searches for the term "content marketing" have grown 400 percent since 2011. Back in 2014, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs found that 93 percent of marketers said they were using content marketing. That number is so high it's almost shocking. In 2015, they tweaked the definition of content marketing and got slightly different results, with 86 percent of respondents saying their organizations use content marketing. In 2016 that number jumped a bit to 88 percent. It's clear that the siren song of content marketing is strong, and if you aren't careful about your approach, you might just crash on the rocks.
At first glance, content marketing seems simple — almost a dream come true. Instead of buying expensive billboards or television ads to raise brand awareness, all you have to do is create some great content, post it on your blog, promote it through your social channels, and voila! Right?
While traditional marketers and brands may be eager to cash in on the content marketing craze, I have a word of warning for them: Content marketing isn't as easy as it seems. According to CMI's B2C Content Marketing 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends — North America, 76 percent of Business to Consumer (B2C) marketers are using content marketing but only 28 percent consider themselves effective at it (with just 10 percent describing themselves as very effective). That hasn't slowed down the content machine, though. The amount of content companies continue to create has grown consistently — even though only 43 percent understand what "content marketing success" looks like. Here's the takeaway: The buzz is massive, but many still struggle to define content marketing, let alone implement it successfully.
Social Media Today's "13 Ways Content Marketers Miss the Mark" found that the three biggest complaints expressed by B2B audiences are too many barriers to downloading materials, self-promotional content, and (perhaps the worst offense of all) content that lacks substance. While it is tempting to dismiss the marketers creating this content as a clueless minority, it's clear that a hefty majority of marketers and brands are still struggling to fine-tune their content marketing and make it a useful part of their overall strategy. Forrester's "Compare Your B2B Content Marketing Maturity" found that "51 percent of B2B marketing leaders rate their content marketing practices as very mature, an overwhelming 85 percent fail to connect content activity to business value — and, as a result, fail to retain customers or win their long-term loyalty." These results are unacceptable — especially for a channel that is so important to so many companies — but they are also predictable, considering that so many practitioners still don't grasp the real meaning of content marketing.
Defining Content Marketing
So let's start at the beginning by simply defining what content marketing is. If you ask 100 different people, you're likely to get 100 different answers. The confusion stems in part from the stealthy nature of content marketing, which aims to go (almost) unnoticed as marketing while simultaneously providing valuable content to customers that ultimately raises the brand's profile and results in sales.
Unlike so many other things in life, you may not know content marketing when you see it. In fact, if the content creators are doing their jobs right, you often won't notice you're being marketed to until it's too late, and you're already poking around the brand's site — or are even in a store — to purchase the product the marketers were hoping you would buy all along. To complicate matters further, content marketing often doesn't even reveal what it's selling. Take, for instance, Chipotle's Farmed and Dangerous (see Figure 1.1), a show the burrito-slinging chain created for Hulu.
Antony Young described the show on Adage.com: "Farmed and Dangerous takes branded content to another level by not including any branding at all in the show. Social Media Week organizers dubbed it Unbranded Entertainment. Chipotle and other advertisers placed commercials in the show, but by not including branding in the show itself, the restaurant has taken a risk that few marketers would entertain."
Instead of pushing burritos, Farmed and Dangerous used comedy to reach the masses with a message from Chipotle — though viewers may have been blissfully unaware where the content was coming from. Famous for its efforts to source ingredients sustainably, Chipotle created a show about the dangers of industrial agriculture, not about its own food.
This wasn't the first time Chipotle tackled this topic in its marketing. Many may remember its "Back to the Start Commercial" that featured Willie Nelson singing Coldplay's "The Scientist" while adorable animated farmers realized the error of their industrialized ways. If you didn't watch carefully, you may have missed the Chipotle tag at the end.
Not all content marketing will be devoid of any branding. In fact, if your goal is to drive actual sales and not just general "brand lift," then you will almost certainly have to include some brand information, but it's important to keep one thing in mind: Your content should aim to answer a question for your potential customers; promoting your brand must always be secondary to that mission. Chipotle understands this and takes it very seriously.
More recently, Chipotle won a PR Award at Cannes for a 3 ½–minute video about a scarecrow that is disillusioned with the food system but finds happiness through serving burrito bowls filled with fresh ingredients to customers (see Figure 1.2). More importantly, the video was a companion piece for a game — delivered in app form — that continued Chipotle's content marketing mission of promoting sustainable food practices.
With so many different formats, channels, and mediums available to content marketers — video, apps, blogs, feature films, and beyond — you can see how a newbie might be a bit confused about how to get a successful content marketing effort up and running. According to CMI's 2016 B2C research, "This year, [content marketers are] allocating 32% of their total marketing budget, on average, to content marketing (vs. 25% last year)." With numbers like that, it's essential that marketers start getting their content marketing strategies right.
It doesn't have to be confusing. "At its very core [good content marketing is] delivery of value that goes beyond the product or service being marketed," says Robert Rose, chief strategist at CMI. "Great content marketing can stand on its own — and delivers education, entertainment, and engagement without the need of the product or service. That's really the litmus test. If the content would stand by itself as a valuable experience (because of, or even despite the brand's involvement) to a consumer — then it's great content marketing."
Creating a memorable ad is hard enough, but creating the kind of content Rose describes seems to be damn near impossible for many marketers. At the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in 2015, there was no Grand Prix winner in the branded content and entertainment category. Not only are marketers falling short of their own goals but their content literally isn't winning any prizes for creativity. There are plenty of reasons for this — which we'll explore in these pages — but one thing seems clear: Many marketers still don't "get it."
What Are Marketers Doing Wrong?
The Content Marketing Institute delved deeper into the numbers in its 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, looking at what made the organizations that were confident in their content marketing successful. A couple of things stood out. A hefty majority — 60 percent — of the companies that rated their efforts highly had a documented content strategy, as opposed to just 12 percent of the least effective. Additionally, 85 percent of the strongest marketers had "someone who oversees content marketing strategy" in comparison to 50 percent of the least effective.
The 2015 version of the report supported these findings but looked at the numbers a bit differently. The report found that "most B2B marketers have a content marketing strategy — but only 35 percent have documented it" according to a post on the CMI site (see Figure 1.3). By 2016, that number had shrunk to just 32 percent. This presents some problems. "B2B marketers who have a documented strategy are more effective and less challenged with every aspect of content marketing when compared with their peers who only have a verbal strategy or no strategy at all," says the CMI post.
It's clear that two of the secrets to content marketing success are planning and oversight, but not everyone is getting that message. The low barrier to entry and deceptively simple tactics of content marketing can be misleading for those who don't understand the need for a coherent strategy, or simply don't understand what one looks like. As Greg Satell wrote on Forbes.com, "Alas, I discovered that content strategy was in reality just another name for brand planners selling long form ads to clients. Nobody who was talking about content strategy seemed to have ever published or produced anything." (That is why organizations should hire a journalist, but we'll get to that later.) Creating a meaningful content marketing strategy, and holding your staff accountable for achieving the goals set out by the strategy, are important to any endeavor, and that is no different when it comes to creating branded content.
However, if developing a content marketing strategy were as easy as it sounds, so many companies would not still be struggling with it. In fact, IMN's 2014 Content Marketing Survey reported that 30 percent of its respondents admitted to "winging it" when it came to their strategy. Joe Pulizzi, founder of CMI, suggested in his "7 Content Marketing Strategies for 2013"column for EContent that a mission statement might be a good place to start. Pulizzi wrote:
"I've surveyed about 1,000 people over the past month, asking each if they have developed an editorial mission, or content marketing mission statement, for their content strategies. Easily less than 5% had something like this prepared, let alone a content marketing strategy.
"This is a major problem. How can we execute a content strategy if we don't have a clear vision for why we are developing the content in the first place?
"Every person that touches the content marketing program should know, by heart, what the mission of the content strategy is. In addition, if you don't have a content vision, how do you know which stories should or should not be included? This is a major problem."
But what does a truly meaningful mission statement consist of? According to Rose, there are three questions that need to be addressed:
1. Who is the intended audience?
2. What value will be delivered in the content?
3. How will the audience be better off having experienced the content?
I would also add that you should begin to address your own goals with your mission statement. It's never too early to define what you consider success so that you'll be able to measure your return on investment (ROI) later.
Once you understand why you are creating content, you'll be able to better detail and execute your strategy — but even the folks at CMI have had trouble battling the content strategy demons. As Robert Rose wrote in a CMI post about the difference between content marketing and content strategy, "But, here at CMI we haven't yet (at least, not to the extent that we should) fully embraced the advancement of content strategy, or helped preach the distinction between the skill sets needed for content marketing and those required for content strategy. In fact, we've been guilty of using the terms 'content marketing strategy' and 'content strategy' interchangeably at times (we have resolved to be more clear on this, moving forward)."
The experts at CMI aren't the only ones conflating content strategy and content marketing — to say nothing of content marketing strategy. A few years ago, I was being interviewed and the writer asked me what, if any, difference there was between content marketing and content strategy. I was confused for a moment. In a way, I didn't even understand the question. My background in journalism and publishing — not marketing — had led me to distinguish between these two things long before anyone else seemed to have. Eventually I pulled myself together and said something like, "These are two completely different concepts but you can't be successful at one (content marketing) without the other (content strategy)." It wasn't until Rose's mea culpa that I realized this was a common misconception — and eventually had both Rose and "Content Wrangler" Scott Abel on an EContent Live Hangout to hash out the difference between content strategy and content marketing once and for all.
For the record, content strategy is, at least according to Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, "Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content." (Really smart marketers will add "measurement" to that list — because you always need to know what's working.)
Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing Strategy
"Well there are two different things at play here — a content strategy and a content marketing strategy," says Rose. "I view them as different. Related, but different. A content strategy is the holistic approach to managing content in an organization. It is how we organize, manage, and utilize content as a strategic asset. So it covers all manner of content — from the documentation of our products, to our customer onboarding forms, to our invoicing terminology to the way we communicate and so on and so on. Content marketing strategy, on the other hand, is solely devoted to the practice of how we use content to drive a marketing-related business purpose."
He continues: "The content marketing strategy is narrower in scope, certainly, and truly focuses how we use that created value in order to differentiate our offering, create reasons for customers to become customers, and ultimately create loyalty and evangelism among our constituents."
The moral of the story is that even the experts get it wrong sometimes, and if you're planning on making content marketing part of your repertoire, it's important to not only have a clear mission statement for your content objectives but also to make sure you have an overarching strategy in place to govern your every move. One of the keys to creating and implementing that strategy will be finding the right people.
The Chief Content Marketing Officer to the Rescue
You may recall that one of the factors cited by successful content marketers is having "someone who oversees content marketing strategy." Yes, accountability is key. According to Curata's "Content Marketing Tactics Planner," 71 percent of companies plan on increasing content marketing budgets, and the same study found that the bulk of that money is going toward money and people. At the time, 57 percent said they did not have an executive directly responsible for content marketing, and that while new sales and leads were the top goals of most content marketing campaigns, companies found their efforts had more impact on brand awareness. Curata's chief marketing officer, Michael Gerard, told EContent he thought the lack of oversight might be why goals and results weren't matching up.
Excerpted from Inside Content Marketing by Theresa Cramer. Copyright © 2016 Theresa Cramer. Excerpted by permission of Information Today, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I The Marketer's Mission
1 What Is Content Marketing, Really? 3
Defining Content Marketing 5
What Are Marketers Doing Wrong? 8
The Chief Content Marketing Officer to the Rescue 12
The Building Blocks of Good Content Marketing 14
You Get What You Measure 16
2 The Best of 100+ Years of Content Marketing 23
From John Deere to Subaru 23
From Jell-0 to Whole Foods 25
Other Great Examples of Content Marketing 26
Red Bull: The Gold Standard 30
Branded Content at Its Best 33
Creating Your Own Classic Content 37
3 Hire a Journalist as Your Chief Storyteller 41
Hiring the Right Journalist 43
Easing the Transition 47
When in Doubt, Hire a Freelancer 50
What It's Like to Work With Contently 52
Curate Your Way to More Content 55
"Convince and Convert" Takes on New Meaning 57
Part II A New Road for Journalists
4 The Changing Face of Journalism 61
Banner Blindness and the Rise of Native Advertising 62
The Breakdown of Church and State 64
The Content Studio 68
5 Journalists and Marketing-A Match Made in Content Heaven 73
The Storyteller Shortage 76
There Is No "Dark Side" 78
The Faces of Content Marketing 83
Getting Your Content Marketing Education 85
6 Lessons From Brand Journalists 87
Sarah Mitchell: A Journey Along the Content Spectrum 87
Jonathan Crossfield: The Second Act Storyteller 92
Daniel Hatch: One Change After Another 97
Changing the Publishing Paradigm 101
Part III Publishers and the Custom Content Boom
7 The Publishing Game Has Changed, So Should You 105
The Revenue Stream 110
Custom Content 112
Don't Blame Your Audience 115
When Native Advertising Goes Wrong 118
8 Become a Custom Content Creator 121
Start Small 122
Make Someone Accountable 125
Set Your Standards and Stick to Them 128
Remember: This Is Brand Journalism 131
Build Relationships and a Process 135
9 Branded Content in Action 139
Dani Fankhauser, Branded Content Editor, Bustle 139
Nisha Gopalan, Creative Strategist and Branded Content Manager, New York Magazine 142
Deanna Zarnmit, Director, Digiday Content Studio 145
The Best of Branded Content 147
An In-Depth Look at Branded Content 150
Measuring the Results of Branded Content 154
Afterword: Derek Jeter and an Industry in Flux 157
About the Author 165