Looking at the Big Picture for Content Marketing

February 18, 2021

By Matthew Schwartz

Red Deer/Shutterstock.com

Not long after “content marketing” became widely adopted among brands in the mid-2000s, the channel was referred to in somewhat regal terms. Content marketing wasn’t just an effective way for brands to get their message out amid the decline of traditional advertising. It was “king,” bestriding the client-side like a colossus.

It’s debatable whether content marketing will ever ascend to the media throne (and it is discussed with Talmudic fervor online). But while the discipline commands a growing amount of marketing budgets, brands continue having a tough time measuring the channel, not to mention crafting a dedicated strategy.

According to a recent study from the ANA in partnership with The Content Council, spending on content marketing during a two-year period showed a 73 percent average budget increase and is expected to grow 42 percent this year.

However, 60 percent of the respondents said they have reservations about a lack of actionable insights derived from current tracking methods in determining the effectiveness of content marketing. Just 35 percent of respondents said they have a clearly documented content strategy; 52 percent said they do not, and 13 percent said they were unsure.

The numbers do not square with the rhetoric surrounding content marketing as the best thing since canned beer. Part of the problem is mindset. Content marketing isn’t an advertising campaign that companies bottle, distribute, and refresh every few months until it runs out of juice. It’s an entirely different creative endeavor, producing stories with lots of heart.

Even the most memorable 30-second spots are interruptive in nature. By contrast, content marketing is in the mold of entertainment, in which storytelling, character, and theme are essential. The opportunity is for marketers to create the kind of programming that will inspire, provoke, and spark conversation, not sell stuff.

With that in mind, here are a few steps for CMOs and marketers who are eager to bolster their content marketing strategy.

 

Set up Guideposts

Job one is obtaining approval from the tippy-top. CMOs need to convince upper management that content marketing is not a substitute for advertising, but added-value. It won’t hurt to provide some context, in terms of how people — and younger consumers, in particular — tune out “commercials” these days, but are open to checking out original content, whatever the source. Once the content is being distributed on a regular basis, pay close attention to “time spent” and level of sharing. Partnerships, which can play a key role in the development of content marketing programs, are another way to gauge what’s clicking with consumers.

 

Recruit New Talent

Content marketing is not some cosmic practice beyond the scope of traditional marketers. At the same time, companies must look beyond the usual precincts when it comes to staffing. “Content marketing is complicated and is based on skillsets not typically found in most marketing teams,” Jacqueline Loch, EVP of customer innovation at SJC Content and recent past chair of The Content Council, told the ANA, adding that content marketing departments should be housed with editors, writers, and content creators. CMOs don’t have to look very far, what with jobs at U.S. newsrooms falling by around half since 2008. There’s an ample talent pool from Amazon Studios, HBO, Netflix, and the other 21st century dream factories to tap into, as well.

Whether the content marketing staff consists strictly of journalists, producers, and writers, or is a hybrid with both new and existing talent, the goal is to produce original stories on a regular basis — not ads by another name.

 

Create an Edit Calendar

It sounds pretty basic, but the ANA/Content Council survey suggests there are plenty of marketing departments in desperate need of an editorial calendar. There are several reasons for having one in tow. For starters, edit calendars provide CMOs and their teams with a grid for scheduling, frequency, and long-term planning. It also builds a sense of routine when it comes developing a steady stream of content (rather than being ad hoc). Perhaps most important, an edit calendar enables marketers to gauge which types of stories (and media channels) hold the most sway with consumers, and prioritize accordingly. Keeping to an edit calendar ensures that content marketing doesn’t become a wasted exercise.

What’s your brand’s experience with developing content marketing programming?


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