Although it may have originated a century ago, content marketing has been limited to a small community of practitioners until quite recently. But that’s changing.
As measured by Google Trends, content marketing appears to be entering the over-hyped phase of technology adoption (see charts below).
From Silver Bullet to Disappointment?
During the “inflated expectations” phase of technology adoption, starry-eyed newbies anticipate significant benefits, but often achieve disappointing results until they’ve mastered what it takes to do it well.
Marketers embrace content marketing, often seeing it as a silver bullet response to the sea change in consumer and B2B buying processes. The dramatic shift in control over the buying process, shifting from sellers to buyers, means that conventional marketing tactics, broadcast media or product-centric messaging are rarely effective with today’s more informed buyers.
But content marketing is not just the same old marcom, a makeover disguised with updated colors or fonts… If so, it’s guaranteed to fail.
How to improve results
- Content strategies designed to be relevant and compelling for the chosen audience
- Strategic insights derived from on-going listening to customer feedback across multiple channels, including buyer persona research
- Content audits and inventory management to ensure that strategic content assets remain fresh and relevant — and appropriate for each buying role or audience segment
- Content mapping
Content strategies powered by insights
To ensure content creation results in resources that will be compelling and relevant, marketers need insights into what matters to consumers or B2B buyers and influencers. Valuable insights include information and perspectives on:
- The circumstances or motivations that trigger a buying process
- The jobs-to-be-done that buyers are trying to accomplish; the gains they seek, the pains they want to minimize or avoid, their priorities
- The information and resources buyers seek at each stage of their buying process
- How they prefer to obtain information or help at each stage, how they conduct research or test out alternatives
- The factors used to evaluate and prioritize alternative solutions
- Who else is involved in the buying process and what those buying or influencer roles need to know or believe
- The resources customers seek for help throughout the customer journey (post-sale)
Based on these strategic insights, marketers must map their content strategy so that:
- Messages, content assets and resources are sorted and grouped for the right audience member (buyer persona)
And they can be delivered (or retrieved):
- At the appropriate stage in that persona’s buying process or customer journey
- In the right form or format to address that person’s informational or motivational needs
- Via the preferred channel(s) or devices
- Available at the right time of day or night
- In the right language (for multi-regional brands)
Managing content strategies, assets and content maps at the optimal level of granularity requires both operational and platform-enabled support, or it becomes too unwieldy to sustain for long. (And that’s before you factor in the exponential complexity of localizing content for multiple languages or regional markets!)
How to improve operations
Experts say that well-oiled content marketing operations adapt operational practices from the publishing world, such as production tools like editorial calendars, control over editorial and review processes, role clarity, expense management, etc. Automating repetitive or predictable editorial or production tasks can also be a great time saver.
Content and asset reuse are additional techniques to increase efficiency and lower costs, especially with the help of CMS or asset management platforms.
There are multiple platforms that claim to streamline content production, such as Kapost at the high end, aimed at larger organizations with big budgets. Conteni.do plans to enter the market with a more streamlined solution for smaller teams with tighter budgets.
Over the next several years we can expect to see multiple offerings across a spectrum of functionality and pricing, all intended to help improve various aspects of content marketing efficiency.
Continuous improvement based on testing, measuring and content focused analytics will also help marketers achieve better results and improved ROI, but it requires more discipline (and an analytics toolkit) to put into practice. This is an enormous topic in its own right…
Recognizing the Inflated Expectations Phase
To validate the premise that content marketing has entered the inflated expectations phase of the technology hype cycle, consider the accelerating trend in Google searches on this topic since 2004. You can also observe this in realtime when you search for tweets tagged with #contentmarketing. (There’s a new tweet every minute!)
The first chart shows that a small and fairly stable number of people experimented with content marketing for over a decade. Somewhere between 2013 and 2014 interest in content marketing began to accelerate — a likely indicator of mainstream marketing interest.
As is always the case with new technology-enabled practices, an inevitable trough of disillusionment will follow the period of unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to predict why. Silver bullet thinking, outmoded practices, insufficient planning or insights to drive execution.
The question is, can marketers learn from past experiences and transition fast into more strategic approaches, supplemented by efficient content production operations, as outlined above? Only time will tell.