Just Because Your B-School Didn't Cover Content Marketing Doesn't Mean It Isn't Here

American Express, Kraft, BeechNut, REI, SAP, GE and Ford: Just a few of the brands that have adopted content marketing as a substantial percentage of their total marketing spend and resource pie. So, why is it still an uphill battle at many companies, and many agencies, to sell through an effective content marketing effort?

Listen to agency executives, consultants, some chief marketing officers and mid-level managers, and the stories that seem to are being told as often as successes at this week's Content Marketing World in Cleveland are those of failure or lack of interest on the part of many companies to adopt a sound content strategy. Why? The most repeated roadblocks are a perceived lack of hard return-on-investment data to defend the investments, as well as simple inertia and blind adherence to brand management tenets learned at B-Schools even if the learning was two decades ago.

In the speeches, panel talks and questions from attendees from the floor, perhaps the most common point made is that companies, specifically C-suite executives, don’t "get the content thing." And that is surprising. They understand the ads that run in the newspaper, web portal or magazine they are reading, or in the TV show they are watching. But they don’t get that it’s better to be the content than the ad?



Here are five kick-starter thoughts that should at least make a marketer think about their own marketing mix and whether it has a properly supported content marketing strategy:

1. Think of content as part of your product, not part of your advertising. Customers buy your story as much as they buy the product or service. They don’t literally buy your advertising—unless you are really lucky. Ask Jack Daniels if people are buying the brown stuff in the glass, or the brown stuff in the glass that comes from Lynchburg, Tenn.—population 361, with water from limestone caverns. Yes, the story can and should be reflected in your advertising. But consider that Canadian Club is seeing double-digit increases in sales for the first time in decades. It’s not because of brilliant advertising; it’s because of brilliant content called “Mad Men.”

2. If content is telling your story, and it is part of your product, then why aren’t you spending money to distribute it? Companies will spend over $1 million to produce a really slick TV ad, and then think, “Oh, I better spend at least $10 million on media to run it to get my ROI on the production budget.” They spend less than $1,000 a week perhaps to populate a blog on their website, and spend nothing to promote its existence other than some basic SEO. Consider that Kraft has found that its digital advertising performed more than three times better when the ad contained a call-to-action to an actual piece of content than without. That's ROI.

3. If you opt-in for a content platform and strategy, let the story-tellers go find stories and start building the thing. Don’t be the CMO or CEO who grudgingly agrees to “this content thing,” and then do as one questioner from the floor complained. “My boss told me whatever we did that it had to be hyper focused on product and features.” Lesson? If you are a financial services company and decide to commission a composer to create an opera, don’t then tell the artist that it has to be about retirement planning.

4. Good content is not going to happen in a vacuum. It’s not something that is off to the side of the rest of your marketing. Develop a proper content platform, and it will likely become the single best, most efficient opt-in vehicle for talking to customers you will have. How so? If you are a financial services company and the greatest responses, comments and downloads are around Exchange-Traded Funds or a paper on “Learn About Short-Selling,” that should inform where ad dollars should be spent and where new products should be developed. Sales people would be grateful for that information too, and they will probably embrace the next piece of content developed on the subject as a lead generator. Give it respect in the organization by making it flow in and out of all your traditional departments. And make sure the content chief is at all the meetings that sales, advertising and product-development are in.

5. Recognize how your own silos are killing your chances for impactful results. Your content team wants to launch a blog on a micro-site, and wants a tile on the homepage calling attention to it. But your website team gets rewarded based on clicks and time spent, so they aren’t crazy about giving up the real estate or sending people to a microsite. The strategy isn’t wrong, the incentives for your teams are wrong. Your digital ad planner and brand manager balk at promoting content in the ads this month because they can't see a metric that will tie it to product moving off the shelves. They haven't gotten the memo that the story told in the content is part of the product because you haven't written the memo yet.

The power of content is not hard to understand, even for B-School grads who got their sheepskin when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Content is the stuff people want to consume and engage with, and the advertising is the stuff they would prefer to avoid. What seems like the better place to be in terms of getting people to care about your brand and offering? Well-produced ads have their place in any marketing budget, But to assume that ROI for a TV ad is any better than a content marketing plan is silly if you don't integrate content marketing into your plan with the same status and importance as advertising and media-spend in the first place.

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