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Where content marketers go wrong – six top tips for brands

Big brands are expanding their content marketing budgets, and using it to build a direct relationship with the consumer. Julia Hutchison looks at what the brands need to do to ensure that budget is well spent.

By Julia Hutchison

According to a report published recently by CopyPress – the 2013 State of Content Marketing Study – 34.8% of marketers are making content marketing their main focus during 2013. That’s twice as many as in 2012 and it places content marketing above search engine optimisation, mobile communications and media buying in marketers’ overall list of priorities. But while there is a clear shift in attention towards content marketing as a key business tool, do marketers and brands really have the skillsets to capitalise on this growing trend?

Of course, the answer is that some do and some don’t. There are some excellent examples of good content marketing out there, not least from brands like Coca-Cola and Red Bull, which both place content at the heart of their marketing strategies. However, equally there is a lot of bad content marketing out there. The aim here isn’t to name and shame, but instead to draw attention to the key areas where the novice content marketer tend to fall flat.

1. Hit the right note with your customers

At the heart of any content marketing strategy is the customer; after all they are the people you are trying to engage and build a dialogue with. This means that any content you deliver needs to be relevant to them otherwise they will just dismiss it; and the last thing you want to do is switch potential customers off before you get started. Not only that, but you need to talk to them in the right way, so establishing the right tone of voice is crucial.

So you need to understand them and what their interests are, you also need to know what digital channels they are using to ensure that you are communicating with them in the right places. If you don’t already have in-depth insight into your customers’ behaviour through something like a CRM system, there are a number of ways you can explore this further. One approach is to ask them directly, and you can either do this through an email marketing survey or by setting up focus groups of your customers (and potential customers) to find out what they want from you. Beyond that you can also get insight through market reports published by companies like McKinsey or Nielsen.

However, relevance is not just about producing the right content for the right audience, it’s also about making sure that the content you produce is relevant for the channel that you are distributing it over. To give a very basic example, you wouldn’t push out a 1500-word whitepaper on Facebook, this would be more appropriate stored on your website for download. Again get this wrong and your content will just be ignored.

2. It’s no longer all about you

We touched on this above by saying that the central focus of any content marketing strategy is the customer. Sadly, many companies are still stuck in the mentality that creating content means placing the brand or the company at the centre of the conversation and simply employing a “sell, sell, sell” approach. This is born out of years of one-way marketing where the brands that shouted loudest and longest were the ones that gained that all-important marketing cut through. Today, there is no longer a place for that attitude when you’re communicating directly with your target audience. Creating content for your various online channels is about sparking people’s interest, and giving them something that not only helps them, or gives them some direct benefits, but also gives you a chance to demonstrate your knowledge and experience. For example, for a B2B audience, “how to” style articles work well and for a B2C audience it is more about creating magazine / lifestyle type content.

Some online retailers are already doing this very well. Net-a-Porter, for example, is still held up as one of the leading proponents of content marketing. Founder Natalie Massanet – a former fashion editor of Vogue – uses the content as a key driver for sales across the site. Not only does the site offer a rich mix of media, but it also provides sections covering areas such as new arrivals and trends, helping to engage the viewer and push them to purchase items that they wouldn’t otherwise be browsing.

3. Content rules, but only if it’s good

One of the biggest challenges surrounding content marketing for most brand owners is understanding that content is not just “stuff”, and that if you want to really engage your target audience, your focus has to be on quality. Anyone can produce “stuff”, but there is a world of difference between well thought-out, strategically developed content that absolutely tells stories about brands, as opposed to material – written, video or audio – that is produced without a thought for quality, understanding or strategy.

To achieve this, marketers need to place much greater value on the role of content to give their brands personality and substance. And this means moving away from a positioning that is dominated by the catchy one-line, to one that centres on education, knowledge sharing and engagement.

The big issue of course here is that most companies don’t have the skillset to develop this content. The reality is that unless you’re a company like Sony that has its own editorial team, the chances are that you won’t have these skills in-house so if you’re serious about content you’ll need to find yourself a good partner.

4. Lack of planning and strategic thought

Following on from above, content for the sake of content is likely to be almost entirely worthless. As with any good magazine, you need to plan ahead and to do that effectively you need to understand what it is that you want your content to achieve, as this will have a huge effect the content that you produce. Furthermore, it’s not something you can switch on and off. For example, if you’re going to produce a company newsletter you need to have a long-term commitment otherwise your content will gain no traction, but also, and possibly worse, any traction you do gain from sending out newsletters will quickly disappear.

Today’s consumer is fickle and their attention will soon be drawn elsewhere; if you’re not front of mind you’re nowhere. Having a strategic plan for how often and when you send your content out, and ensuring you have the resources to do this effectively is crucial. You also need to ensure that your content strategy is closely aligned to your business objectives, to ensure that you are sending our consistent messaging. As much as we do get deluged with email spam, we also make time for the things we enjoy or that we gain something from, which is why correctly planned and targeted content works.

5. Set objectives and measure what you’re doing

At its most simple this means setting objectives that you know you can measure, for example targeting a specific uplift in site traffic. The more intangible your objectives the harder they are to measure and the less likely you are to be able to tell how effective your content marketing is being. Measuring things like the click-through rate, time spent on site, bounce rate and unique visitors are all good sales-focused metrics, but you should also look at the type of media customers engaged with most. You can use basic tools like Google Analytics to determine this. You should look at where and how the content was shared socially, and there are plenty of tools that allow you to track the number of social shares and the channels content was shared from. And finally, whether or not the content converted into customers, as ultimately all your content marketing efforts are wasted if they’re not turning into paying customers. By looking at who’s doing what on your site, how often they participate and how soon they made a purchase can give you solid insight into this.

Following these metrics will also help you to further target your content to your audience by showing you what people are reading most, and ensuring that, over time, your content marketing becomes more efficient.

6. Multi-channel needs a strategy first approach

With so many different devices and channels available, making sure you are sending out consistent messaging across all your channels and effectively managing information and associated rich media assets is a huge challenge for marketers today. Managing customer facing content has evolved into an extremely complex process, driven in no small part by the fact that consumer expectations have risen exponentially. We now all want to be able to see the same content and have the same level of experience and engagement whether we are viewing a website or webshop on a laptop, a tablet or a smart phone.

To be able to cope with this, retailers and brands need to have a fully integrated approach to their content marketing, which covers all the channels they operate in, and ensures their story is told not only in an interactive way, but also a consistent way. The most important thing to remember here is that only once an overall content strategy has been created – which will be very much determined by your business objectives – can you focus on individual platforms and look at distributing your content across all channels.