There are about 4.8 million results on Google for the term “content marketing.” And I bet the majority of those results are blog posts written by content marketing “experts.” Nothing wrong with that, except most of them lack corporate context. By corporate context I mean: What’s the view from executive management at a real company? What’s the view from somebody who must oversee content marketing at his or her company?
I had the pleasure of finding out exactly what a VP at a major software firm thinks about content marketing, its role in the enterprise, and how to build a content marketing competency.
Gerardo Dada, the VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at Solar Winds, an enterprise software vendor, gave what I thought was one of the best presentations on content marketing at the recent Innotech conference in Austin, TX.
He brought his perspective as not only a prolific blogger himself (check out Gerardo’s blog The Adaptive Marketer), but as an executive who has overseen content marketers at Microsoft, Vignette, Bazaar Voice, Rackspace, and now Solar Winds.
So how does a VP of a major software firm recommend building a content marketing competency? Read on.
1. Content Marketing Isn’t New
We’ve all been told that content marketing isn’t new, but Dada presented a couple of examples I wasn’t aware of:
The Michelin Guide. When Michelin Guide was first published in France in 1900 there were only 3,000 cars in circulation, but Michelin published 34,000 guides. Why? The more people learned about cool places to visit in France, the more it made sense to buy a car (in the process wearing out their tires) to explore their country’s hidden treasures.
The Betty Crocker Cookbook. My mom raised us on Betty Crocker recipes. Her famous lasagna? Yep, a Betty Crocker recipe. But when I was a kid I didn’t realize when looking at the picture of Betty Crocker on the cover my mom’s cookbook that she was a fictional “persona” designed by the Betty Crocker brand to sell more ingredients.
2. Content Marketing Best Practices are Marketing Best Practices
Content marketers, whether the lone person in the marketing department charged with creating all the content, or the brand new consulting firm brought on to be ghost bloggers, typically invest a lot of up-front time crafting a content marketing strategy before writing their first sentence of content. These initial steps include:
- Understand your customers
- Develop personas
- Understand how they buy
- Map the buyers journey
- Create a content calendar
- Create content for every stage
- Make sure the content is useful
- Write engaging content
- Make it viral
- Measure results
Now look at points A-D: Dada says these are essential to marketing strategy, not just content marketing strategy.
Also, look at points E-G, and J. Dada says all marketing should be useful, contextual, planned and measured.
If your content marketing leader has to create this from scratch, your firm has much bigger problems to deal with than just creating more content.
3. Good Marketing Should Be Educational
The signature feature of content marketing is that it is educational. That’s why you see so many tutorial-like posts as part of firm’s content marketing strategy.
But Dada said all marketing should be educational.
For example, if you were shopping for a projector for your home theater (don’t you have a home theater?), you might come across these acronyms when looking at projector specs:
- LCD or DLP?
- Lens Shift
- 2000 lumens
- 10000:1 contrast
If your eyes aren’t glazing over already then you must be a total geek – or a projector engineer.
As a projector manufacturer, why wouldn’t you provide a friendly glossary of terms? Why wouldn’t you publish an FAQ? Why wouldn’t you put little pop-outs linked to each term that explains what each term means?
Your marketing should be educational, not confusing.
4. Every Marketer Should Be a Writer
Gerardo Dada is originally from Mexico – yet he’s one of the most prolific writers on marketing strategy among his peers in executive management, beating out hundreds of native English speakers for well-written, thought-leadership style content.
And Dada believes all marketers should be writers. If you can’t write, what are you doing in marketing?
Gone are the days when you hire a marketing person who just buys advertising, packs and sends the trade show booth, and does analytics.
All marketers should write, and should contribute to the company’s content marketing efforts.
5. Make the Cash Register Ring
Continuing the “content marketing is marketing” argument, content marketing should make the cash register ring.
Yet in their effort to be so useful, educational and entertaining, many content marketers have forgotten that part. As copywriter John Rugh puts it: it’s content MARKETING.
6. Start with Thought Leadership
The term “thought leadership” has been beaten to death. It’s often maligned by content marketing writers, most of whom don’t display any thought leadership. But some of them have a point – If you’re the only one that calls yourself a thought leader, you probably aren’t one.
But Dada says that if your content marketing is to be worth anything you should start with thought leadership.
Why establish thought leadership? Quoting Russ Alan Prince: “A thought leader is recognized as a leading expert in a specialized field and is able to monetize this positioning.”
To establish thought leadership you must:
- Create content that’s seful and interesting to her customer
- Bring your unique knowledge, information or expertise
- Combine these two to drive sales
Think Volkswagen’s “TDI Clean Diesel” thought leadership positioning. Volkswagen has successfully inserted the term “clean diesel” into the debate on environmentally-friendly vehicles, challenging the idea that hybrid and electric cars are the only ways to drive while saving the planet.
7. The Content Marketing Process
Finally, how do you create content on a consistent basis that communicates your thought leadership and makes the cash register ring?
- Start with a Point of View. When you create content you should communicate a point of view that’s consistent with your thought leadership positioning. You should also weave this point of view through various pieces of content over time so every blog post, infographic and SlideShare reinforces the message you’re trying to communicate.
- Fully Developed and Edited Messaging Core. Have you ever created a messaging document? A messaging core document is similar, but it serves to direct your content creation efforts for all the pieces of content you’ll create over the next month or so.
- Atomize Your Content. Now you can start writing (weren’t you wondering when we were going to get to this part?). Create blog posts, social media messages, white papers, eBooks, infographics, videos, webinars. But remember: they all come from one source, your formed message.
- Promote Your Content. Content marketing needs its own marketing. If your team is going to invest a ton of time creating well researched, expert, thought-leadership, compelling content, but nobody sees it, does it serve a purpose? No. Get your content out there – use social media, leverage your employees and executives’ networks, and even advertise your content!
How to do you create atomized content? Think about the inverted sales funnel, what Dada calls The Attention Funnel.
The Attention Funnel is in reverse proportion to the traditional funnel of Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Grab your prospects’ attention with a compelling headline. Get them interested with well-placed subheads. Get them more engaged through graphics and copy. Once they’re committed they’ll share your content.
It was refreshing to hear about content marketing from the point of view of a marketing executive who oversees content marketing as part of his overall marketing strategy.
The take-away: every company should at least get the marketing essentials right. Unfortunately too many technology companies seem to think basic marketing strategy doesn’t apply to them.
So if you’re about to hire your first content marketing person, be kind to him. Don’t lay the foundations of your marketing strategy – persona development, the buyer’s journey, your thought leadership position, and all the writing – at his feet. That’s your job as a top marketing executive.