Marketers Need to Get Their Stories Straight

April 9, 2014

As marketing professionals we all know the importance of storytelling, and with the current hyper-focus on all things content marketing, being able to tell stories is not just a requirement for modern marketers,  but is magnified by the different ways in which your stories can be disseminated.

The interesting thing is that according to a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute (B2B Content Marketing – 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America), although 93% of B2B marketers report using content marketing as part of their marketing strategy, only 42% of B2B marketers say they are effective at content marketing.

When you look at the challenges marketers face when creating content, the same survey shows the top three as being:

  • Lack of time
  • Producing enough content
  • Producing the kind of content that engages

Content Ahoy!

The way I see it, most marketers are pressed for creating more content then ever before and they struggle to create content that resonates with their buyers. Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Just take a look at the myriad of emails you get from different vendors, all with bland messaging and tons of weak content.

Infographics, to cite an example, got traction around 2010/11 as a great marketing tool and quickly became overused. Everything got dumped into a vertically-oriented PDF or JPG that had tons of data with no clear message. It doesn’t matter, as marketers report increasing the use of infographics (51% over 38% last year) as a key tactic, showing that getting your infographic noticed has become more difficult.

But back to the point. The problem marketers face also has to do with a key missing ingredient: storytelling.

Get the Story Straight

I was glad to see I’m not the only one feeling this lack of storytelling is plaguing many marketers, as Ardath Albee explains in her post, the product is not the hero of the story.

How many times have you read a new ebook or whitepaper and thought, “meh”? The story that focuses on the product is the wrong kind. I know, we are all tempted to showcase our product as the savior, the great dragon-slaying knight that came right on time to save the customer and for a small fee you too can take advantage of this awesome new version that now comes with flaming sword and shield.

Why do we do it? Because it’s easy. We just name the features, benefits, and churn a few whitepapers and webinars, throw an infographic there and it’s all set. Then, when is time to review the results we are pressured for more content, with less budget and not enough time.

My own attempts at storytelling falls into this trap now and then, as the pressures for more content faster mount. But as I read Ardath’s post and have been rethinking how to tell stories in a way that will resonate with our buyers, I am trying to get better. If you are reading this, so should you! Block two hours (at least!) tomorrow to stop everything you are doing and refocus your storytelling efforts. It will be well worth it.

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The Importance of Content Continuity

October 8, 2012

If good content marketing equates to telling a good story, then content continuity is getting that story to become memorable. Let me explain.

When you create a piece of content, why stop at the first distribution channel? Sure you can re-purpose the content so that it will be used at another channel but content continuity means more than simply taking the content and fitting it in another medium. It involves using that content and expanding it, working different angles, but keeping the core message intact. It’s not that difficult, but it requires some planning.

A good example might be that presentation one of your executives delivered at the trade show. The PowerPoint slides can be uploaded to SlideShare where people who didn’t attend the session can now access it (this is re-purposing the content). But if you take the presentation, and add a few more slides to it in order to emphasize a key message, or if you take that message and link it to a video or an eBook that reinforces the story, then you are creating continuity.

Why is this distinction important? First, because if you simply take the exact same message and just change the publishing format (from PowerPoint to video, for example) it may attract different readers but it doesn’t help promote or further expand the message, it’s just a rehash of what has already been said in another format. Second, if you simply repurpose content you already created then you may lose the opportunity to create important links between the multiple stories your products or services support.

So instead of creating pieces of content that stand alone, create a “content network” (for lack of a better term) in which each node reinforces another, where a story you started telling is continued and extended with the next piece of content.

Next time you create some content (eBook, whitepaper, blog article, video, etc.), don’t just publish and forget; think of it as part of a broader theme or story. Good stories don’t have to end and neither does your content (think of it as “Your Content – Part II”, like in Hollywood).



Guidelines for a Content Marketing Audit

February 29, 2012

If you are already a content marketing convert and understand the importance of embracing content publishing as a core component of your marketing strategy, you may be wondering how well you are doing in comparison to other companies. The Altimeter Group has a report that can help you with that. Their recently released “Content: The New Marketing Equation” report puts together a “Content Marketing Maturity” framework to help you assess your content marketing efforts.

The Content Marketing Maturity Model

Based on their analysis, the Altimeter Group devised a content marketing maturity model comprised of the following stages:

  • Stand: you haven’t yet realized the value of content marketing as a key component of your marketing strategy.
  • Stretch: you understand the benefits of content marketing and have started to create content.
  • Walk: now with a solid foundation organizationally that supports content creation, your content strategy is more fully refined and tweaked. There is also a concerted effort to connect content development with all parts of the organization’s communication teams.
  • Jog: your company is seriously committed to content marketing and has a clear strategy.
  • Run: companies at this stage have production and creative as full, standalone business unit, and your company is creating content that is sold and licensed based on its standalone merit.

 

Content Marketing Maturity Model - Altimeter Group

The report details each stage with an accompanying case study and suggestions for moving onto the next stage. It also shows how you can perform a content marketing self-audit and score your organization based on the different elements that define content marketing maturity, namely:

  • Organizational Structure
  • Internal Resources
  • External Resources
  • Measurement
  • Education

Whether you decide to really audit your content creation efforts or not, just going through the criteria and the different case studies can give you additional insights you can use to better fine tune your own content marketing processes.

Key Content Creation Recommendations

The report ends with some final recommendations for anyone that wishes to improve their content marketing creation efforts:

  1. Build Content Around the Brand/Product/Service, Not About It
  2. Drive Organizational Change and Transformation
  3. Educate and Train
  4. Design Recombinant Content

One thing is clear, in order to achieve the higher stages of content marketing maturity, the whole organization must recognize its importance and support for content creation must come from the executive levels.

The free report is available to download directly from the Altimeter Group’s website (or click the image below).

Altimeter Group Report The Content Marketing Equation


Your Content Marketing Mandate: Just Do It!

January 24, 2012

I’ve heard a few times now from companies that want to get their content marketing engine cranking but haven’t put anything out there yet because of one of the following reasons:

  1. We don’t have a marketing person or department
  2. We don’t have enough time to create content
  3. Our website sucks, we want to fix it first
  4. We are still researching topics for our blog posts
  5. We don’t know where to start

Any other typical reasons I missed? You have probably heard (or thought yourself) a few more, I bet.

A Simple Content Marketing Strategy

Yes, creating content is difficult. Creating blog posts, writing articles, shooting videos take time and effort. BUT (a big but for sure) you’ve gotta start somewhere!

So here’s my suggestion for those still on the fence or trying to climb what seems like a very tall content-marketing-fence: Just Do It! (sorry Nike!, don’t sue me for copyright infringement please)

That’s right, just type something and let it fly. Don’t waste time reviewing 5 times before hitting “publish”. Don’t wait three days for your team to give their feedback. Stop having second thoughts of whether anyone will like it.

You know why? Because if you are not producing any content now, anything (yes, anything!) you produce will be better than what you have today.

Yes, it’s that simple

Sure, you don’t want to publish crappy stuff. But you know what? If you add too much stress, too much “process” and too much thinking behind content creation you will set yourself for failure. Small companies or small marketing departments can’t afford to spend too much time on content marketing, I know that for a fact. There are lead generation programs, the new email marketing system being implemented, and something the sales department asked you to do (don’t they always?) a few times already.

So make your life easy and just start writing (or recording, if you will) and publishing. With time, you will be able to put more processes in place, get a good review and approval workflow, whatever you think is necessary to create quality content at your company. But, start simple. Unless you start creating something NOW you will regret not having done it sooner.


Effective Content is Clear and Direct

November 28, 2011

A recent post by David Meerman Scott touched on a big pet peeve of mine… creating content that is easy to understand. Big organizations suffer from this problem more than others, but it also permeates small and medium businesses. Gobbledygook is spread everywhere, from press releases to website content, to the latest whitepaper or eBook. I think that in larger organizations it probably starts with someone trying to sound smarter than the rest, showing off his or her extensive vocabulary of arcane terms. Or, the person just doesn’t know what exactly to write about and decides to mask the lack of subject matter knowledge. Or a combination of both.

Smaller organizations sometimes fall into the trap of trying to appear bigger than they are and think that if they use the same terms the bigger guys are using, they will sound just like them and will be seen as another big player. Oh, boy. Big mistake.

Clear and Direct Content Wins All the time

When helping others with content, I usually start by asking what the goal is. What do you want the reader to know? What should they walk away with? How are you different? Often times the answers do not reflect what is actually written. Website copy is notorious for that… and you get excuses like “oh, we added all these words for SEO!”, or “that’s exactly what we said! Can’t you read”?

If you are reviewing or creating content, there’s a key component to making it effective. First, be clear. This means taking the content and understanding what it is actually trying to say. Then, just plainly saying it! It’s not rocket science, right?

Also, make it concise. The key to making it concise is to be direct. Instead of beating around the bush, just jump out and say it (or, write it). Here’s a quick example (actual text from a company’s website, I did not create it):

Original: ABC Company’s  training services are created with the primary objective of making our customers successful in using our products.

Modified: With our training services you will become productive in no time.

So, this is my first pass and you could make it even better, but you get the idea.

What is your score?

Want to test how well you are doing in creating content that is actually effective? Try out the free Gobbledygook Grader for starters. Then, give your content to someone that is not even remotely associated with what you write about and ask them to tell you what they understand after reading it. You will find the results surprising.

Happy content creation!


How Great Content Can Solve Problems

August 18, 2011

This is the third post in a series of “Principles of Great Content Marketing”. The first post talked about creating simple content, and the second post discussed timely content.

The Principles of Great Content Marketing series is based on three core ideas:

  1. Create simple content
  2. Create content that is timely
  3. Create content that solves a problem

The Problem with Content

Content abounds, and no matter what we call it (Whitepapers, eBooks, Videos, Infographics, etc.) we have been getting more and more of it every single day. Via email, via Twitter, Facebook, and word-of-mouth. The problem? Most of the content is not looked at. Or, if it is, is not shared.

Content that isn’t shared usually die without having made an impact.

Useful content will be shared. Even if only internally in your company. Even if only when you call a friend and say “hey, check this out!” and even if only mentioned during lunch with friends when you say “oh, and I just read this interesting article that talks about…”.

Getting Read and Getting Shared

Besides being simple and timely, great content has a third element. It is focused on solving a problem. But not just any problem, YOUR problem.

You see, even if you come across something amusing and decide to pass that on it doesn’t mean you will actually take any action because of it. Entertaining videos are just that, entertaining. Funny quotes are also just that and nothing else. But content that speaks to a problem you are having right now is golden.

If you are struggling with creating your own WordPress website, for example, and there comes a content piece that addresses your current issue (“How to get your WordPress site up and running in 5 easy steps” kind of content, for example) you will drop what you are doing and check it out. If it’s good you will even forward it to a couple people that you know are also dealing with the same issue or maybe send a Tweet about it.

If you had gotten content related to your issue but that doesn’t solve it (“Why use WordPress for your website” for example), it won’t get shared, commented, and more importantly, acted on.

The Content Solution

How do create content with the “problem – solution” in mind? You’ve got to know your audience. Draw buyer personas. Talk to sales and ask them about the prospects they engage. Discuss the typical questions tech support gets during lunch with the tech support manager. Ask around your company, but more importantly, ask outside what are the challenges facing the industry you serve.

Make a list of 5 to 10 items. Then, break those down into small problem statements. You don’t want to have to address something like “world-wide retail operations are low margin, companies are struggling to make a profit” because is too generic and too daunting. Go down a few levels until you have something more tangible, like “apparel retailers are pressured by increasing labor costs in China”. Then, look for what could be a solution to this problem (I’m assuming you sell products or services to retailers) and create content addressing the issue (maybe “5 ways to squeeze more cash out of your sales” or “The new retail mindset and five steps to improve your margins today” for example).

Regardless of the topic, you have to ensure you are addressing a need that your target market has. And, the need could range from basic (“Trends and opportunities in apparel retail”), to more advanced (“How new inventory solutions are transforming the apparel retail industry”), all depending upon your target’s knowledge of the issue and their stage in the buying cycle.

As mentioned in the previous post about timely content, Marketing Automation is a great way to get the right content out to the right person, but you still have to think through all the stages and understand the different needs. It goes back to understanding your market.

Principles of Great Content

In conclusion, you can spend a lot of time creating content in different formats and for different buying stages. What will set your content apart (because you can bet your competitors are also creating as much content as you are) are the three key components:

  • Simple content
  • Timely content
  • Problem-solving content

Keep these three elements in mind when crafting your messages and you will be on the right path to creating great content.


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