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Beyond the blog: content marketing as a core business strategy.

Your company has a blog that publishes several posts a week? Excellent. You have hundreds of people signed up for RSS subscriptions and frequent comments? Superb. You've got this content marketing thing down? Well, not quite.

"A lot of times the blog is sort of synonymous with content marketing," says Brendan Cournoyer, content marketing manager for Brainshark. "This rings true with companies that don't have an understanding of it. Even the blog itself is just a tool. The concept behind content marketing is really answering questions and communicating with potential and current customers."

What this means is that, in order to succeed, your company needs a full-blown content marketing strategy that stretches across several platforms and tools in order to interact with potential customers at every possible turn. And content marketing strategy does not equate to an advertising campaign.

"Most brands, when they first start any kind of content marketing program, are thinking of it as an advertising program," says Joe Pulizzi, founder and CEO of Content Marketing Institute (CMI). "They put a theme around it, they start putting the content elements together, and when you say 'campaign' there's a stop date. But with a content marketing program there is no stop date. Just like a publisher, you always change based on feedback, you might even change your channel usage or even the stories you tell, but you never stop."

CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGY

Research at CMI shows that anywhere from 8% to 10% of businesses have a documented content marketing strategy. Pulizzi says that this is a problem: "Basically, you have brands that are creating all these content elements and have no roadmap for where they're going to go. It's not integrated into the organization." Pulizzi adds that this makes sense because "we just woke up a couple of years ago and now we have to be publishers. It's a whole new muscle for most organizations, so it makes sense that we're sort of experimenting our way there."

However, what Pulizzi calls "filling buckets"--such as filling the Twitter bucket with a certain number of tweets per week or filling the blog bucket--is not working. Companies that understand this see content from outside the advertising bubble.

According to Cournoyer, the approach to content has changed because consumer access to information has changed. "Customers go through so much of the buying cycle on their own now, so there are no cold leads anymore," he says. "They're doing the research themselves and are looking for information so they can make better buying decisions. They need content to do that. You want them to find you. You're creating the content, you're controlling the message, and you're leading them and nurturing them down your own sales funnel."

Pulizzi suggests starting with the development of the content marketing mission statement. Businesses need to understand the information needs of the buyer, but they also need to understand the core objectives for the content marketing strategy. Tricia Travaline, vice president of marketing at Skyword, agrees.

Travaline also points out that you should know what's relevant to your audience, as well as what makes your company different from the rest. Once all of these elements are developed, Travaline recommends a 70/20/10 content strategy. "Twenty percent of your content should be premium, thought leadership content," she explains, which consists of items such as ebooks and white-papers. "It's like a seven course meal, and few people have a seven course meal every night. Rather, it's more like every three months."

Once the 20% is established, the 70% is the premium content broken up into snackable bites that align with and amplify the 20%. "The 70 percent is not necessarily always about your product, but it has to deal with guiding your customers through the funnel and giving them the types of content that they are really interested in, while leading them back to the premium stuff," Travaline says.

The remaining 10% in Travaline's 70/20/10 content strategy is being experimental and thinking outside the box. Experimental content helps you to learn, but Travaline emphasizes that, in order for it to work, you need the analytics to understand exactly what's working and what's not working--what's feeding into your lead engine and what's not--and how you can tweak things. "Without the analytics on the backend of everything, you can't experiment with new forms because you just don't have the immediate results," she says.

Using various channels gives you the opportunity to reach out to potential customers, regardless of their mood. "Despite all the targeting that exist[s] on the web, it's really not easy to know if the user is in purchase mode, and what kind of product the user may be looking for," says Sharad Verma, CEO of Piqora. You need multiple platforms to spread your content, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, as well as your own website, to reach anyone at any given time.

Pulizzi adds that consumers are in complete control. "In the past, brands could utilize something like seven channels for people to get their information," he says. "Now consumers have all the information and they can ignore any advertising they want to. The only way you're going to get attention is to stop talking about yourself so much. What you need is more content that positions you as a go-to resource for XYZ. If we deliver amazing information to help our customers' lives and jobs in some way, they will reward us with their business."

THE CONTENT MARKETING CHAMPS

There are examples of businesses that have a clear understanding of these content marketing principles, and the following are companies specifically mentioned by the previously referenced experts, listed in alphabetical order:

CISCO

According to Diantha Pinner, marketing communication team lead for the U.S. public sector marketing team, Cisco's focus on content marketing is the journey of the customer. The journey begins with an offer generated through email. "People come into the Cisco website looking for something and what we're trying to do is meet them when they come in and serve them the best that we can," Pinner says. The staff also uses social media and YouTube in order to lead customers to larger pieces of content. "In building out a journey, that gives customers options to go deeper and deeper into the content we provide based upon how much interest they have," Pinner states.

Previously, Cisco approached content in a manual fashion. Throughout the last year, they've been migrating to an automated approach. While the manual approach sought 2% to 5% response rates--when 1% is average for other companies--just one part of its automated content marketing program (email offers) has seen a 23% response rate, which Pinner believes is off the charts.

Pulizzi appreciates the fact that Cisco is not afraid to bring humor into the mix with content. He finds particular interest in Cisco's YouTube shorts. "They're actually quite funny and interesting, and they get a lot of sharing because of it," he says. "I think a lot of the companies believe they have to be informational and don't think they can be entertaining, and I think Cisco is proving that wrong."

COCA-COLA

Pulizzi says Coca-Cola is a content marketing powerhouse. "Coca-Cola buys into the fact that they can live or die through advertising," he says. "They have to create amazing content that affects people's lives, that people talk about and share." Coca-Cola deemed its strategy Content 20/20, which starts with YouTube videos. Additionally in November 2012, the company relaunched its website as Coca-Cola Journey, an online magazine where journalists and freelancers create content with the goal of making an emotional connection with Coca-Cola products through their storytelling.

In an interview with PR News, Ashley Callahan, manager of digital and social media communications for Coca-Cola, raved about the Coca-Cola Journey platform. "Coca-Cola has always valued strong writing and editing skills within its workforce," she told PR News. "What's changed is the large value placed on the specific skill of storytelling. Many people on my team have journalism training or experience that lends itself well to developing stories that resonate with our consumers, stakeholders, and job seekers. We seek out compelling stories to delight and engage our readers so that they enjoyed the time they spend with us."

IBM

Another example offered by both Pulizzi and Travaline is IBM, which has multiple content marketing strategies. "The challenge for IBM is the volume of content, the volume of markets that we deal with, the topics, the audiences and the global footprint," says Howard Pyle, VP of digital strategy for the IBM Design Lab. He goes on to explain that, rather than a single content marketing strategy for the whole company, there's a set of activities that happen around content marketing, differing based on the purpose of the audience and the channel used.

"At the heart of it all is this idea that there is an essential knowledge that IBM has," Pyle adds. "The goal of all our content marketing and the core of the strategy is that we want to bring useful intelligence, insights and expertise to key customers--make it available to the people that need it. In the practical application of that, you can find many different flavors."

Travaline is impressed with IBM's Midsize Insider, a publishing platform designed to reach the midsize business community. According to Leslie Reiser, the recently retired director of midmarket digital marketing worldwide at IBM, the Midsize Insider "is essentially a publishing platform of sponsored thought leadership content that is specifically developed to be newsworthy. It's not sponsored content--it's not fluff; it's not sales material--it's original thought leadership, content commentary, point of view and opinions that put the expertise and knowledge base of the individual writer front and center. The brand is secondary."

KELLY SERVICES, INC.

According to Pulizzi, Kelly Services, Inc.'s 20/1 content model looks at the end line before creating content: "Most companies just create an awesome PDF or white paper and repurpose after-the-fact. Kelly does it before, like you should. End line production saves a ton of time and resources and works really well."

Todd Wheatland, vice president of thought leadership in marketing at Kelly Services, explains the process further: "A few years ago, we would produce a research report, put a link on a website, Pat ourselves on the back and come back nine months later and think about doing it again. Now, that same report is our starting point for a family of content all focused on the same topic and released and interlinked in a series of campaigns. Our aspiration is that we want to create at least 20 pieces of content for each major story topic over 12 months."

Wheatland explains that the 20/1 content model allows Kelly Services to plan a content calendar with a long lead time, provides the opportunity to produce a much higher volume of unique content without sacrificing quality or incurring huge expenses, and gains significantly more visibility around topics.

LATTICE ENGINES

"If you look at their website, you can see immediately that these guys get it," says Cournoyer. And, according to Amanda Maksymiw, its content marketing manager, Lattice Engines has only had an official content marketing strategy for a year. "Our mission for content marketing is to really be the go-to resource for sales and marketing professionals looking to do their jobs more intelligently," Maksymiw says.

It started with the understanding that they needed to create content to help the sales cycle but, more importantly, move in the direction of an educator. The Lattice Engines' Sales and Marketing Knowledge Hub was born. "[We wanted a place] where sales and marketing professionals could go to learn more," says Maksymiw. "Opening the floodgates to really create content that our customers and prospects are looking to consume, because it's about things that are keeping them up at night--things that are proving to be issues in their jobs--in addition to helping educate the market on all this noise about big data and analytics and what it really means."

"Since last year, we've seen an increase of over 110% in traffic to our site, thanks in part to our content and inbound marketing efforts," Maksymiw adds.

MONETATE

Rob Yoegel just had his second anniversary as the content marketing director for Monetate. During the last 2 years, the Monetate content marketing strategy has focused on reach. Success is measurable, with 75% of all new customers in Q1 and Q2 touched by content at different stages in the sales process. Cournoyer believes Monetate is hitting all the different parts of the content marketing spectrum, but it's also becoming a thought leader and trusted source for information.

"We've nailed the reach thing and we aren't really concerned anymore about how we drive more leads," Yoegel says. "What we're concerned with now is how we drive more qualified leads and how we make sure that the individual specific customer is going to be reached more effectively with the content we produce. We have to look at it much more holistically than just the blog. You have to really effectively reach the buyer when he or she is in a specific state of mind."

Basically, this means reaching specific individuals with a name rather than work-from-home-moms or business moguls who like to hit a round of 18 holes twice a week. Yoegel believes, however, that Monetate wouldn't be making this transition without focusing on reach first and that any content marketer has to do it. That said, it's a growth process, and he believes adaptation is necessary. "We're measuring the success of what we do based upon the fact that 75% of all our new customer contacts touched our content and, to me, that [was] success," says Yoegel. "But what are we going to do one that gets to 100%? Just sit back and keep doing what we're doing and make sure it stays at 100%? That's boring. I'm not going to just do that."

OPENVIEW VENTURE PARTNERS

OpenView is Pulizzi's favorite example of a successful content marketing strategy. In 2008 and 2009, OpenView had no content creation at all. After recognizing the need for change, it discovered that its competitive advantage from a content standpoint was its employees. Now, 90% of all of the employees contribute to the blog. Additionally, the company created OpenView Labs, "which is probably the best resource on the web for entrepreneurs looking for early-stage funding," says Pulizzi.

"It's a pretty holistic approach to content marketing," says Kevin Cain, director of content strategy at OpenView. "We've sort of embedded content marketing into our DNA so it's part of what we all do, not just what my team here in marketing does, but that we all do it as a team. OpenView Labs is really our content hub. What we like to do is not just use our own ideas but, rather, to use and leverage a network of industry influencers."

Pulizzi also loves how the company focuses on subscribers to its weekly email newsletter, which, as of July 2013, reaches 23,000, up from 10,000 at the beginning of 2012. The goal is to be up to 30,000 by the end of the year, 40,000 by next year, and so on. "We're constantly growing, and that's a great place for us to promote the articles that we're writing to get people engaged and interested in the content that we're doing," says Cain.

While experts agree that having a blog is a great starting point for content marketing, there are many more things a business can do to reach potential customers. It hinges on focusing on the customer over the brand. "Instead of treating [content marketing] as a hobby, we need to treat it as the way we go to market today," says Pulizzi. "If we deliver amazing information to help our customers['] lives and jobs in some way, then they will reward us with their business." That's shown true for all of the provided examples. E3

Resources

Cisco

cisco.com

Coca-Cola

us.coca-cola.com

IBM

ibm.com

kelly Services, Inc.

kellyservices.com

lattice Engines

www.lattice-engines.com

Monetate

monetate.com

openview labs

openviewpartners.com

MICHELLE L. CRAMER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, BALANCING WORK FROM HOME AND TWO LITTLE BOYS IN SPRINGFIELD, MO. A GRADUATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-COLUMBIA IN 2003, MICHELLE HAS A B.A. IN ENGLISH LITERATURE AND A BACKGROUND AS A LEGAL ASSISTANT. SHE'S BEEN FREELANCING EXCLUSIVELY SINCE 2008.

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Date:Oct 1, 2013
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