If You Build Remarkable Content, the Readers Will Come – Part II

This is the second installment of a two-part interview with content strategy extraordinaire, Rebecca Lieb.

Content is not necessarily a build it and they will come proposition. Content has to be very good for them to come.

It may seem like a basic principle, but according to Rebecca Lieb, many companies still just don’t get it. Rebecca is an author, columnist, journalist and digital advertising and media analyst at Altimeter Group. In this interview she answers some important questions regarding content marketing strategies, going beyond how your organization should create content and into how it should be published and on what channels.

hrh media: So, it can be said that currently there is a content deficiency among companies and brands, especially the kind of content that speaks to and engages prospects and customers. How can this be addressed easily, especially for smaller to mid-sized businesses?

You know, I think that’s almost a chicken and egg question. Is there a content deficiency or is there a good content deficiency. On the one hand, marketers who really haven’t worked enough on creating a strong content strategy do have that sort of panicked, “I haven’t studied for the test, I haven’t thought about what we’re going to publish today on Facebook, on Twitter, on our YouTube channel, on our blog.”

Planning can take away a lot of that anxiety. Planning, along with analytics and listening, can help you determine how to make content that’s good, that resonates, and that’s shared and passed along. Remember, when you’re advertising and making that media buy, you’re guaranteed a certain number of eyeballs or a certain amount of attention. It might not be good attention, it might not even be effective, but you’re out there.

Content is not necessarily a build it and they will come proposition. Content has to be very good for them to come. You know that in a multi-channel universe you’re really only watching one channel at a time on your television set. You’re only reading one book at a time, so the job of the content marketer as well as the content strategist is to make sure that content stands out, is attractive, is professional, is well presented, is compelling and is appropriate to the medium. These are all skills that publishers are very well versed in and require a lot of publisher and/or producer acumen.

hrh media: So one of the top reasons why business leaders shy away from content marketing or content strategy is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of its return on investment or ROI. How would you address this?

In a research report that I published earlier this year called content, the new marketing equation, which by the way you can download at no cost from the Altimeter Group’s website, we developed a content marketing maturity framework, and one of the earlier stages in content marketing maturity is learning how to measure content and learning how to attribute return on investment to content so that you can actually gauge its effectiveness and know what you’re doing right and what you’re doing that’s not so effective.

My favorite hero story of that is a company called Eloqua that had a recently departed head of content marketing, a man by the name of Joe Chernov, and Joe enabled a way to trace all of the downloads of the white papers and free e-books his company made available to prospects. Because you had to fill out a form before you could download this free content, he was able to capture everybody’s title who downloaded the content. His goal was to get content downloaded by Vice President and above titles, and he could demonstrate that that’s who was downloading the content and he could also trace those names and those downloads through a very long sales cycle until he got to the point that he could attribute $3 million dollars in sales that the company made directly to that content that he had produced.

So content really is attributable, it really is measurable, you just have to decide what legitimate key performance indicators there are to gauge the value and the work of that content and then build in a mechanism to measure them. That requires planning and that’s part of content strategy.

hrh media: Thank you for sharing that example of a great success story. On the flip side, are there some key factors or traits that you see companies consistently make that leads to an unsuccessful content marketing strategy?

The companies who aren’t measuring very often are the companies that aren’t listening. They just throw content out there and never stick around to see what’s resonating, what’s being read, what the very basic web metrics say about the use of that content, if and where it’s being shared in social networks, whether there’s discussion around that content in social channels and whether that discussion is positive or negative. If you listen to what consumers say and if you engage in their conversations you learn more about your customers and what they expect from you as a business, as a product, as a service, but also how to better serve their needs. Just like going to a dinner party, nobody likes a one-way conversation. It has to be give and take.

hrh media: In your blog you mention that media conversions or the blending of owned and earned media will continue and intensify in 2013, which you said will spark new technological solutions and skills. Would you mind explaining that idea further in depth for us?

Certainly. Again, I’ve written another research report on the convergence of paid, owned, and earned media that is also available as a download from our website at no cost, so anybody interested in diving in can help themselves. We’re noticing a trend, as our environment is increasingly multi-screened and multi-media that consumers are making very little differentiation, or much less differentiation between paid, owned, and earned media. By those terms I mean paid media is advertising, that’s media that you as a marketer pay for; earned media is what consumers, influencers and journalists are saying about you. You don’t control that, but it is listening to the chatter that’s out there. Finally, owned media is content. It’s the content that you control both in terms of its creation, its production, and the channel that it lives on. You own your Facebook page, you own your website, you own your blog, etc. We’re finding that as budgets and attention move to social media, which is largely earned, as well as owned media channels, these are becoming much more important in the marketing mix than paid media-advertising; which until very recently was the boss of everything, pretty much by the fact that it cost the most.

hrh media: Before we wrap up, is there a content medium today that is perhaps receiving less attention than it deserves, but is primed for the future?

That’s a great question. When I was conducting research earlier this year I asked close to 60 marketers, most of them at major multi-national global corporations, what content channels matter now and what channels are going to matter three to five years in the future. Over and over everybody said, “video and mobile.” Content channels that were noticeably diminishing importance were channels that were written word, so online press releases, blogs, media kits, press kits and white papers. Interestingly I interviewed all of these marketers, and not a single one mentioned e-mail, which is very definitely a content channel and very definitely something that every single company I know is doing. Only one of them mentioned search, and we all know that SEO is a very important component in content marketing, so while I’d be reluctant to single out one specific channel as being overlooked, I will accuse marketers of what I like to call bright, shiny object syndrome of looking at the newest, coolest, most gee whiz technology, perhaps at the expense of the basics and fundamentals that underpin campaigns.

We’re now finding that the creative ideas that surface in content and earned media, the conversations around those pieces of content, are forming the creative seed for advertising. So whereas advertising messages used to rule everything, they’re now, in a way, subservient to content and social chatter. That said, from a grand perspective, it’s incredibly important to unify this messaging. So as consumers slip across screens, channels and media, they can consistently recognize a brand as it appears on paid, owned and earned media. I’m certainly not suggesting advertising is ever going go away, it’s not in our lifetime, but the people who work on advertising now almost work very closely with the people who work on content, the people who work on social, the people who are handling measurement, this needs to be a much closer collaboration, because as these walls between paid, earned and owned become more porous and these media channels overlap the distinctions that exist within the organization in terms of who controls what are coming increasingly meaningless.

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