The Missed Opportunity in Content Marketing

In 1996, Bill Gates famously said ‘Content is King’. In 1996; Google first launched, 16mb of RAM was impressive, Palm Pilots were the hottest new ‘thing’, the internet was still dial-up and still wasn’t global. Creating content in 1996 was exciting because it was not yet widespread – it was not available to the masses and the consumer-at-large wasn’t being bombarded by corporate messaging around the clock. Whereas once, creating and disseminating content took great skill, tools such as social media, automation and the advent of click-bait has opened the floodgates to bad content. This pollution has corrupted Gates’ once brilliant soundbite – unfortunately, Content is no longer King.

To take this to the extreme and say that ‘Content is Dead’ would be inappropriate, but it is true to say that the landscape has become far more nuanced. The champion is no longer the content itself, rather creating the connection that good content can build is what should be striven for. This connection must be a two-way street between the company and the customers – a channel for conversation and comment, outreach and deep listening – for it to be successful. To do this, the foundations must be in place for inbound traffic and feedback; rather than scatter-gunning content at a wall and seeing what sticks, effort needs to be made to pay attention to public comment, fine tune future content based on learnings gleaned, and repeat. Simply put, I believe that classic content creation must evolve to be responsive and become a conversation as opposed to a one-way street of broadcast advertising.

Conventional content can lead to wonderful things. In August, this piece went viral on LinkedIn and while generating over 210,000 views, it seemed to resonate with people and led to over 570 comments – discussions on the subject matter with fellow entrepreneurs and industry experts alike. It also led me to meet remarkable people, leaders in their field and even led to wonderful work opportunities with some amazing companies. Conventional content can drive attention, while good conversation can drive results.

I’ve found that for startups, or personal branding, regularly creating new content surrounding your product, service, or industry is both time-consuming and problematic as it requires constantly having new things to say to your audience. This is a primary reason that many content creators have started to repeatedly regurgitate old content to fill the quota, and remain at the top of their audiences’ social media feeds. There is however, another way.

Startups are missing a key opportunity to share their most valuable content – many will read the next paragraph and feel uncomfortable, or even vulnerable at the suggestion, but I believe that implementing this strategy will result in a real and intimate connection with your audience, and lead to great results.

Document and disseminate the process of creation. Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had kept a blog each week as he built Facebook, or we had a video record of every lecture Dale Carnegie gave starting from his famous debut in 1912 where he encouraged students to speak about something that ‘made them angry’. A glimpse into the process of building an idea, company, and brand can be as valuable (if not more so) as seeing the shiny finished product to an audience. The decision-making process sheds light on the very core behaviors – it is rough, intimate, and personal, but I believe it is invaluable to those interested in your field.

This concept is not my own – I came across this idea from legendary marketeer Gary Vaynerchuk a couple of months ago, and it resonated with me but took until now to process what it means. I wish I’d had the foresight to document my last year – it’s been a wild ride. I left working at Israel’s top PR agency Headline Media to start freelance marketing, started and closed my own startup in the journalism space, went back to freelancing and am now starting to build another company (watch this space). The people I’ve met have blown my mind and taught me things that with hindsight, I’d have loved to share with fellow marketeers and entrepreneurs.

Revealing the ROI of Content

Content marketing is the new ‘in’ thing to do, to grow followers, grab attention, improve SEO and ultimately drive sales and brand loyalty. And it does them all very well, right? All the metrics point to improvements across the board – the better the content, the better the result, right? So why therefore do marketeers find it so hard to give an accurate ROI estimate for content?

Entrepreneur and businessman Gary Vaynerchuk was famously grilled by a particularly conservative CMO on ‘What is the ROI of social media?’, after a tense back and forth, he countered ‘What’s the ROI of your mother.’ What he said was intense, extreme, but relevant. He was communicating that creating a pipeline of investing a certain amount of money, to publishing a specific amount of posts, leading to X many likes, leading to Y purchases and Z repeat purchases is flawed. The steps may have worked with conventional marketing distribution networks, but to do so with social media, content, and new media… it’s just wrong. Measuring ROI can be a fool’s errand, and unless adequately defined parameters are established, is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard.

So, how do we reveal the ROI of Content? Firstly, we need to take a step back and audit ourselves in two main areas;

1.      What are the objectives for the campaign and for the company?

Figure out what you are doing. If SMART objectives are not set for each and every one of your campaigns, you will lose before writing the first word and before posting the first tweet. Without an idea of what you are trying to achieve both in every campaign, as well as tied into your wider business goals, any progress and benefit gained will not be ‘enough’. As human beings, we are programmed to want more, to achieve more, to do better and to be unsatisfied with what we have attained. Unless a tangible goal is set and understood, it can never be reached.

2.      What is the lay of the land internally?

Most importantly and least thought upon – does the company have the infrastructure to support the reaction of those consuming the content? A great piece of content may drive hundreds of thousands of clicks, but if it drives them to a slow, badly constructed and archaic website, the funnel falls apart. This is why it is critical to work out the aim of the content created and to understand the behavior that you are trying to elicit. Perfect planning prevents pathetic performance – try to conceive every reaction to your content and prepare accordingly to maximize throughput to your objective.

So now the SMART objectives have been set, and the internal groundwork prepared, the overarching ROI can be explored – overarching, not specific. To put detailed quantitative numbers to content is to disregard the fact that the content is being read by real people, rather than automatons. People have emotions, people’s moods change, interactions with people grow cumulatively and above all, people are often unpredictable, human thought and behavior are complex to the level that, to give metrics, inherently ignores the majority of the interaction itself. Imagine if off the back of an email campaign, your analytics show a high open and forwarding rate, you would be over the moon, patting your team on the back for a job well done. Open and forwarding rates show no more and no less than the email being opened, and forwarded, it does not show satisfaction or success. For all you know, you could have a catastrophic typo that people can’t help but share with the world, thus damaging your overall brand.

Rather than measure with metrics and treat your audience like a faceless commodity, reimagine them as a group of individuals that you are sitting down for coffee with. Your holistic approach to the way in which you interact with them will lead to a return on your investment, not the way in which you reach for the sugar, or the amount of milk you add to your coffee.

As distribution methods shift from billboards to newspapers to new media It is important that we reconsider our approach to evaluating the relative success or failure of each campaign. Measuring the accomplishments of tasks is critical, but ensuring that the measurement gives an accurate representation will always trump analytics for analytics sake. We as marketeers must stop ROI as an algorithm or numbers on a page, and begin viewing it as a living, breathing relationship.

The Key Factor Missing from Your Marketing Strategy

Brands are increasingly putting their marketing efforts under a microscope – scrutinizing them for predictable ROI and concrete business result.  This focus and detail oriented approach is something to be praised, it ensures high quality campaigns and instills an onus of accountability within the marketing department or agency.  It does however, leave the door open for one major factor to be missed when new campaigns are created.

The underlying factor in good marketing is empathy.  The dividing factor between good and great campaigns is the ability for a marketer to put themselves in the shoes of their audience and think ‘What would interest me?’, ‘How could this provide value to my life?’ and ‘Why is this relevant to me?’.  It is relevant across the board, from automotive to financial, healthcare to SaaS, advertising to PR and beyond.  Tony Zambito puts this beautifully ‘We cannot communicate well if we do not know who our customers and buyers are, what things are important to them, and why what they hope to accomplish is important to them.’  Unfortunately, this factor seems to be an element being given less and less credence in an increasingly data-driven world.

Not to downplay the importance of data, but I am often reminded of the quote by Andrew Lang ‘He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination.’  It is crucial that data informs rather than justifies decisions.

Empathy is an aspect that, in its very nature, is unquantifiable.  It has no data points, and has no unit of measurement – it just is.  To be empathetic, a brand must use human innate judgement based off research, experience, and a deep understanding of the target market.  It requires a level of trust that comes from a recognition that marketing itself is not a set of skills, but a philosophy – one which stems from an understanding of people, rather than tools.  This tends to be easier for small companies and startups than larger more developed businesses – this is because as a company grows, their departments become increasingly specialized and siloed, with more partners and a heavier reliance on pure data to prove their effectiveness.  This specialization can be very useful for productivity, but run the risk of creating an ‘Us and Them’ mentality, which can create isolation and rifts.

If you are reading this and realize that this is something missing from your external marketing, understanding why it is missing in the first place can reveal a huge amount about the current Modus Operandi of an organization.  A great example is Zappos.com – a company that built its entire business model on the idea of empathizing with its customers.  Their answer to buyer hesitancy was to offer a no questions asked returns policy that directly addressed the needs of their customers – every piece of marketing underlines this, and every action is anchored to the need for understanding how customers react.

Empathy should filter throughout all departments and all communications, from TV adverts to internal communications, website copy to journalist interactions, down to the hiring process and office layout.  Empathy should be a standard factor used in all aspects of company growth and marketing, but unfortunately, until it is measurable, many companies will continue to downplay and ignore this hugely valuable parameter.

For those not currently doing so, choosing to actively champion empathy as a core element to the construction of marketing campaigns may seem like a gamble at first – not relying solely on data, or behaving like a company in the classical sense.  Kevin McKeon from the agency Olson puts it beautifully – Think like people, not marketers.