When I meet with clients, the topic I’m asked about most frequently is content marketing. The first reason is that brands understand the potential impact of social media and high-quality content on a marketing plan but typically have a hard time bringing all efforts into a unified approach that adds maximum value to their marketing efforts. The second reason is that device and platform fragmentation has caused a lot of CMOs to question their siloed strategies and look for a new way to organize and execute their marketing programs.
We recently evaluated four major retail brands—Staples, Dell, Walmart and Sears—to see how they are coordinating a content strategy and to tease out the implications. We uncovered two major themes: 1) Even leading brands haven’t fully integrated a content marketing strategy, and 2) there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing.
Not a single brand we reviewed scored above average overall. There were pockets of excellence and penetration, but on the whole, no brand scored well across all channels. The brands we evaluated were most active in paid media, most likely due to the ability to easily quantify the ROI of paid media channels. For the same reason, SEO and Social were the channels that had the lowest scores.
In looking at the graph above, you see that among the four brands we evaluated, there are broad inconsistencies in performance strength by tactic and area. All brands had strong variance in their scores and possibly for very good reasons. The best practice rules of content marketing don’t include being active in all places and being all things to all people. Brands who truly understand their customers and their desired branded experiences will be able to better plan and execute content marketing that is meaningful to their base. This means that they potentially don’t need a robust Instagram or Pinterest account, but they do really need a strong Twitter and e-mail program.
Here are Three Key Rules to Creating a Meaningful Content Marketing Program:
1) Know thy Target Customer: Marketing is all about understanding the specific needs of the customer. The knowledge of your customer helps brands create experiences and moments that lead to positive experiences throughout their life cycle from awareness to purchase, loyalty and advocacy. If you try to be all things to all people, then you are not doing marketing correctly, and you certainly aren’t creating engaging content that aligns to your target’s core needs of your brand.
- Use social media monitoring tools like Radian6 to manage the ongoing social conversation but also keep abreast of what consumers are saying on your owned channels regarding your brand. Consumers willingly share opinions constantly, whether it’s praising your product, telling you how to improve it or simply sharing their dislike for your brand. By listening to your consumers, they will reveal important insights and ultimately help you better communicate with them more effectively.
- Use paid display to increase brand awareness and initiate purchase cycle by identifying and targeting specific life events. For example, information gleaned from cookies and tracking will reveal when a consumer has recently opened a wedding registry at Bed, Bath & Beyond and you could approach them with gift ideas.
- Modify or Uncover new target personas and develop campaigns around these consumers. It’s important to also consider how your target market will grow in the future as well and communicate accordingly with them. For example, if you want to reach moms, it’s important to think about how you can reach and develop a relationship with women before they become moms.
2) Align Your Organization: Ask yourself what simple incentives or organizational alignments you can put in place to help facilitate collaboration or harness the content marketing assets you have in place today.
- Make sure all channel managers know what the other departments are doing. If your offline channel is doing a direct mail initiative in Pittsburgh, make sure that digital is aware so they can target Pittsburgh with similar language.
- Make sure your organization is aligned and rewarded around the consumer and not the channel. This requires a shift in compensation, incentives and evaluation of employees so that channel managers are not protecting their data.
- Always lead with the consumer at the center of all marketing efforts. If departments aren’t integrated, pull together a key group of individuals on a weekly basis to share individual efforts across the board to become more internally aligned.
3) Make Data-Driven Decisions: Ninety percent of the world’s data has been generated over the past 2 years when you include tweets, posts, and clicks. Every digital action is sending a signal about one’s interests, needs, and context. These points create data points that can be leveraged to do some really powerful personalized marketing.
For example, someone who checks in at a new car dealership is sending a signal about their location, the device they are on, and the specific brand of car they are considering purchasing. This creates an opportunity for car insurance companies to leverage a life event—buying a car—that could introduce a future policy holder. These examples are happening all the time. They are not only happening to create targeted media but also to measure the impact of that media. Data can tell us if what we are doing in social media, e-mail, organic search, or any touchpoint is working.
- Tools like Adobe Marketing Cloud allow you to listen and monitor social media so that you can use the incoming data and create tailored ads.
- What you learn from social media can and should be pushed across all tactics and inform all departments on how consumers are interpreting your efforts.
The rise of content marketing as a way to engage your target customers and drive business impact can’t be ignored. There are more and more devices and platforms (think Google Glass, or smart watches) emerging every day that will continue to complicate matters. Marketers need to establish a framework and parameters that will put a strong foundation in place now. This foundation will make it easier to adjust to the continued rate of change and innovation in the digital space. However, if you forget everything else, simply remember: customer first.
*(0 = no presence, 1 = Present, 2 = Present and active, 3 = Market-leading presence)