Recently, my agency did an industry survey asking people we knew—specifically those responsible for marketing—to tell us what was of greatest concern for them in the upcoming year. The top three concerns were email marketing, website marketing, and content marketing, followed closely by thought leadership. They all have one thing in common: content—the key to your marketing success!
What is content?
Content is the single most powerful cylinder of your marketing engine; it is the hard drive of your computer; it is the brain of your nervous system—I think you get the point here.
As marketing consultants, we hear various versions of the same theme: we cannot create content internally; we need outside help. This is music to our ears and money in our pockets, as that is what we do best. Having said that, it may not always be the case that people who think they need content created externally really do. Let’s dissect what content is or can be for you, your brand, your company, and your marketing success.
Content communicates the positioning of your company or brand. In order to define your own positioning, it often helps to articulate those of others. As examples:
Apple: simple, sleek, intuitive user experience.
Disney: family-friendly; methodically consistent in its presentation, orchestration, and execution. Amazon: convenient, ubiquitous, personalized.
BMW: luxury, performance, a driver’s car (i.e. “the ultimate driving machine”).
Positioning expresses your brand’s essence, voice, personality, DNA, attributes—or whatever you prefer to call it. Everything you put in the “public domain” should have a consistent positioning.
Communications are all of the ways you present your brand to the outside world—websites, blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds, newsletters, advertising, etc. These are all powered by content. In every place your brand appears, you must create content by which prospective customers can find you, and current customers will understand why they should continue working with you.
Once customers have found you, you want them to have a consistent and predictable experience. You need to ensure that all of your communications align with the image and attributes you built your company and brand on—your positioning. Imagine getting an Apple product in a black box with flowers all over it with complicated installment instructions. You would be disappointed, confused, and maybe a little angry, as this does not match your expectations of an Apple product’s appearance and function.
Unique Selling Proposition
In my experience, many people do not spend enough time developing their unique selling proposition (USP) in a way that can inform and serve as a foundation for their content strategy and its subsequent execution.
This is especially prevalent among technology and technology services industries in the B2B (business-to-business) space; many brands think that being better, faster, and/or cheaper provide reason enough for someone to want to buy from them over a competitor. In the technology industry, however, these are not differentiating factors necessary for creating a unique selling proposition. Brands must express what makes them different and special. In the words of marketing guru Simon Sinek, they must ask themselves, “What is our why?” He asserts—and I agree—that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it! Content helps you tell that “why” story.
Perceived Obstacles of Content Marketing
Clients often come to us for content strategy, development or execution because they feel they cannot do it independently. Their perceived obstacles—which are often articulated as complaints about their inability to do these things—revolve around three key themes:
- “I am/we are NOT creative enough.”
- “I/we don’t write well enough.”
- “I am/we are just not strategic enough.”
This can often be overlaid with, “There just isn’t enough time for us to develop this skill . . . Just do it for us.” Having said that, I would like to dissect these three assumed constraints one at a time in a way that may alter the way you think about content marketing and how you might be able to develop it for yourself.
“Thank you so much, Monique, that’s a great idea! We could have never come up with this on our own . . . We aren’t very creative.” I assert that creativity is like strength training; you must develop your creative muscle, and continue to use it—methodically and religiously—or it atrophies.
At a creative workshop I attended years ago, we did an exercise consisting of walking quickly around the room, pointing to or picking up objects, and purposefully calling them by an incorrect name. For instance, picking up your desk plant and calling it “cat,” looking at your computer and calling it “vacuum cleaner,” etc. Doing this consistently for about a minute, in rapid fire, apparently helps re-wire the brain; it allows it to accept new and unknown information and process it differently than if you had sat at your desk, as always, and declared, “Ok, I have to be creative now!”
If you want to develop your creative muscle, establish an ongoing practice of exercising the “other side of the brain.” Simple things like setting aside a half hour per day to free thinking, meditating, journaling, story writing, will help you think without self-imposed boundaries. You will find that when you get around to thinking about what you could and should say about your company, your products, and your services, new thoughts will come rushing in. You might want to try this!
Not Good Writers
I recently met a woman who was a self-proclaimed “poor writer.” That reality finally shifted for her, however, when her assistant told her that her writing was excellent, but she was just terrible at grammar. She had no appreciation for her writing because her work had always come back from previous managers or proofreaders with lots of red marks all over it. The content wasn’t the problem—it was the grammar and punctuation. Are you one of those people that may not be strong in spelling or grammar but your ideas are clever, well thought out and appreciated by those who read them? When you figure out what you aren’t particularly good at, or don’t enjoy, send your work out! I don’t particularly like proofreading my own work, plus, I find I cannot really “see” my errors. So, I call my proofreader!
For others, they don’t have trouble once the words are on paper, but getting to that point poses a problem; they don’t know what to write about or how to write about something. Often, this “writer’s block” is not due to a deficiency of skill but a lack of inspiration. Finding ways to boost creativity would help.
Sometimes, though, people lack inspiration because they view writing as painful or a chore. Try changing your perspective on writing. Instead of seeing it as drudgery and an obligation, look at it as an opportunity to express yourself and make a statement.
Why not get some professional guidance on how to change your frame of mind? Maybe you would enjoy attending a creative writing workshop or a continuing education class about something outside your day-to-day job or profession. This out-of-the-box thinking may be just what you need to unblock your writer’s block!
This is my personal favorite and one that seems to recur regularly in my line of work. My clients tell me there is neither time nor appreciation in their organizations for the strategic thinking they know would benefit their businesses. It is certainly difficult to be “strategic” when your daily email inbox has hundreds of emails; your day is full of back-to-back meetings, and your boss expects you to “get stuff done.” That may sound familiar to you as well.
Because of this “lack of time,” the execution of the tactics are often delegated to far more junior people who are not seasoned enough to understand the strategy behind creating the content in the first place—if that strategy exists and has been articulated. “Let’s have the intern do our social media campaign; I don’t want to bother with ‘that stuff.'” Does this sound at all familiar to you? It does to me! If I had a thousand dollars for every time I heard a version of that, I would be rich! By doing this, people are effectively relegating how the market experiences their brand to someone with little to no industry, work or practical life experience, simply because they can operate an app or a social media platform. YIKES!
Being strategic is so necessary—more so today than ever before. Communications, marketing, advertising whether traditional or digital and social media—whatever you choose to focus on—have all become more complex and demanding from a content perspective. It has never been more important to have a strategy to create the right messaging, for the right prospective customer, at the right time, in the right place. It’s like saying you want to drive to California from New York but don’t have time to consult a map! Not smart, and probably not very effective either.
Like the map to get you to California, the strategic plan with your positioning, messaging, USP’s and the appropriate content that comes from it—will get you to your intended destination.
Summary & Recommendations
Make sure you create a culture in your organization that not only appreciates and rewards “doing” but also “thinking.” A few ideas to consider implementing:
Set aside several hours of your week away from meetings, phone, and emails to review, analyze and think. What has been working, and what is not working? How are your website, blog, email, and social metrics and analytics performing? What topics are trending in your industry and which are getting no traction? Do these topics marry the lines of business your company needs to promote? Are the “hot topics” aligned with what your senior executives call the “hot products and services”? This can help you with the ideation and development of possible content.
To unblock creativity limitations, call a few key customers. Listen to what they have to say about their experiences with your company. Ask them what they like, dislike and would like to see improved. You will be amazed at the responses and the rich and actionable information you will be able to gather. Plus, they will be thrilled to be asked their opinions! Who doesn’t like to share their opinions and observations? When we call our clients’ customers, they often tell us point-blank what they want. Sometimes these are creative ideas, and some are even rather simple to execute.
For strategic enhancements to your process, create quarterly business reviews (QBRs) where your senior-level executives can gather and share the learning, metrics and results they see from their efforts and the market. This allows you to adjust as you go and create the content you need to drive optimal business results.
The right content can optimize all of your sales enablement and business development efforts. Many think of marketing as a burdensome but necessary cost, but they must remember that it can also drive sales and profits while also transforming your business.
Try some of these tricks and tips and see what opens up for you. I know something will. I’d bet my career on it.