godfather-trust-content-marketing“I believe in America…”

With these four words, The Godfather opens with the first of countless memorable lines — a testimony to the lasting power of what’s widely acknowledged as one of the most perfectly written scripts in film history. And the people behind the movie certainly believed in good, old-fashioned American capitalism, as they collaborated upon 175 minutes of content that delivered staggering ROI: The Godfather was shot for less than $6.5 million and made more than $245 million.

Two sequels and nine Oscar wins later, cinephiles rank the first two Godfathers (both of which won Best Picture) at the most elite level of “must watch.” As in, if you catch them on TV sometime, you will stop everything you’re doing and watch. Never mind that you own them on DVR and/or Blu-ray and that you’ve already seen them 10, 15, or 20 times. You see the same relatives every Christmas, don’t you? Getting reacquainted with the Corleones every few months is another way to catch up with a different kind of “family” members — those who entertain and teach us.

Indeed, there are many takeaways sprinkled throughout those sublime scripts. And it’s not a total stretch to say that some of them might speak to the relationships those of us with a content job have with our clients and stakeholders — you can attribute much of the Corleones’ success to their superior intuition in managing outside “associates.”

Ok, I get that we’re content marketers and the Corleones imported olive oil. (That was the family business, right?) And yes, I’m well aware that the Corleones resolved problems with associates by occasionally ordering hits on them — and I’m not suggesting we go there with even the most difficult of clients and stakeholders. But throughout the films there are classic lines that convey key lessons that are readily transferable to the difficulties encountered when handling clients as part of a content job. Here are 10 of them:

1. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Lesson: You need to develop a content marketing strategy to help keep the focus of your content on what will be most helpful in connecting your brand to the target audience.

Peter Clemenza’s line — delivered just after the unfortunate Paulie is, ahem, “disposed of” — demonstrates the laser-focus mentality of the Corleones. With clients and stakeholders, it’s important to maintain this level of clarity, lest you get sidetracked by all of the “noise” they introduce that may water down the potential for effective content marketing. If you’re promoting a survey report, for example, the research department might push you to include Every. Single. Research. Detail. But, in your mind during these discussions, you’re already editing out what you know won’t help you connect to the target audience.

“This ability is powerfully instinctual — to know what’s useful, and what isn’t,” says David Germano, Vice President of Content Marketing at Cincinnati-based Magnetic Content Studios. “Content marketing is framed around what the target audience really wants. This requires unwavering focus.”

2. “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” 

Lesson: Focus on the bottom line of creating compelling content, not on winning friends or feeding egos.

Whether stakeholders or clients, in every content job, you’re likely to deal with people who are competing over ego/attention or a conflicting agenda. So filter out the personal squabbles and concentrate on the big picture. “It’s never personal about whose quote is on the top, but certain clients or stakeholders will think so,” says April Rudin, CEO/Founder of The Rudin Group, a Fort Lee, N.J.-based marketing, branding, and communications strategies firm for the financial services industry. “The #1 job is to produce content that moves the needle. It’s a slippery slope when you endeavor to please everyone.”

Of course, the “strictly business” approach also helps when you get a familiar feeling of pure panic after stakeholders or clients mark up your content drafts with “NO! NO! NO!” comments, or verbally flog you during a meeting. You may think, “What did I ever do to make them treat me so disrespectfully?” But you have to get over it.

“Clients and influential stakeholders are busy,” says Andrew Tipp, Content Strategist at Further, a UK-based online marketing and SEO agency. “They have no idea how long you spent on the project and, frankly, it doesn’t matter. They care about results, not feelings. So adapt the mindset to not take critical feedback personally and accept that it’s all about business.”

3. “I spent my whole life trying not to be careless.” 

Lesson: Be rigorous in your content’s accuracy and precision.

Attention to detail means everything, especially for highly text-driven content. If you want the respect of your clients, make sure the work you do on every content job is beyond reproach, and your content quality is infallible:

  • Run multiple fact-checks of names and titles of people, as well as companies referenced.
  • Make sure all of the “basics” — correct grammar and spelling, proper organization, active sentences, action verbs, and overall clean, clear execution — are covered.
  • Screen content for excessive “repeat” words. (At our IT-focused agency, “provide,” “deliver,” “enhance,” “allow,” and “solution” are among the likely suspects there.)
  • See to it that content is reviewed multiple times by multiple parties.
  • You should even check for consistent formatting among all your content pieces.

Anything less and your clients and stakeholders could conclude that you lack sufficient attention to detail to do the content job right. Case in point: I recently reviewed a very ambitious and slickly produced survey research report from a well-known corporation in which I observed that a variation on the word, “occasional,” was misspelled more than two dozen times (literally!) as “occassional.” Imagine the chagrin of the executive behind the report when I (gently) called this out to her.

“Content marketers can’t afford to be careless,” says Carrie Baczewski, Content Strategist for Mint Advertising, a Clinton, N.J.-based boutique agency. “An off-brand message, lapse in voice, missing call-to-action or simple typo can diminish the client’s impression of your work.”

4. “Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking.” 

Lesson: As a service provider, you need to be discreet and brand-focused in all your content efforts — at all times.

This also falls into the subject area of not being careless. As in not letting slip about confidential, sensitive client/stakeholder/corporate information. Here’s a basic rule of thumb to follow, whether in the office, at an event, or in a bar: Don’t disclose anything you wouldn’t want posted in an online forum with your name attached.

“As service providers, we must become trusted advisors to those who pay us for our skills and expertise,” says Keith Ecker, Content Strategist at Chicago-based Jaffe PR, a marketing/PR agency for the legal industry. “One surefire way to ruin your credibility is to leak proprietary or sensitive information beyond the confines of the relationship. Not only are there potential legal ramifications, but if word gets out that you’re a ‘snitch,’ you may find yourself ‘whacked’ with respect to a pink slip or an evaporated pool of client prospects.”

5. “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.” 

Lesson: No idea is invincible, so make sure you have a backup or two for even the most ingenious of your content marketing plans.

You may think you’ve developed the most brilliant content concept ever, after spending hours, days, or weeks on it. Yet, this product of so much intellectual perspiration could very well get instantly shot down by a client or stakeholder. So come up with at least two or three backup proposals to the one that you believe is invincible.

And, sometimes, you may be pleasantly surprised about which ideas the clients/stakeholders don’t kill.

“We had a client that ‘killed’ many viable concepts,” says Kyle Psaty, Digital and Content Strategist at Roberts Communications, a Rochester, N.Y.-based advertising, PR, and interactive marketing firm. “Then, they landed on one which was so progressive, we didn’t think at first that it would work at all. In the end, the client pushed us to deliver something more visionary.”

6. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” 

Lesson: If you must exit a project, do so gracefully, and don’t burn any bridges unnecessarily.

You should never consider yourself as “out” of any professional association. Not after you leave a company. Not even after a client fires you. Because it’s a smaller world than you think, and there’s a good chance you’ll connect again.

“Budgets get cut,” Tipp says. “Departments get downsized. Clients find somebody cheaper. The end of a campaign or job doesn’t mean the relationship ends. We’ve ‘lost’ clients who end up coming back to us, realizing that the grass really wasn’t greener with the other agency and it’s worth paying more for quality content and practices.”

7. “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news at once.” 

Lesson: Be transparent in all your client communications — even if you need to deliver unpleasant or disappointing news.

If there are issues with a content job or project, it’s best to tell the client/stakeholder team sooner rather than later. This way, you can work together to get it back on track, or at least salvage what you can. Perhaps the content strategy only needs a tweak here and there. Or maybe it’s time to overhaul the entire concept. Regardless of the conclusion, if you bring the clients/stakeholders in early, you’ll have a better chance of securing their commitment to the new direction.

“All programs that I handle incorporate the clients into the process,” says Elizabeth Downey, Engagement Manager at Pedowitz Group, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based sales-focused marketing consultancy. “Like Mr. Corleone, they expect to be informed ‘pronto’ when something isn’t working. Then, we can find an alternative that communicates what they’re doing more effectively, to drive toward profitable results.”

8. Fredo Corleone: “How do you say ‘banana daiquiri’?” Michael Corleone: “Banana daiquiri.” 

Lesson: Avoid shrouding your content processes and procedures in jargon, tech-speak, or vague descriptions. Direct is usually best when it comes to keeping clients in the loop on your content marketing plan.

You don’t want to over-mystify content with clients and stakeholders — you should seek to make it easy for them to grasp the various tactics you’re deploying to serve them.

“We all have our ‘special sauce,’” says Paula Crerar, Vice President of Product and Content Marketing for Brainshark Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of presentation technology and solutions for sales, marketing, and training. “But if it’s too difficult for clients and stakeholders to comprehend, or if it’s shrouded in secrecy, your interactions can suffer. With our clients, we always have a kickoff meeting for every project, to discuss the components of a creative brief, such as the intended audience, goal, deadlines, etc. For a recent video presentation, for example, we reviewed all critical steps with the client, including developing the script, storyboarding, doing a professional voice-over and completing the final presentation. Because the process is very clear, our client has greater trust in our team.”

9. “I’m going to make him an offer he won’t refuse.” 

Lesson: When a client insists on taking a position that you are certain will compromise the value and performance of content, you must counter with a convincing argument that will “right the ship.” 

(Did you honestly think I’d forget about this quote? Fat chance!!)

This quote (arguably the most iconic of many iconic lines in the trilogy, ranked #2 on the list of all-time movie quotes from the American Film Institute) translates to the power of persuasion. In The Godfather, a big-shot Hollywood studio head refuses to cast Johnny Fontane in a career-making role, until the Corleones make a rather, er, convincing case that he has no other choice (i.e., an “offer he can’t refuse”).

Granted, the Corleones’ “offer” involved doing something absolutely, positively awful with the studio head’s prized stud horse. But don’t worry. You won’t have to harm any animals when applying the same principles to client and stakeholder dealings. However, when they do dig in their heels on a position that will compromise the content, you must counter with a “can’t refuse” argument.

“Keep in mind that you’ll always work with people who are not as savvy at content marketing as you,” says Holly Pavlika, Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy for Collective Bias, a Bentonville, Ark.-based social-shopping media company. “If they’re pushing for a concept that won’t deliver, then call up samples of content that went down the same path. Show them why these efforts failed. Explain how the inclusion and omission of certain ideas and elements makes all the difference.”

10. “… and the city he invented was Las Vegas.” 

Lesson: Demonstrate your passionate commitment to the content job, and you’ll likely be rewarded with the client’s trust — and empowered to take risks.

I’ve saved my favorite quote for last, because what can be as great and scary and ego-gratifying and humbling at the same time as sitting before a blank computer screen and attempting to produce brilliance for a client or stakeholder? As is often the case, you’ll minimize the “pain” and maximize the “gain” if you immerse yourself into the client/stakeholder relationship up front. When clients and stakeholders see the immense preparation — and passion — you’re investing into the project, you’re increasing the probability of their eventual, enthusiastic buy-in. And that’s when you’ve empowered yourself to “invent” something as amazing as Las Vegas.

“You can’t create compelling content in a vacuum,” Ecker says. “You have to deconstruct the brand, understand its goals and research the attitudes and behaviors of its audience. Once you do this, you can build content that resonates with audiences and establishes a positive association with the brand. At this point, the only limits to what you create are your own imagination, your budget, and the client/stakeholder sensibilities.”

Did I forget any of your favorite lines? If so, feel free to weigh in on them to add to the discussion. Be sure to include the takeaway, especially with regard to how it relates to client/stakeholder relations. After all, this is the business we’ve chosen. And if any of us ever need any guidance, who better to serve as consiglieri than the people who follow CMI?

For more great ideas, insights, and examples for advancing your client/stakeholder relationships, read Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi. 

Content Marketing. It’s one of those buzzy phrases that raises more questions for marketers than it answers.

“How heavily should I brand my content?”

“How does this fit into my social strategy?”

“Where does this fit in my paid strategy?”

“How can I create authentic content?”

Rob Davis, executive director of content marketing and video at Social@Ogilvy’s cousin, Ogilvy One, stopped by our Washington, DC, office this week to help separate some of the hype from the help regarding content marketing.

But before answering any of the above questions, Davis insisted that his audience – marketing execs from places like Amtrak, The World Bank, BIO, AARP, CSC and more – first put content marketing in its proper place.

“Content is only part of the process,” Davis said, putting it between commerce and conversation as part of a long-term strategy. The message was clear: content marketing, thought important, is not a magic bullet. Instead, it’s only effective when it’s part of an integrated plan that has earned and paid support following it up to bolster its effectiveness.

(Davis also admitted that he cringes anytime a client starts talking about “authentic content.”)

With examples from IBM and DuPont, Davis posited that the best content marketing is stories that are at the intersection of “the goals of the brand and the desires of the users.”

And the goals of the brand for a piece of content should be very specific and agreed-upon before the content launches: Where in the customer funnel do you see this content working and how will you judge its effectiveness?

In other words, if your goal is simply to “go viral” you’re going to be very disappointed on multiple levels.

See Davis’ full presentation and Q&A – and why he hates the word “authentic…”

Click Here to Watch the Full Presentation and Q&A

Check Out the Presentation Deck Here

What IDC deems the third platform of computing — social, mobile, cloud and big data — is transforming IT much faster than the first (mainframe) or second (client/server) platforms ever did. This has tremendous implications for the IT industry, yes, but also for anyone doing business in today’s world.

computer with screen graphTwo hundred million active Twitter users send 400 million tweets per day. Six-hundred-thousand pieces of content are shared on Facebook each minute. Seventy-two hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. 

The ever-growing streams of social media data hold the secrets you need to reach and engage your customers. Yet, according to a Harvard Business Review study, only 12 percent of companies using social media content believe they are using it effectively.

To date, social media analytics focused on the content of posts — the actual text of a tweet, for example — to measure consumer opinion. While sentiment analysis is important, companies also need to dig deeper into the data to glean actionable insight.

Whether companies are trying to engage better with customers, improve brand awareness, or boost lead generation, intelligent social media analysis is critical. And to get there, companies are increasingly embracing a new approach: investigative analytics.

Evolved analytics: Asking iterative, open-ended questions

Data analysis is no longer just the domain of the CIO and the IT department. Data-driven decision-making is the realm of marketing, sales, and business development — and anyone else who has a stake in the organization’s and customers’ success.

However, traditional analytic tools don’t let users interrogate fast-moving, highly diverse types of high-volume social data. As data connections and dependencies grow exponentially, it’s no longer possible to capture actionable information in a rigid set of KPIs and canned reports. To manage content, brand and customer engagement in a social world, companies should consider performing richer, real-time data analysis — with (it’s true) far fewer resources.

Enter investigative analytics, where users ask a series of quickly changing, iterative questions to figure out why something did or did not happen, and determine how to optimize a particular outcome. Compared to traditional analytics, which lack flexibility because they are tied to rigid KPIs and reports, investigative analytics yield insight into questions that haven’t even been dreamed of yet.

For example, traditional analytics may help companies answer a question like, “How many leather handbags did we sell via Pinterest last week?” Investigative analytics ask more meaningful questions, combining social media with other data points (e.g., campaign information, click-throughs, conversions, etc.), to enable more flexible data interrogation.

An investigative analytics series of questions may follow a path like this:

  • Where are we getting the most sales conversions on leather handbags?” The answer: 25 specific Pinterest boards provide the most leads.
  • Is there a particular product-marketing image those 25 Pinterest boards are using?” (e.g., Is it a static image with lots of white space, or a woman modeling it at a chichi restaurant? Is it black or vibrant red?)
  • Are we selling to a younger demographic when a specific color bag is pictured?
  • Is there a common conversion thread for consumers who paused a video ad but then resumed play? Did they convert better or worse than those who never paused the video?
  • Do more targeted consumers convert from a mobile device?” If yes, figure out how to optimize the campaign for mobile users.

This open-ended process of investigative analytics allows anybody looking at the data to constantly evolve the questions they ask and query data in real time, regardless of data volume. As a result, companies can figure out how to develop customized campaigns that deploy the right messages via the most receptive channels. Not only will they be able to increase efficiency of campaigns and how they target consumers with content, but they also will uncover up-sell targets and inform product development road maps as consumer preferences are revealed.

Navigating investigative analytics

Following are key considerations to put investigative analytics into action:

  • Embrace “frictionless inquiry:” Investigative analytics are all about frictionless inquiry, where the path between the question and answer is void of rigid structure. Frictionless inquiry depends on ad hoc query capabilities and simple analytic tool administration. So, when you reach the aha moment, you’ll have all the information you need to ask the next question or dig deeper into data without having to call IT or the help desk to create a new query.
  • Define, but don’t limit your universe of data points: The lines between web, social media, and advertising analytics are blurring as these modalities become more and more interdependent. To uncover and respond to consumer insights, it’s critical to analyze when and where a consumer said something, what else he was talking about, and what he did as a result. This correlation between engagement and conversion requires attention to a slew of data: demographic background; geospatial and time tracking; which social network and device was used; who opened a video, who paused it, who resumed watching after the pause. While it’s important to determine the data points you can mine, it’s equally important to always add and refine.
  • Ask why, not what: Gone are the days of simply knowing what happened in a campaign. Today, you can — and need to — know why: patterns of behavior or insights to capitalize (either in the moment or in the future). With investigative analytics there are no wrong questions. Instead, by letting the results of your ad hoc queries drive the next question, you’ll be asking the right ones. 
  • Take advantage of trending topics: To benefit from trending topics, it’s essential to extract intelligence — whether it’s A/B split testing or consumer likes and dislikes — from social networks as soon as it’s generated in real time. Can we increase engagement if we push out another tweet two hours after it posts? Five hours after? Five days after? Insights gleaned through investigative analytics help you take immediate action to optimize social engagement and drive further traffic and revenue.
  • Don’t ignore historical data: Take advantage of real-time data, but don’t forget the past. For example, it’s important to know if, historically, you’ve been successful with pushing a contest out on Facebook on Wednesdays followed by successive tweets on Friday so that you can replicate your success. Year-over-year trends are also important when planning for annual events, such as Black Friday shopping.

By harvesting the massive amounts of social media data with the power of investigative analytics, businesses will be able to determine exactly what people want, when they want it, and through what social network — which results in true competitive advantage.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of “Chief Content Officer.” Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine.

Sohrab Vossoughi discusses the restrictions current patent laws place on interaction design for Havard Business Reivew.


are we doing it right?As a content marketer, when I complete a project, I sometimes get this feeling like I’m handing over the keys to a Ferrari, only to watch it crash before getting out of the car park. 

Looking at the data revealed in Content Marketing in Australia 2014: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, I’d say clients are also experiencing a state of frustration: 

Ninety-three percent of Australian marketers surveyed reported using some form of content marketing over the past year — but only 33 percent say they’re effective at it.

So what’s going on? 

The commitment is there, but there’s not enough thinking behind it

Of those same marketers, only 52 percent reported having a documented content marketing strategy. (And, while these numbers are reflective of content marketing in Australia, the same trends appear across all geographies and verticals.)

Without the strategy in place (the targeted purpose coupled with streamlined processes), there will be no business goal blueprint to guide the provision of the right content in the right format, to the right audience, at the optimal time — or to measure the results. In the absence of content strategy, I often see content being produced for content’s sake. The rationale for formats, audiences, distribution, and timing is usually: “Because we’ve always done it that way.”

Same-same: Not different 

While lack of a documented content marketing strategy is an issue, other factors could be responsible as well. For example, when I looked at the type of content being produced by the marketers surveyed, I began to see some clues around format that may help us get to the root of this problem:

Out of the top 10, only two were visual content formats!

Just how much reading do we expect time-poor customers to do? After a while, having to read everything gets kind of boring. And if marketers are trying to convey complex stories, it’s a big ask to expect prospective customers to engage quickly through written formats: In 2013, a person’s average attention span dropped to eights seconds — that’s even less than a goldfish (which came in at nine seconds).

Now, apply that thinking to the most popular forms of written content used by Australian marketers surveyed:

  • Articles on websites (84 percent)
  • eNewsletters (82 percent)
  • Blogs (82 percent)
  • Articles on other websites (72 percent)

Then, factor in that the average person only reads 20 percent of the words on a standard web page and you may begin to see some possible reasons for that effectiveness rating of 33 percent. Two of the most engaging forms of visual content didn’t even make the Top 10: Infographics came in 12th, and one of the fastest growing content formats — motion graphics (animation videos that combine moving images, text, animation and music to explain a message, promote a service or to tell a story) — didn’t even rate a mention. 

Are we failing to choose the right metrics? 

The metrics marketers are using to measure success are the third reason why marketers may not be feeling effective in their efforts. Fifty-eight percent of Australian marketers surveyed cited web traffic as the key metric for their content marketing efforts, with social media sharing coming in second (51 percent), and SEO ranking third at 45 percent.

In contrast, the metrics I would rate most important — sales lead quality (44 percent) and sales lead quantity (43 percent) (especially if the content is appearing on a website) — came in fourth and fifth, respectively. Direct sales were rated only sixth as an important metric (with only 40 percent of survey respondents rating it as important). Interestingly, a benchmark lift for product/service awareness was rated 12th (26 percent) among important metrics, yet content marketers surveyed rated “brand awareness” as the most important goal of their content marketing efforts.

What is the CEO or the CMO going to do with website traffic as the lead metric? That’s an activity, not a results measurement. Crowd-pleasing metrics like activity at the expense of results or quantity at the expense of quality are really just comb-overs. Even if marketers accept these as the standard measurement currency, there are still important questions that aren’t getting asked, such as:

  • What is the outcome of more followers/likes/traffic?
  • How has SEO directly impacted performance or profit?
  • What’s the relationship between more traffic to the website and revenue?
  • What kinds of content drive the most leads?
  • What do those metrics tell us about our customers?

Do marketers have the right goals in place for their content marketing efforts?

Another clue in solving the “33 percent effectiveness” problem can be found in the data rating marketing goals.

There are certain outcomes that content marketing delivers on very, very well. I’d suggest the top three goals for content marketing should be lead generation, customer acquisition, and sales. Findings in a recent survey of 815 LinkedIn groups supports this view, with lead generation being the most common content marketing goal for B2B tech marketers, cited by 71 percent of respondents (followed by thought leadership and marketing education at 50 percent and customer acquisition at 45 percent). However, Australian marketers surveyed rated these goals much less important: Lead generation came in third, customer acquisition fourth, and sales eighth.

If marketers realigned their goals to play to the strengths of content marketing — like lead generation and sales — perhaps that effectiveness metric would shift north of 33 percent. Again, a disconnect among these goals emerged within the data — only 45 percent of Australian marketers surveyed tailored their content marketing efforts to stages in the buying cycle — typically awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, support, loyalty, and advocacy. Content should be created to address a customer problem and then guide them from that point. 

More content produced on a lower budget: The quality issue

Australian marketers surveyed are producing more content on a lower budget than their U.S. and UK counterparts. This can be a smart play — depending on the recommendations derived from the content marketing strategy. However, based on the fact that only 52 percent of marketers actually have a documented content marketing strategy, I think this falls in the “not smart” category.

Think about it in terms of effective content optimization (i.e., creating multiple content formats from a single format): Infographics can easily be converted into motion graphics with little effort; nuggets from thought leadership videos/interviews can serve as the basis for articles; articles can be further dissected for use as social media content; PowerPoint presentations can be reformatted for sharing on SlideShare. It’s hard to tell if that kind of optimization is going on. But based on that gloomy 33 percent effectiveness metric, I suspect that, for most marketers surveyed, the answer is no. 

How to avoid “crashing the Ferrari” 

There are some quick wins to be had and some long-term thinking to be applied. There’s also a need to understand the general shift in marketing that’s occurring. Digital marketing efforts are becoming a lot more transparent (thanks to the growing number of online metrics available), nimble (data analysis enables quick tweaks of marketing efforts), and considerate of audience fragmentation — and marketers’ efforts need to recognize this.

  • Pull together a content marketing strategy: There’s plenty of free content out there providing a wealth of information on the questions that need answering in developing a content marketing strategy.
  • Diversify content formats: Visual content is just as important and, for some target audiences and content goals, a lot more effective than written content. Fifty percent of our brain is used in visual processing and, for younger target audiences, it’s the primary format they engage with. And it’s not just younger audiences that prefer it — time-poor audiences also like to grasp complex stories quickly in visual format. Plus, visual content is fun! 
  • Choose the right the goal: Good content marketing products should work tirelessly for your business. Traditionally, million-dollar TV ads have measured their success in terms of brand awareness. Content marketing works a little differently. Brand awareness is an important part of the story — but the key is lead conversion and collecting and measuring behavior-based data. Content products are the refueling stops on the road to customer conversion — from education to purchase. Understanding this journey, and the data it captures, should be aligned with content marketing goals. Conversion aligns marketing with sales — that’s business nirvana, right?
  • Don’t benchmark success with dumb metrics: Be smart here. If your key metric is something as nebulous as web traffic, you better have the answer ready when the CMO asks for the direct relationship between web traffic and revenue. Comb-overs don’t make anyone look good.

Is it likely that 2014 will build on that 33 percent effectiveness metric? 

Yes. Marketing is becoming more data-driven than ever before. I’m not suggesting that advertising creatives will cease working on the brilliant Big Idea, but what I am saying, is a lot of the heavy lifting is going to be done through content marketing efforts — put some thinking behind the effort, and you’ll be happily cruising north of 33 percent in that Ferrari, instead of straight into the wall.

I’ve also captured the ideas presented in this blog in an infographic: Content Marketing in Australia: Are We Doing it Right?

Looking for more insight on how to improve the effectiveness of your content marketing? Register to attend Content Marketing World Sydney, March 31 – April 2, 2014. 

book cover-business of beliefAs content marketing becomes an increasingly important means of propelling our businesses forward, I’m finding that many marketers are still struggling with the operational issues associated with the discipline. In almost every meeting I attend these days, I’ve come to find that a few antiquated ideas about content are still ringing true:

  1. Content marketing is still considered to be separate from “real marketing.”
  2. Marketing and measurement are still solely thought of as ways to increase transactions, rather than as mechanisms for creating deeper relationships with consumers.
  3. Businesses still view content as an attribute of marketing, rather than as a distinct discipline that offers value in and of itself. 

CMOs are confident… that they are confused 

Last year, Accenture Interactive produced a report titled, Turbulence for the CMO. In the introduction to this report, the authors characterize chaotic change as:

… the new normal for chief marketing officers… CMOs are struggling to keep pace with competing business demands, proliferating channels and partners, and a disconnect between the talent they have and the capabilities they need. 

The study found that a full 70 percent of these CMOs feel like they are on the clock to deliver results, generally believing they have less than five years to completely change their operating model. Accenture also found that despite the enormous investments in technology and outsourced services, four out of 10 CMOs still say they are not at all prepared to meet their objectives.

Another study conducted by Aquent and the American Marketing Association substantiates these findings. In their 2013 Marketing Salary Survey, more than 50 percent of marketers said they were not at all equipped to handle new trends in marketing technology. And a similar number of them (53 percent) don’t feel like they have the right people on board to deliver results. But then, somewhat ironically, almost 70 percent in the Aquent study said that they were “very confident” that creating these customer-centric experiences would and could “positively impact the organization.”

Change begins with belief 

I contend that fundamentally changing some of these long-held beliefs is the essential first step that content practitioners within enterprise organizations need to take in order for content marketing to gain acceptance as a viable, successful approach. And in the interest of getting the ball rolling, I’d like to introduce you to the author of the fantastic book, The Business of Belief: Thomas Asacker.

Tom is an expert in leadership and the ways real businesses can facilitate broad change within an organization. So I took this challenge directly to him as something we could try and sort out together. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation:

Robert: In your book, you talk about the difficulty that businesses have in changing their ways. It’s something that we see as well — where the content marketing process is one that everyone can agree should be there, but it’s so hard to actually change the existing ways of doing things. Why do you think change is so hard?

Tom: I think it’s a human nature problem. We’ve created these metaphors and understandings about how human beings are, and how their minds work and what brains do, etc. And, I mean, the whole idea that the brain is anything like a computer is wrong. Brains change continuously. It would be like a program that rewrites itself all day long, you know? We also have to change the belief as well.

I saw this in action recently. I consulted with a company and, as I left, everybody said that they understood. Then, the results were devastatingly poor. The CEO was sitting next to me at this table at this meeting a year later and I said, “Could you tell me? What did I do wrong the last time I was out here?” The response I got blew my mind. He said, “Tom, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was great information. But you have to understand, when you left here, everybody had to go back to their jobs.

So like a computer, they understood what I said and they agreed, but that did not drive their actions. People do what they do because they desire to do it. And that’s it.

Robert: That plays an important role in content marketing, too. We too often feel like we just have to deliver facts to customers. When in fact, in addition to that we have to change beliefs, as well.

Tom: That’s the key. It’s a blending. We’ve got this situation now where we separate these things. We’ve got this group called “brand” over here, and this group over here called “marketing,” and this group called “product subject matter experts” over here, and “customer service” over here. But today’s brand is all of that. It has to be a blend in order to be successful.

The bridge of belief

Robert: So, what do you think the answer is? How do businesses actually change and create this blend? Do we have to take the CEOs and CMOs out behind the woodshed?

Tom: Well, where I’ve seen success is where there’s been some outside force — whether it’s an agency or consultant or someone who has figured out how to push a particular leader. It could literally be a brand manager. They lead them down, if you will, that bridge of belief, making them comfortable the whole time until they release something that’s powerful.

And then, the interesting thing is that once they get this notoriety for this creative endeavor, then the rest of the organization, they use that as an example for everyone else, saying, “See, we can do it.

Robert: And that’s the promise right? Because when I see enterprises being truly successful with content marketing, [it’s when] the marketing group has stopped acting like a media company, and they’ve actually become a media company.

Tom: There you go. The businesses that are willing to invest the time and the money and create the structures to elevate their content game will win. I’ve said all the time to people, “If everybody is writing a book, or a blog, then you should do whatever the next thing is that’s harder than writing a book to engage people.”

Becoming a media company

As I wrapped my conversation with Tom (and I’ve subsequently been chatting with businesses all across the spectrum about this challenge), I’ve been really focused on this last part. If the last few years of content marketing has been focused on how we can actually build the business case to use content as a means to engage, help, inform, and change beliefs in customers, then the next few years should be dedicated to learning how to actually create a strategic, repeatable process to do just that. 

Want more insight from Robert Rose on how to take your organization’s content marketing to the next level of success? Sign up for a free trial of our new Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, created by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.  

colorful questions-where?-when?-who?Social networks like Twitter have ushered in a new era of customer-care content. Unfortunately, for many businesses, this has come to mean that a social media manager’s time might be completely consumed by answering customer questions on all of the many platforms on which your company operates. While there will always be a place for social media in crisis management, there are more productive ways for marketers to use their time than by spending it on personally addressing customer complaints.

As an alternative, including carefully compiled frequently-asked questions lists (FAQs) and other Q&A content as part of your web content strategy provides a much greater opportunity to expand your brand’s influence — as having the right people answering the right questions in the right places for your customers can achieve much more for your brand than just damage limitation.

How to find the right questions to answer

There are tons of sources you can mine to get examples of the questions consumers might be asking that are relevant to your business. Here are just a few:

  • Social media
  • Quora
  • Webinars and Google+ Hangouts/Helpouts
  • Tumblr
  • “Ask Me Anything” (Reddit, etc.)
  • Blog comments
  • Internal search functions on your website
  • Keyword search data from Google/Bing Analytics and Webmaster Tools platforms

How to find the right places to answer questions

Yahoo!-owned microblogging platform Tumblr can be a hugely useful Q&A tool. Visitors to a Tumblr blog can be encouraged to leave questions, which, when answered, become individual content pieces.

The value in answering an individual user’s question directly — using owned Q&A platforms like Tumblr, as opposed to rented real estate like Quora — is that one of your influencers has already identified himself, and your response is owned content that can be distributed easily. A glowing review from a person with a few friends can be more powerful than a passing mention from a social media rock star, so it’s worth nurturing a one-to-one relationship with a user that has shown an interest — he may even become a lead.

However, you’ll probably achieve the best content marketing ROI by answering questions on your own site. It’s the first place customers will look when they want to know more about your business, and it’s where you want to direct any kudos you get for lending a helping hand. It’s also why investment in new channels is not necessary when you’re looking to factor Q&A into your web content strategy. Your site’s FAQ section is ideal for this, and the sad truth is that most businesses are not using their FAQ pages to their full potential.

Here are a few content challenges that can be addressed by incorporating Q&A content in your web content strategy:

Problem: Frequently repeated questions

Simply put, if you are frequently being asked the same questions about your product or service, the last place you want to answer that question is on a deep page that may only be accessible via your footer. Instead, you want to add visibility to your answers, so that it’s easier for your potential customers to recognize your interest in addressing their needs.

For example, if you’ve noticed that significant numbers of users seem to be asking a few of the same questions about your company before they buy from you, consider adding content to a highly-accessed section of your site, like your About Us page, to answer them.

If significant numbers of users want to know about your product before they buy it, your copy isn’t working hard enough for you. Your product pages have to explain what needs your product meets; so while obscure questions in FAQ sections are fine (e.g., “Does product X also do this?”), obvious questions are not (e.g., “What does this product do?“).

Problem: FAQ pages are too technical

Many websites use FAQ sections as guides on how to use a product to perform a certain function. There’s nothing wrong with this, and bearing in mind that users will typically use a search engine to find this kind of information, it’s important to host it on your site — it’s standard customer care.

However, just because you may be explaining detailed processes, it doesn’t mean that the content has to be complicated and filled with jargon and tech-speak. In fact, it should be just the opposite. For example:

  • Be sure to include visual content, such as simple diagrams, whenever possible.
  • Provide step-by-step guidance through any complicated processes users may encounter.
  • Be sure your content speaks in a clear, concise way, and avoid using jargon or technical terms that not all readers may understand.
  • Ensure that helpful content is optimized for mobile, as users often want the guide in hand, literally, while they go through the process.
  • Make sure it’s easy to print and email — or consider also offering it as a PDF download to make it easier for readers to share it with others.

By following these suggestions, you can create guide content that serves as a valuable resource, helping your company increase its search traffic — and build affinity by providing information that may help customers make a purchase decision, or be more satisfied with one they’ve already made.

A great platform for answering questions in a step-by-step process is SlideShare, which allows you to condense long-form content into simple and visually engaging conversations. As an additional tip, try embedding your SlideShare presentations on your FAQ pages alongside the other content, giving users a choice of how they would most like to consume your content.

Problem: Unique or complex questions

Demonstrating how your product meets a need is one thing, but your target market has a lot of needs. As a target customer makes his journey from stimulus to experience, he or she may have questions or want information that is specific to a unique situation, or that you may not have anticipated. Make sure it’s easy for consumers to get in touch and ask a question they can’t find the answer to anywhere else – this is the kind of customer service that gets you talked about – but ask for notes from your customer service department whenever they get asked something difficult. There doesn’t have to be a huge number of people asking a particular question, but if you’re the only one answering it, you’re the only one who stands to win customers.

An example of a site with an FAQ section that deals with ambiguous situations like this very well is Virgin Holidays Cruises.

nine categories-cruise info

Its online Cruise Guide maps out its buyer journey, from stimulus to experience, and contains information that is targeted to customers’ various needs through each stage of the purchase process. It’s true that some of the information can be found elsewhere on the web, but the Cruise Guide successfully collates this into a definitive experience and presents it as the story of buying a cruise holiday.

There’s no magic formula for answering difficult questions on your website, but there are plenty of options available. Take Mint.com as an example:


Financial products are notoriously difficult to navigate online, which is why Mint has made its FAQs as clean and concise as possible. It’s easy for users to find relevant answers, either by searching the FAQ, or through Mint’s community forum resources. And if that customer’s answers still prove elusive, Mint provides easy access to get the information he needs directly from a representative.

mint.com-need more help?

Finding the right way to answer questions

The examples above are very different in execution, but what they have in common is that they make it easy for customers to extract the information they need.

Developing a strategy for answering questions that will most benefit your users will take some work, but there are signs to look out for.

For example, the Ultimate Guide approach taken by Virgin Holidays Cruises banks on the company having the most comprehensive resources available anywhere on the web — resources purposefully built to be relevant to anyone considering a cruise and not just people who already cruise with Virgin. Mint’s vertical is wildly different — financial advice is already available on incredibly high-quality publications that users might well trust more than a services provider. So Mint relies on the fact that the information currently out there is difficult to navigate — its strategy wins because it makes consumers’ lives easier.

Ultimately, we know content succeeds because it helps people — and your business will succeed when you make finding out what your customers need help with a central focus of your web content strategy.

For even more ways to offer your customers exactly what they’re looking for, read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.

Cover image via Bigstock

keyboard-training-developmentOne of the areas of content publishing that has become voluminous over the last few years is research studies. Whatever you want to know about what marketers are doing, you can find out. Not that research studies are always representative, but when hundreds, or even thousands, of marketers agree on a certain premise, it’s worth considering.

However, lately I’ve seen research studies that are concerning. When I look at the sentiments these studies reflect, and the questions they raise about our industry, I get a bit queasy thinking about whether our profession is as advanced as it should be. I get a sense of inertia — of doing the same things we’ve always done but expecting different results — that makes me wonder if we’re really making progress now that continuous change has become, well, a constant.

Here are a few examples:

The State of B2B Lead Generation 2013, a study conducted by Buyer Zone, asked marketers what they do once a lead is generated. Fifty percent answered that the next step would be to route the lead directly to sales.

What’s notable about this? Well, 21 percent of marketers in the Buyer Zone study said they think the “key game-changer for the future of lead generation” is increasing the quality of lead generation. But, when asked where they would route money if they had an unlimited budget, 31 percent of these marketers said buying more leads would be their most popular choice.

Mass Relevance and The CMO Club asked Fortune 500 CMOs about their priorities and challenges in 2014 in their At The Speed of Life study:

  • 95 percent said that content marketing is important to their business
  • 95 percent believe creating and finding new, timely, and engaging content is one of their biggest challenges in 2014

The fact that the importance of content marketing is realized at the top level, yet marketers are still struggling with creating and finding content shows that companies haven’t addressed the gap that exists between understanding content’s value proposition and knowing what’s needed to capitalize on it. By leaving it up to marketers to figure it out themselves, how much lost opportunity are companies leaving on the table?

In reviewing the first B2B Trends report conducted by MarketingProfs and Junta42 (now CMI) back in 2010, the challenges marketers face have remained eerily similar. That’s over five years! The top challenge in 2010 for 36 percent of marketers was producing engaging content, followed by producing enough content. In the 2014 report, producing engaging content is a challenge for 47 percent of marketers (preceded by lack of time and producing enough content).

Instead of getting better, it’s gotten worse. More marketers are experiencing the same pressing challenges they did in 2010, in addition to new ones. Why do we think this is a situation that will resolve itself? Our current approaches for becoming more confident and effective at content marketing are obviously not working well enough.

Last fall, Adobe released a report — Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night? — in which 1,000 U.S. marketers were asked about their biggest concerns with digital marketing. What the report found is that things are shifting even more quickly than we thought, and our ability to keep up is declining, rather than improving. Yet, even with mounting pressure for improved performance from marketing teams, dedicated training has not yet become a priority.

Some more of the findings from the Adobe report included:

  • 76 percent of marketers think marketing has changed more in the past two years than the past 50
  • Only 40 percent think their company’s marketing is effective
  • 68 percent feel more pressure to show ROI on marketing spend
  • Most marketers don’t have any formal training: 82 percent learn on the job

While there are many areas of shaky confidence in relation to digital marketing, the top two concerns for these marketers were their ability to reach customers and their ability to keep up. And the kicker? Only 9 percent of these marketers agreed with the statement, “I know our digital marketing is working.

There are also a number of studies being done on the changing nature of buyers (from both B2B and B2C perspectives). The problem I see here is that comparing marketer studies with buyer studies doesn’t show that marketers are listening to — or learning from — buyer feedback. This needs to change. Marketers will need to start directing their efforts toward improving capabilities and attaining the necessary core competencies that will enable their marketing programs to reach full potential.

It’s time to shine a light on learning

After evaluating all of the issues that marketers are facing — along with the increasing urgency of content as a top priority — the statistic that stood out the most for me is that 82 percent of marketers say they’re not receiving training. While I’m a huge proponent of learning on the job, I question whether or not that’s enough to prepare today’s marketers to conquer all the challenges they will encounter — now and in the future.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of new skills to be learned. From buyer personas to content marketing strategy to storytelling to social conversations to multi-channel integration and data analysis — to name just a few — what marketers need to know today is much different than what we needed to apply to be successful just a few years ago. When 760 out of 1,000 marketers can agree that marketing has changed more in the last two years than it did in the previous 50, it suggests that there’s been progress at such an accelerated pace that the need for industry training and ongoing professional development is likely outpacing the ability of an organization’s senior-level marketers to provide it for their team members. The need for rapid evolution is clear and pressing.

The State of Digital Marketing Talent study backs up this assumption, stating, “… the results of the study indicate that there is a substantial gap that exists between the need for strong digital marketing talent and the skills that individuals in the field currently bring to the table.”

The question every content marketer needs to answer is: “What am I going to do about it?

Pursue your vast potential

As far as I’m concerned, there’s never been a more important or exhilarating time to be a content marketer. We’ve got opportunities to influence our company’s business strategy, provide a flow of qualified buyers to our sales teams, and take our seats at the executive table because we’re able to quantify the contribution we make to company growth, innovation, and viability. But the marketers of tomorrow won’t be able to hold those seats if we, as an industry, can’t close the gap between the skills we have now and our future ability to produce the outcomes that employers value.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to get up to speed. From consultants and coaches to online training courses, conferences, and workshops, the opportunities for content marketing training are abundant. Many of these options can be achieved iteratively in small increments of time that are designed to help you learn what you need right now, and then add to your knowledge as you move forward.

Often, what I hear is that marketers already have a bigger slate of tasks than their day will allow them to manage. That’s an excuse. And, trust me, if a marketing program executed next week (instead of today) is better than it would have been originally, based on newly acquired skills, I’m not really sure what’s keeping marketers from upping their game. How much more evidence do we need before we’re motivated to take action?

Want to be better prepared to address tomorrow’s marketing challenges with the latest content marketing tools and techniques? Sign up for access to a free preview course in CMI’s new Online Training and Certification program. Get training from content experts like Ardath Albee, as well as marketers from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Cover image via Bigstock 

store map-departmentsWith more and more traffic to websites coming from people who access the internet on mobile devices, it makes sense that companies would increase their use of mobile apps to get content into the hands of their target audiences. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to using apps to find the latest deals and information about products, so why not make it easy for them to find other ways to connect and engage with your brand?

Going beyond the standard functionality for making a purchase or finding a store nearby, the following examples of content marketing demonstrate some of the powerful ways retailers can leverage mobile apps to make customers’ lives easier — and make their shopping more time effective — while helping to build lasting customer loyalty. 

1. Lowe’s

my lowes-purchase-preferencesThe Lowe’s app features all of your basic functionality (like searching for products, and a store locator), it’s user friendly, and full of ideas to brighten up a home. It also provides a handy item locator to help shoppers navigate the massive showroom and hone in on exactly what they are looking to buy.

However, what sets this app apart, from a content standpoint, is its free “My Lowe’s” feature. My Lowe’s helps busy shoppers remember the details of products they have purchased before — like what size light bulbs they needed for their unique front porch lights. It takes the burden off consumers so they don’t have to recall the specs of each and every household item they shop for at Lowe’s — and it really helps the home improvement retailer lead the pack in providing customers with utility that makes lives easier.

2. Domino’s Pizza

domino's tracker-order taken

The Domino’s App is mostly what you would expect from a pizza shop. But, the feature that makes it a more unique example of content marketing is the Domino’s Tracker. This meter shows exactly what stage your pizza order is in at any given time, So, for example, if a customer is wondering what’s taking his pizza so long to arrive, he can see whether it’s still sitting in the oven, or if the delivery is already on its way. Customers like to see what’s going on so they feel as though they have some control, and this app gives them that level of satisfaction.

3. Teavana Perfect Tea Touch

tea blender-tea choices

Teavana is a specialty tea shop that often occupies shop space in large malls. For tea lovers, it’s a haven of all things good, and the content on the brand’s mobile app helps to encourage these positive brand associations.

For example, the Perfect Tea Touch app has a Tea Blender feature, which allows users to select the type of tea they like and gives specific instructions on how to properly brew that specific blend to get the best flavor. The app also has a tea timer tool that tells users how long to steep their tea, sets a timer, and plays sounds it associates with that particular blend to help pass the time while their tea brews. Other features include a tea blending tool, which offers recommendations to tea lovers who like to mix various flavors together.

4. My Wendy’s

wendy's-nutrition facts

The My Wendy’s app does not provide the typical fast food app experience — for example, customers can’t use it to place orders through their phones. But there’s one particular feature that makes it a standout example of content marketing: its calorie-conscious menu builder. The app lets users set the calorie range they want their meal to fall into, and provides them with a list of items they can select from that will help them keep to their goal. The user can save a customized meal and order it in-store. The app also displays what each item looks like — as well as its full nutritional information. As consumers increasingly look for healthy options at their favorite fast food restaurants, content-focused features like these really demonstrate Wendy’s commitment to serving its customers’ needs.

5. Best Buy

product compare app

What sets Best Buy’s app apart from other mega-retailers’ apps is a few of its more tech-savvy features. For example, the app has a scanner that consumers can use in the store to compare product features and read reviews of those products. Content tools like these can help make in-store decisions easier — a key benefit that may discourage shoppers from doing their research in the closest Best Buy, then going home and purchasing the product online from a competing retailer.


These five apps truly demonstrate brands’  increasing interest in getting their content out to customers in unique ways. Not only are they giving users reason to enjoy using the app, but they are creating a lasting customer bond. Other companies should take note, as mobile content marketing offers tremendous opportunities for them to provide information that is useful to their customers — which helps them gain customer loyalty.