Report: Content and the New Marketing Equation

Rebecca Lieb, my colleague at Altimeter Group released a new report, “Content: The New Marketing Equation Why Organizations Must Rebalance.” The report helps organizations find balance in the creation of effective content strategies while delivering value to stakeholders and consumers and also the bottom line.

It’s safe to assume that the attention of the audience as we knew it is waning. And when we look at the online and mobile behavior of connected customers, a sense of responsibility emerges as everyday people become media beacons in their own right. As such, they rigorously share and curate for their audience with an editorial-style approach as what was once a static audience is now an audience with an audience of audiences. People are learning that there are rewards for contributing to signal instead of the noise. Those who do not, learn the hard way…that people will disconnect in order to preserve the integrity of their stream.

Such is true for organizations. For those organizations that do not contribute value to social streams will find that content and desired voices will fall upon the severed ties of once captive communities. Rebecca’s report will help companies identify a path for increasing relevance. And, it starts with adopting an always-on approach that extends campaigns through a continuum model. As she observes…

Marketers can serve customers and prospects with content through every phase of awareness, branding, intent, conversion, and customer service. Yet, unlike advertising, content initiatives are continual rather than episodic, placing new demands not just on marketing organizations but also across the enterprise as a whole.

When you study the intentions and architecture of many branded social media campaigns and strategies overall, it’s difficult to not wonder whether social media isn’t an oxymoron in its current incarnation. I’ve written about this on several occasions over the past year, calling for an end to an era of Social Media 1.0. It’s a call for businesses to move from antisocial social media strategies and raise the bar for more compelling and mutually beneficial forms of engagement.

Good friend Tom Foremski recently observed that, “Corporations are being pressured by legions of ‘experts’ to exploit social media as a lucrative sales and marketing channel. This will destroy social media…” His point was that brands used social media channels to push traditional corporate media, exhibiting a collective broadcast mentality disguised as social engagement. He then started EC=MC (Every Company is a Media Company), a movement to help businesses realize the opportunity presented by social for not only marketing, but true storytelling, experiential journeys, and engagement. Also referred to as brand journalism or brand publishing, the idea is that brands can earn greater attention, reach, and results by investing in a journalistic approach. It’s a move away from promotional content to the delivery of useful, entertaining, or meaningful engagement and experiences through new media.

Attention is finite and the competition for it is only escalating. But to entice and capture attention will take more than a new content strategy and a supporting editorial calendar. It will take a new mission, purpose, and culture to unlock experiences and pave engaging journeys through content.

As Rebecca notes…

Content marketing requires a shift in company culture, resources, budgets, partners, and strategy. Rebalancing is critical to achieve these goals. The choice is whether to rebalance now, or later when the battle for attention may become even more difficult than it currently is.

To adapt to a new landscape for effective attention marketing, Rebecca introduces a five-stage maturity model. It details how organizations evolve in the quest to market efficiently with content. Not every company will reach every stage. But as she observes, evolution, direction, and purpose must start at the top…

Yet to effectively market with content, organizational change and transformation must be driven from the top level of the organization. Left to the marketing department alone, success is limited. New skills must be developed and training offered, both in digital technologies as well as in job functions more aligned with the responsibilities found at a newspaper, magazine, or broadcaster, than in classic marketing functions. Content requires more speed and agility than does marketing, yet at the same time it must be aligned with metrics that conform to the business’ strategic marketing goals.


1. Stand: This organization may have dabbled in social media or created a blog, but activity is infrequent and not generally viewed as important within the organization. The marketing department relies almost wholly on “push” communications such as email marketing, direct mail, and advertising.

2. Stretch, Taking the First Steps While Scanning the Horizon: An organization at the Stretch stage realizes the value of content marketing and begins to build the strategy and support necessary to create and publish content.Understanding develops that, while many of the tools and media are free, content requires an investment of resources. An executive sponsor is necessary to lead the program and communicate its value and reach to the organization. This executive sponsor is also tasked with identifying team members to engage with early channels, building basic forms of content, and evaluating potential agency relationships.

3. Walk, Ambition and Forward Momentum: In this stage, content creation and production get a solid strategic foundation organizationally. From channel specific (e.g. “we blog”), content begins to become channel agnostic and is distributed across a variety of channels and platforms. Processes are formalized. This is the stage at which a team begins to take shape, strategy is more fully refined and tweaked, and the team begins to establish governance to scale and shape content processes.

4. Jog, Sustainable, Meaningful and Scalable Content Initiatives: The organization’s strategy is clear, as well as communicated throughout the enterprise at this stage. Focus shifts toward expanding the team and its ability to create experiential, engaging content rather than simply create and publish simpler stories and informational pieces. The processes for producing content are also more fully developed and strategic. Content is created with a view toward being reusable or repurposed across multiple media platforms.

5. Run, Inspired and Inspirational: In this phase, a successful, real-time integration of content marketing and curation is part of the fabric of nearly all aspects of branding. The organization has become a bona fide media company, actually able to monetize innovative and highly polished content that is either branded and/or related to the brand proposition. Content is sold and licensed based on its standalone merit, with content divisions having separate P&L responsibility.

In the report, Lieb also introduces four fundamental steps toward content marketing maturity. These steps serve as important reminders that no matter how sophisticated your program is today, its success is always determined by how audiences with audiences engage and contribute to the dissemination of your story, value, and mission. And in turn, success is measured by how they feel and/or the actions that they take as a result of the engagement.

1. Understanding That Content Marketing is Not Free

2. Implementing Broad Cultural Integration Around Content Marketing

3. Integrating Content Marketing with Advertising

4. Avoiding Bright, Shiny Objects

To get there of course is not an easy task. As noted earlier, it comes down to culture…it comes down to leadership. Additionally, effective content marketing strategies and ultimately the experiences and outcomes that they can deliver require a supporting infrastructure that is strengthened by pillars of new expertise. It takes a different vision for what’s possible, higher standards and supporting metrics, and most important, a new perspective.

- Organizational Structure. The infrastructure that allows content creation and distribution to be fostered and encouraged both within the marketing department and beyond it.

- Internal Resources. Staff roles, teams, and leadership that support and create content marketing.

- External Resources. The extent to which the organization works with outside vendors and service providers including agencies, creative resources, and technology vendors.

- Measurement. Creating meaningful metrics around content marketing, including tying them to overall marketing and sales goals.

- New Skills and Capabilities. Fostering understanding of content marketing, executive buy-in, and ensuring staff can manage, create, and publish content.

- New Mindsets and Approaches. Content marketing is almost never a 9-to-5 undertaking. Creating, managing, and monitoring content outside of normal business hours, often in real time, is essential.

Rebecca’s report includes a self-audit that’s designed to assess where your organization is on the Altimeter Content Marketing Maturity Model. The goal is to help you better understand what you need to advance along the framework and also improve the effectiveness in how content increases engagement, experiences, and outcomes as a result. The case studies provided in the report are eye-opening. I also believe that they will inspire creativity in defining your content marketing goals.

In the end, content is a representation of the sentiment you wish to evoke, the story you wish to tell, the experiences you wish to deliver and the journeys you wish to create. Content though, is a also reflection of your vision, supporting culture, and the intentions that define the social objects you introduce. It’s time to rebalance.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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