Content Strategy Lessons from 2 Big, Successful Companies

“Hit me over the head. Remember, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I look for a good agency to make me a recommendation. If you feel we should be doing something, and we’re not doing it, please tell us.”

–Marketing Automation Director (and Fathom client), Feb. 2016

whack-a-mole

One of our marketing contacts at a large global relocation business is new to marketing automation and some of the other technology and processes that are commonly enlisted in service of today’s content strategy. I also get the impression she (or at least her colleagues) could use some education about the marketing industry’s now-widely held consensus over a buyer-first, respect-the-journey philosophy that reflects the purchasing habits of our time.

The CMO of this company, with whom she works closely, knows marketing needs to show the C-suite a return on their new investments in technology and content. They’ve just started employing marketing automation, which runs concurrent with an ongoing strategy to identify content gaps and the best ways to share some of the resourceful content they already have. They want results fast. Urgency is understandable, because their competitors currently appear to be ahead of them in this facet of lead-nurturing.

What I suspect they might be overlooking, though, is the delicate balance between pumping out content and giving people exactly what they need as buyers … a balance between volume and user attention spans … a balance between gating truly premium assets and giving away the rest … a balance between what this company likes to say about itself and what their buyers are actually interested in hearing during their 18-month purchase cycles. (Side note: 18 months affords plenty of time to collect information over the duration of the average purchase journey. This is the beauty of a long-term, trigger-based email series; you needn’t put everything behind a gate to grab as much lead information as quickly as possible.)

The rich get richer: Content advantage for the top dogs

Let me introduce another recent client success story: Our contact at a thriving B2B tech company told us they’re hiring like gangbusters, marketing department not excluded. This recalls stats I’ve seen about forward-thinking companies investing large percentages of their annual revenue in marketing (Marketo and Salesforce being in the vanguard). This particular brand is a legitimate, third-party-verified leader in its category, yet it pays enough attention to content strategy to outsource its persona creation to an expert in its specific industry in preparation for this year’s big growth plan.

Their marketing leadership recognizes the importance of having a tightly defined audience and a strategic approach to content communications and presentation. What is particularly instructive is that despite having established themselves as a titan in their market, they are still fully aware of the importance of a carefully calibrated content strategy to maintain (if not increase) their competitive advantage.

In other words, the leadership of this company know in order to find long-term success, they probably can’t rest on the superiority of their software product alone. Along with the expansion of marketing and newfound attention to content strategy, it’s also going through a rebranding exercise. This reinvention process is not simply a “new year, new identity” rote exercise; the brand wants to stay on top by staying relevant in a rapidly changing industry. With this level of dedication to the details of creating and organizing useful, use-able and desirable content—paired with a standard-bearing software product—this is a brand poised to win.

Marketing with honest self-reflection

What’s great about organizations like these is their appreciation for knowledge and desire to further their collective marketing education. They are willing to look in the mirror and do the honest self-reflection necessary to transform their marketing from good to great (or from average to great, or wherever it may have started). They don’t have illusions that they’re doing everything perfectly. They set their egos aside. They critically examine their shortcomings and how much further they can strive to achieve excellence. These visionary organizations in two different industries are paving the way for marketing rooted in content strategy. Furthermore, they are cementing their own respective dominant market share and perpetuating a great status quo by actively maintaining elite positioning.

How can your organization do the same? Assuming your product/service is already excellent, you can then bring your “content game” up to speed. (Let’s put first things first: No use spending the majority of your time in content marketing if your main reason for doing business is not in prime shape.)

Basic principles of a ‘content-first’ philosophy

Once you’re ready to take content up a notch, start with these principles (with a hat-tip to Content Marketing Institute):

  • Put the audience first.
  • Tell a unique story.
  • Think like an editor.
  • Create an editorial mission; do not stray from this mission.
  • Organize your production, promotion and reporting.
  • Kill jargon; use real words.
  • Communicate with users and readers, not channels and devices.

This is just the beginning. But as the company pioneers I cited earlier have demonstrated, you can’t rest on your laurels. The road to paradise is sometimes long. It also occasionally brings disappointment. (Read Joe Pulizzi’s recent blog post about content marketing disillusionment.) The important thing is to stick it out and keep faith.

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Did you like this post? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out “Trust Issues in the Marketing Industry: A Roadmap to Rebuilding Relationships” to find out how to develop trust with your agency, C-suite, and audience.

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Photo courtesy of Laura via Flickr.

Paul Richlovsky

About Paul Richlovsky

Paul brings a writing and teaching background to his decade-long marketing career. He advises clients on content strategy and editorial direction. He is an enthusiastic marketing automation practitioner and active member of the Cleveland Marketo User Group. He has written/edited multiple marketing guides, including those aimed at healthcare, higher education, financial services, B2C brands and manufacturing audiences. With a BA in English from the College of Wooster, he is also the author of a collection of poetry, "Under the Lunar Neon."He is particularly interested in usability, digital governance, ballroom dancing, bachata, racquet sports, and romping with his niece and nephews.

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