This post, Content Creation Helps Prospective Audiences Choose You, was written by nDash CEO Mike Brown and was originally published on the Clutch.co blog.
Business is largely defined by competition. You compete on features and price. And you compete for territories and market share. You also compete for customers. Before that can happen, however, you must first compete for the eyes and ears of your target audience.
How? By publishing compelling content.
Despite its widespread adoption, content marketing is still widely viewed as a side project. It’s something many marketing departments do because they think they should. Everyone else is doing it. But here’s the thing: your content is often a prospect’s first interaction with your brand. It’s often what makes them choose you versus a competitor.
In other words, the battle for market share begins with content.
So perhaps it’s time that content be viewed more strategically. Perhaps it’s time to view content as a potential competitive differentiator.
Companies use content to increase brand awareness and market visibility. They aspire to be thought leaders in their industry – the go-to resources for their audience. You can use content to do this too, but first, you have to understand the four pervasive challenges that often get in the way and how to overcome them.
A Success Story: Using Content for Business Growth
Before I explain how to make content a competitive differentiator for your brand, I want to share a personal story about the role content plays in growing a company.
In 2009, I joined a young startup as the content marketing manager. Our team was small at the time (I was employee 10), and our brand awareness was practically non-existent. Three years later, we had grown to 200+ employees, secured over $120 million in venture capital funding, and set up offices all around the world. We owned our space, and by then, our competitors didn’t stand a chance.
Content obviously wasn’t the only reason for our growth, but it played a substantial role.
Unlike our competitors, we published original posts three to four times per day on the company blog and various microsites. We wrote hundreds of guest posts. And we created a new whitepaper or eBook every few weeks. Also, We drafted dozens of case studies and even started a forum where our users generated content. We collected thousands of leads for our sales team and were publishing at a clip that made us look more like a national newspaper than a business-to-business (B2B) tech company.
We were out-selling, out-marketing, and out-publishing our competitors.
You don’t have to look very hard to see that other brands now embrace this approach to business growth too.
- 76% of B2B marketers plan to increase the amount of content they’re creating in 2017.
- Half (51%) of marketers plan to increase spending on content marketing in the next year.
- CMOs at the largest technology companies report that building out content marketing as an organizational competency is the second most important initiative, only behind measuring ROI.
The real news isn’t that marketers are prioritizing content in 2017. It’s why they are making it a priority.
The reason is simple: to establish themselves as unrivaled thought leaders, to build greater brand awareness, and generate more leads than their competitors.
If these sound like worthy aspirations but you’re unsure of how to make them a reality, then keep reading.
4 Content Challenges & How to Overcome Them
Your ability to transform content into a driver of growth depends on your ability to overcome the associated challenges, of which there are many. They primarily include the following:
- The ability to scale content creation with multiple writers.
- The ability to consistently generate unique content ideas.
- The ability to support the entire buyer’s journey with relevant content.
- The ability to balance creativity with hard data.
Let’s take a closer look at each challenge.
1. Scaling Content Creation with Multiple Writers
The Content Marketing Institute recently found that 76% of companies plan to increase the amount of content they create this year. Exactly how long this increase can be sustained remains unknown.
Surprisingly, the frequency of content creation isn’t dependent on how much money you have. Rather, it’s about how your marketing team is structured.
If you’re like most marketing departments, you are built to market, not to publish.
You have talented marketers who devise campaigns, crunch numbers, measure results and perform the strategic work that is necessary for marketing success. If you suddenly ask them to switch gears and perform the tactical (and yes, sometimes tedious) task of writing content, you risk constraining the publishing cadence.
There’s an enormous opportunity cost. Every minute a marketer spends on the tactical task of writing is a minute that could be spent on more strategic endeavors – analyzing data, measuring ROI, or managing the execution of the overall marketing strategy.
Since their time is increasingly limited, marketers must start to think of themselves as the head coach, not the star player.
What to Do: Expand Your Pool of Content Contributors
If the marketing team’s primary role is to promote the brand, then who’s going to be creating all of your content?
In short, a content community. Loosely defined, a content community is a group of writers who have an in-depth knowledge of your brand, your audience, and your industry. They contribute ideas, strategy, and content to further your marketing goals.
What we’re really talking about is expanding your pool of content contributors, whether they are in-house writers, freelancers, or a marketing agency.
According to HubSpot, marketers are using more resources for content creation than ever before, and most of the resources they rely on come from outside their company.
- Agency partner use increased by 90%
- Freelance writer use increased by 77%
- Guest post use increased by 75%
If you haven’t started leveraging the flexible workforce for content, you probably will soon enough. The best writers and subject matter experts are rapidly becoming freelancers. In fact, there are 53.7 million freelancers in the U.S., or roughly 1/3 of the U.S. workforce. By 2020, that number is expected to climb to 60 million people (or roughly 40% of the workforce).
The bottom line is that in order to scale, you need to think outside the cubicle.
2. Consistently Generating Unique Content Ideas
The ability to scale content creation is dependent on not only the number of writers you have and your budget but also the number of quality ideas your marketing team can generate on a consistent basis.
Few things slow the pace of content creation more than a lack of actionable ideas, as illustrated by Kapost’s 2016 report on content ideas.
- 50% of marketers said they don’t have enough ideas to fuel their content operations.
- 39% of marketers said it was difficult to come up with unique ideas.
- Marketers needed, on average, 67 ideas per quarter to be successful.
Of course, quantity is only part of the issue. Without unique ideas – content that cannot be found in a hundred other places – a brand will fail to differentiate itself in the minds of its target audience.
The content will come across as stale, fluffy, and repetitive, even if it’s published at an impressive clip. When the responsibility for content ideation falls on one or two people, this is almost always the end result.
What to Do: Diversify Where and How You Get Content Ideas
Brands that have turned content into a competitive differentiator tend to place a premium on diversity – a diversity of authors and ideas. They rarely write about the same topic twice. They always find new angles to attract and engage an audience that’s overwhelmed with content choices.
How? By soliciting ideas from numerous sources: internal employees, freelance writers, agency partners, or guest bloggers. These people make up their content community.
The benefits of this approach are numerous.
- It ensures that the marketing department is always publishing the best ideas, not simply the most recent ones.
- It helps them establish a content calendar weeks, or even months, in advance.
- It gives them a better opportunity to learn about what topics their audience prefers learning.
3. Supporting the Entire Customer Lifecycle with Relevant Content
It’s easy to look at content marketing as a top-of-funnel exercise designed primarily to attract new prospects. After all, lead generation and conversions largely define content marketing success.
By focusing too much on prospective buyers, companies often lose sight of other audiences in need of great content: their current customers.
A company may excel at creating blog posts, whitepapers, and case studies to generate leads but fail miserably at providing materials for its current customers in the form of product guides, webinars, and “how to” articles.
For many marketers, switching gears – creating content for a variety of audiences – is not always easy.
Why? Well, one reason may be a disconnect between marketing and other departments, like sales, product, and customer support. If a marketing department operates in a vacuum, it’s nearly impossible for them to create content that supports the complete customer lifecycle.
What to Do: Get Marketing Team Involved in Entire Business
The marketing department needs to involve itself in all areas of the business. They need to understand how the entire business operates, especially since their main role is to support these business areas through the creation of relevant content.
How can you get your marketing team more involved? Some examples of this could include the following:
- Sitting in on sales calls to hear customer questions and objections.
- Sitting in on customer kickoffs to hear success stories about the product or service
- Sitting in on product meetings to learn more about upcoming features and the overall product roadmap
Notice the passive role in each of these examples. Marketing is not running the show or even actively participating. They are a fly on the wall. But getting this input will allow them to create content that not only drives leads but also facilitates customer success.
4. Balancing Creativity with Hard Metrics
Content marketing is as much a science as it is an art form. Success is not just defined by the quality of content being generated but in hard metrics – everything from page views and conversion rates to cost-per-lead and impressions.
Often though, brands find it difficult to balance the art-science dynamic when it comes to content. They may create content based entirely on what the data says, which results in stale, formulaic material that doesn’t stand out from any of their competitors.
Conversely, they may ignore the data altogether, instead publishing content based on whims and personal preferences, which doesn’t make any noticeable impact on its intended audience. The reasons for this are numerous, but in my view, it stems from the fact that finding marketers who are equally artistic and scientific is incredibly difficult.
What to Do: Align Creativity with Tracking and Reporting
Marketers must become adept at channeling creativity. In other words, they should give content writers the freedom to be creative but in a way that aligns with the data and analytics.
Here are some easy ways to share marketing responsibilities with content developers to get better results.
First, give writers a list of keywords, but let them choose the titles and topics.
SEO is an important part of making content a competitive differentiator. Great content helps you rank higher than your rivals in search engines. At the same time, you want your content to come off as engaging and authentic, not as if it were written for a search engine.
Second, give writers a sense of what content topics and formats perform well.
Interestingly, many content writers don’t know what resonates with readers. Sharing how each piece performs will give the writer a better idea of what to write, how to write it, and who to write it for.
The most successful content creators balance the art and science aspects of content marketing. They make decisions based on data, but they also are willing to experiment with new ideas. In doing so, they uncover new ways to gain (or increase) an advantage they have over competitors.
Content marketing has evolved drastically over the years. It’s no longer a fad or an experiment. It’s no longer one of many tactics in the marketing playbook.
Today, in 2017, it’s an integral part of the way a business competes for market share and mindshare. Great content will never compensate for an inferior product or service.
But if you look closely at the market leaders in any vertical or industry, you’ll find that they all share one thing in common: their content sets them apart from the competition.
Maybe content will start to do the same for your brand in 2017.