Summary: Content marketing advice outside the context of understanding your business, goals, strategies and plans can be misleading, even dangerous.
Audience: B2B content, inbound and social marketers; demand managers
Topic: Content marketing practices and techniques
Purpose: Educate, advice
I regularly receive calls and emails from clients and colleagues who ask my opinion concerning advice they read about content marketing tactics.
1) What to do is widely understood and generally accepted. How to operationalize it is the challenge, and where breakdowns typically occur.
2) Appropriate prescriptions for tactics and techniques require an understanding of the context in which they will be applied.
You wouldn’t take a doctor’s surgical recommendation without a physical diagnosis supported by a battery of tests would you?
I’ve stopped reading all content marketing articles that purport to tell me what to do. And my eyes glaze over descriptions of tactics.
I’m much more interested in specific “how to” techniques. But here things also get dicey. Without an accurate understanding of context, much of this advice can be a waste of time, or worse — dangerous.
A Simple Context Framework for Content
Before I make any recommendations I really must know the following as a basic starting point. More importantly, you do too!
1) Business Goals, Strategies, Plans
I know, you’re reading a lot about this. But when I ask people I work with, they usually don’t know or aren’t clear what they’re trying to do, and how it relates to their primary business — and especially sales — goals, strategies and plans.
How do you go to market? What are the objectives and priorities of the direct sales force and the sales channel? How do you use inside sales or business development resources? What is the role of marketing in the eyes of senior executives and the VP of Sales? To be blunt, what is their belief system about marketing and content?
If you are a $1-$10 million business your answers, and the context that results, will be quite different from those of a mid, or large, or division of a mega-sized company.
2) Offer or Demand Type
When you survey your target market:
- What percent of your target prospects are actively looking for products or services like yours?
(Sirius Decisions “Mature Market” type.) You are trying to find these, and be found by them.
- What percent isn’t actively looking, but have the problems you solve?
(Sirius Decisions “New Paradigm” type.) You must develop these into opportunities.
- What percent aren’t even aware of your kind of solution?
(Sirius Decisions “New Concept” type.) You must find companies at high risk problem levels, and educate them about new solutions. It helps to find executives capable of making a visionary purchase decision.
The “job of content,” as well as the best use and type of content, will vary widely based upon this assessment. Tom Pisello has a good explanation of this demand model and how content requirements change for each, here.
3) What is your content strategy, and what stage of maturity characterizes your content operations?
This is really important. Is your strategy to add to top-of-funnel leads? To improve the quality of sales opportunities by nurturing buyers with multiple problems your solutions address, to multiple buying team personas, in multiple industries, and at multiple buying stages? Or is content for sales and the sales channel a strategic priority?
As with any skill, and sports immediately come to mind, levels of maturity will determine proficiency with tactics and techniques, and therefore predictable outcomes. As individuals and organizations migrate up the content strategy and operations maturity curve, outcomes will improve.
For a more thorough assessment there are many other considerations such as your content requirements map and gaps. But I find these three filters to be a good starting point.
Context In Practice
A good example might be the interminable debate about content quality vs. quantity. A good liberal arts education should reveal this for what it is: a false dilemma.
As with most games, there are table stakes required just to be in the game. To be effective with content dependent tactics you must meet basic quality and quantity criteria.
If your strategy is to use blogging to generate inbound leads, Hubspot provides data that indicates the frequency (volume) needed to achieve levels of outcomes. And quantity does matter here.
Of course, if your content isn’t interesting or useful, quantity won’t matter. But if you are new to content marketing, or a small company with limited resources, you might have to start less frequently and build up. Just don’t expect a high level of inbound lead activity.
This section is a good example of maintaining “long-life content assets.” This post was written quite some time ago. We work daily with this context idea and therefore periodically add elements that we discover make it stronger.
The checklist below is reflects experience driven insights. (Updated June 2015) Process advice based upon your:
- Company: B2B vs B2C & Size
- Go-To-Customer Goals, Strategies and Plans – Sales and Marketing –
- Top Two Priorities – Initiatives
- Offer / Demand Type – Transactional, Complex, New Concept
(Find vs. Create vs. Grow opportunities)
- Volume; Velocity; Pricing;
- Total Customer Value
- How customers buy – who, process, criteria,
- Value model – your customer’s, and your differentiated value
- Content Strategy – 70/20/10
- Content Maturity Level (Stage)
- Infrastructure and Tools – state of, completeness,
- Metrics — You want to capture and analyze
Use a Context Framework to Validate Advice
Long ago I learned that improvement requires correct practice (work), under the supervision of a coach. A coach helps select the appropriate tactics and techniques for each level of proficiency. This minimizes or avoids frustration from in-appropriate expectations, or explicit failure. Reading for ideas is good. But validating recommendations using a context framework is essential.
Context really matters. What other basic elements do you use?