A marketing asset or even a series of assets does not a content marketing campaign make. It’s the difference between a series of random musical notes and an extended jam from a well-drilled jam or jazz band: one produces a coherent body of music, the other a whole lot of sound and fury signifying…nothing meaningful or memorable.
Some bands are capable of extended jams that seem to defy gravity — their musicianship and near telepathic interplay enable them to sustain brilliantly structured improvisations that, in lesser hands, collapse under the weight of leaden drum solos and aimless guitar hero pyrotechnics. While it might seem odd to liken a content marketing campaign to the musical stylings of Phish, the Grateful Dead or Miles Davis — legendary improvisers — structured improvisation is a fundamental characteristic common to both.
Content marketing is about developing a dominant theme and improvising variations off the main theme. For instance — let’s say you’re a developer of mHealth (mobile health) applications and your dominant marketing message is “we lower barriers to mental health.” Every piece of content you produce states and restates this theme…but it can also veer off into sub-topics, such as: gaps in care, the importance of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), the need to fuse technology with human expertise in providing care, how it disrupts service delivery, etc. No matter how far afield you range, as these are all important topics to your company, it all needs to refer back to your dominant theme in order for a distracted marketplace to easily and clearly grasp what you do and what makes you different.
Without disciplined recourse to your main theme, content marketing campaigns tend to haphazardly unfold, sending out a steady stream of mixed messages — all sound and fury, signifying nothing memorable or particularly meaningful.
A white paper, case study, bylined column, or infographic are all potentially very effective marketing assets. But it’s when they are used in a coordinated, systematic and strategic fashion that they become components in a content marketing program where all creative efforts are organized along common themes and routed to an overarching goal. Think of the John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things — a spirited three minute ditty stretched over thirteen inspired minutes of improvised brilliance that takes the beloved main theme into outer space, then back, then into space again before landing softly and melodically back on planet earth.
Orchestrating the Program
Content marketing requires careful planning, considerable resources (the involvement of several “domain” experts and specialized writers/designers) and sustained commitment. Success is largely determined by the steady generation of focused, expertly crafted, well-sourced writing (which can include video and other media) on timely topics…and visibility on high authority sites: major media sites (Yahoo News, Google News, etc.), industry sites (HR Executive, Healthcare Infomatics, TechCrunch, Industry Week, etc.), and social media where your content is read, engaged with, liked and shared.
As the above image suggests, content marketing can be viewed as a series of inputs and outputs. The following table illustrates the “lifecycle” of each piece, providing you with a basis for mapping out how they can be re-purposed, reused and distributed, economizing your efforts and maximizing the value of everything you create.
Some companies struggle to create consistent content not so much because they lack the expertise — they typically have the domain expertise as, after all, this is their industry and they should have people in house spanning all areas of industry, technical and/or specialized knowledge. If they don’t have the creative talent there are places they can find it — though this isn’t always that simple, as writing is highly specialized: someone capable of turning out a well-wrought feature article or case study might not have the expertise to write an intelligible technical white paper or design an interactive presentation. What many struggle with are topics; on the PR front they have a limited understanding of what’s “newsworthy” and they’re not attuned to what editors want or need (let alone how to deliver it in a form that gets their attention — but that’s a separate topic altogether). They also struggle to find fresh topics for white papers, blog posts and articles, not to mention novel, interesting angles that are likely to leap from the screen and grab a reader’s interest.
The following content categories and broad topics should serve as effective prompts for any company struggling to fill the content pipeline — there often are more topics lurking in plain sight than you know.
· Client Wins
· Company Milestones
· Executive Appointments
· Investment round
Process: Show how your solution works for:
Solving Business Challenges
· Increasing Sales
· Improving Workflow
· Improving ROI
· Annotated Case Studies (employers, partner perspectives)
Thought leadership is fundamentally about conveying your expertise and forward-thinking. It’s about exploring issues or challenges from new perspectives, analyzing emerging trends, or presenting conclusions based on original research and data (a survey or study). It can take the form of bylined articles in prominent industry, business or general interest publications, webinars and presentations at trade shows and respected venues.
Thought leadership content keeps business leaders current on pressing business issues, technologies and solutions, and informs their decisions.
Effective thought leadership can be conceptual so long as it’s not too abstract or based on unsubstantiated opinion; it’s effective to the extent that it’s well-sourced and grounded. It is also most effective when it frames the concepts in a provocative way. Here are several classic thought leadership categories and specific examples of content based on work we’ve done over the years for our clients:
o The ROI Model: Why CFOs Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Wellness
o Trends: Managing a Workforce in Today’s Gig Economy
o Best Practices (written by subject matter experts): Cruise Control: Managing the HR Challenges of a Multinational Cruise Ship
o Evaluation: Enable prospects to understand how to assess alternative solutions. product comparisons: How to Score Vendor Performance…and Why it Matters: the five questions you need to ask to hold your health and wellness vendors accountable.
o Specific solutions written with customer: Safety in Slumbers: How Fatigue Management Improves Workforce Preparedness, Focus and Safety (in association with a client)
o Analysis of technical challenge and a practical approach to the problem: Zen and the Art of IT Management: Re-defining SRM (Storage Resource Management)
o High Level How-to: Strength Through Intergenerational Conflict: How to turn the generational “divide” into a winning business strategy
Make it Systematic
Coordinating these activities requires a CRM and social media platform for targeted, even automated distribution. These range from Salesforce for larger companies to Zoho Social, which are solid, easy-to-use integrated solutions for small-to-midsized companies.
To restate of the major themes of this piece, a marketing asset or even a series of assets does not a content marketing campaign make. It’s the difference between a series of random musical notes and an extended jam from a well-drilled jam or jazz band. One produces a coherent body of music, the other a whole lot of sound and fury signifying…nothing (or, if not nothing, lots of noise or, even worse, the content marketing version of Muzak!). Once you’ve mastered all the elements discussed above, it’s time to jam!
Charles Epstein is President of BackBone, Inc. a full-service marketing communications, public relations and business development firm specializing in healthcare, workforce management (HR) and information technology. He is also the co-host and producer of Workspan’s Work in Progress, a podcast about work, life and everything in between.