26 May 2015

Content Marketing is Hard – 7 Lessons Learned

Content marketing is currently a ‘buzz’ phrase at digital marketing conferences. It is also showing up in recent marketing surveys as a primary marketing tactic and something that marketers intend to start or to spend even more money on this year. Along with this excitement comes some frustration. The frustration stems from trying to sustain content marketing program that is not producing more traffic, more leads and more business.

We often speak at conferences and are the ones evangelizing the concept of content marketing and creating the buzz I mentioned previously. But we are very careful to explain that this is a long-term commitment. It is not a ‘campaign.’ Rather, is it is a long term marketing strategy and often a complete paradigm shift for businesses.

Did you have the impression that driving new traffic to your site would be easy?

Content marketing is hard.

Unless you are willing to invest in content marketing over the long term, it won’t work for you. We see one of the biggest mistakes businesses make is starting a program, but then quitting too early. We’ve seen many businesses quit after only 4 months, thinking that it’s not working. Our experience validates a timeline of about 6 months for results, and in many cases shows that it can take a bit longer. In fact, through our own lessons learned, we realized that promotion and distribution of your content can positively impact the early-on effectiveness of content marketing. We learned this along with a number of other lessons.

7 Lessons Learned In Content Marketing

  1. You do need a content strategy
  2. Published – not perfect
  3. Don’t expect to hit a home run every time
  4. Content marketing takes time
  5. Prime the content marketing pump with promotion
  6. Your team needs to be all-in
  7. Define your process

1. You do need a content strategy

If you want your content marketing to work, you’ll need a strategy. You will never have all the time and resources to publish all the content you want. To be successful, you will need to focus. Companies that are successful at content marketing have a detailed documented strategy.

Having a content strategy will get your team focused and give you a framework that will allow you to prioritize your resources and think through what formats, frequency and publishing channels will resonate with your core audience.

A content strategy is a practical action plan designed to help you achieve your business goals through content marketing. It should:

  • Establish a direction and set priorities aligned with your business goals
  • Establish a focus and get everyone on your team on the same page
  • Help you simplify the content creation process
  • Establish your voice
  • Define your target audience and personas
  • Define resources and assign roles and responsibilities

2. Published – not perfect

The best time to start a content marketing program is 5 years ago and the second best time is today. Perfection can take too long. Remember, your competition is not waiting on you. Google and the other search engines can’t index or rank the content sitting in draft mode on your computer. Your content needs to be published. Many businesses wait until their content is absolutely perfect. While you should never publish sub-par or mediocre content, realize it doesn’t have to be perfect either. Good, solid content should be published and it can always be updated and edited. We’d rather publish ‘now’ and then update the content rather than waiting 3-6 weeks for multiple revisions and editing.

Rule number 3 in her ‘Done Manifesto,’ Melanie Pinola points out that you should accept that everything is a draft and that mindset helps to get things done. She also mentions in Rule 8 that we should ‘laugh at perfection’ because it’s boring and keeps you from being done. And finally, Rule 13, done is the engine of more. And more is what you need when it comes to content marketing.

3. Don’t expect to hit a home run every time

We learned early on to set expectations with our clients. Many of them have the expectation that their content will immediately go viral and traffic will spike exponentially. That is not the way content marketing works. Yes, you will have some content that will resonate extremely well with your audience but it will be very rare that you’ll hit that homerun and have your content go viral. Remember, once published, your content will work for you 24/7 as long as you have it on your site.

Hit singles consistently and your traffic will grow. Spend your time and resources on good solid content, published frequently. It will win over time. 

Content Moneyball

4. Content marketing takes time

Content marketing is a long term play for two reasons:

  • It takes a minimum of six months for your content to gain traction and start producing results.
  • The content you publish is ‘evergreen’ and will produce traffic, leads and business as long as you keep it on your site.

The blue bar on the graph here shows a typical content marketing program. It starts with a content strategy and then rolls into content production. If the content is not promoted or distributed to other high traffic websites, the example shows a traffic jump after 10 months. Would you, as a business owner, want to wait 10 months before the big payoff? That is an eternity in business to achieve marketing ROI.

Impact of promotion on content marketing

What we learned is promotion and distribution can speed up the ROI breakeven. For example, the green bar shows the same content marketing program that includes promoting the content in various social media channels and also distributing the content on high traffic websites.  You can see how the ROI is attained much earlier. (Chart is for illustrative purposes and does not use actual data.)

5. Prime the content marketing pump with promotion

Hub diagramAs a rule of thumb we allocate 20-30% of the content creation spend to promotion and distribution. Remember, your website is often the last place someone might find your content. Using other sources exposes your content to new audiences and a broader reach than most small business websites. For example, in the Venn diagram on this page, imagine your site is the green circle. Posting your content on one of your social media channels could be the orange circle which includes much of the same audience as your site. The blue circle could be SlideShare.net (or Youtube or Pinterest) where the majority of the audience is separate from your existing base and there is much less overlap.

We use paid promotion along with reaching out to influencers. Match the paid audience to your audience profile. There are a number of channels that allow you to micro-focus on an audience. Make sure you do outreach to find influencers with large followings that can support and amplify your content.

6. Your team needs to be all-in

Make sure you share your content marketing strategy with your entire team. Your staff is one of the best resources for content marketing ideas. They are dealing with your customers every day. They know the questions that are being asked over and over again. They have the practical knowledge and information that your customers are looking for. Make sure you are leveraging your internal resources.

Let your entire organization know you are publishing content on a regular basis and enlist their help. For example, you can create an email address to solicit ideas and content titles from your staff at contentideas@mywebsitename.com. Create a contest where anyone that submits ideas is entered into a monthly contest to win a prize.

You can also tap your staff to write content for your site. You’d be surprised at the insight and quality of writing you’ll get from your staff. Many members of your staff are experts in your products or services. They know the features and benefits better than anyone else. Get them to write your content. Create standards and guidelines, give examples and invite them to participate.

Occasionally, we will publish a guest post but our staff writes almost all of the content on the Vertical Measures blog. We bonus each writer a small amount for each piece of content that is published. We also have a monthly contest where we recognize the best piece of content published each month to highlight contributors and call out good work.

7. Define your Process

At Vertical Measures, we use an 8 Step Process to maximize the impact and effectiveness of content marketing. Each of the steps is important to the success of content marketing as they reinforce the others. Having a process allows you to train people on what to do and when to do it. It also helps you define roles and responsibilities with your organization.

Each organization will have a different process, as it needs to align with your goals and objectives as well as your available resources.

Our process is outlined below:

  1. Strategy Development
  2. Ideation
  3. Content Creation
  4. Content Optimization
  5. Promotion
  6. Distribution
  7. Lead Nurture
  8. Measurement

To get all the details on our process, download the free book, Content Marketing Works.

Content marketing is hard unless you have a documented content strategy.  It becomes much easier if you avoid pitfalls that others have experienced.  Having someone walk you through their lessons-learned can help you be more effective and experience traffic increases sooner and also achieve a faster return on your investment.

What lessons have you learned?  What did I leave out?  Do any of these resonate with you and how you’ve implemented your content marketing?