(This is the first of a two-part blog on effective content marketing. If you like this blog, please share it. Thanks!)
As an occasional contributor and one-time webinar participant for the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), I’m always eager to read the organization’s research. Given that W2 Communications is a high-tech PR agency, I found the “2014 B2B Technology Content Marketing Trends — Budgets, Benchmarks, and Trends, North America” report of particular interest. Especially with regard to the wealth of difficulties that IT companies face in pursuing content. Here are the highlights:
- Just 39 percent of tech marketers overall say their organizations are effective at content marketing.
- 55 percent find it challenging to produce engaging content.
- 42 percent struggle to generate a variety of content.
- Less than one-half have a documented content strategy.
- Tech marketers considered “effective” allocate 35 percent of their budget to content marketing, compared to 28 percent of tech marketers overall.
Some of these results come as no surprise. I work one-on-one with tech marketers who express frustrations with producing content in-house. It’s difficult to inspire IT execs to sit down and write. “Why should they?” I’ll respond. “They’re paid to innovate, not write.” Then, I and the team here will make a case for outsourcing the content to us: Just have an executive sit down with us for a half hour (or less) and we’ll flesh out his or her ideas – what message must be communicated – and we’ll produce a content piece that typically hits the right notes.
The tech executives’ time investment is minimal – they’re relieved that they don’t have to spend days or even weeks attempting to produce content that requires endless, frustrating “taffy pulls” (drafts, questions and more drafts) to make it work. Instead, they “turn the keys” over to us, and we respond with content that’s essentially ready-to-go far, far more often than not. Which means farming out content covers multiple, ROI-delivering functions: the efficient use of executives’ time; the “dead on” representation of messaging requirements; and the engagement of key, target audiences in the interest of brand awareness and customer expansion/retention.
So how do you know which outside content professional to hire? For starters, look for a bio that’s packed with seasoned experience in this field. And then take a good, hard look at content samples which hopefully align to your industry and specific business challenges. When you read the samples, make sure they bring to the table the following, two “must haves” for any piece of content:
A clear, focused theme. A good content marketer will sit down with a client and drive toward a unifying theme that can be stated with absolute clarity within a sentence or two. Once this is established, the rest of the process should flow more easily. In looking at various content efforts which other companies generate – particularly blogs, but executive bylined features and white papers as well – I frequently struggle to figure out what the writer was ultimately attempting to say. Observations, statistics and anecdotes seem to be “all over the page,” which does more to confuse readers rather than engage them. If you think first about a more cohesive, consistent theme, you’ll actually reduce the intellectual “sweat equity” required here, while presenting a more compelling message. If you have difficulty narrowing your focus, then take a “big topic” and break it into tinier parts. Then, tackle each of the parts one content piece at a time.
A strong story/narrative to convey the theme. Look, we all know that we’re attempting to sell IT product and/or services here. But good content will do so without hitting readers over the head with vendor-centric, product-driven language. Less than 5 percent of readers trust content marketing, according to research from Contently. In many cases, it’s because they click on something expecting to gain information, and, instead, the content aggressively pushes the “sell.” To avoid this, the content marketer should frame the piece within a disciplined, narrative structure. Readers are engaged by stories which convincingly convey their pain points, along with insights as to how to resolve their problems. Of course, there is “product” within (especially when it comes to the latter part). But such references are expressed with considerable discretion, to best support the narrative.
Those are just two must-have content marketing tips. In my next blog, I’ll weigh in on three more. Meanwhile, feel free to check out our content offerings. We’re helping more and more tech companies express their messaging points in a clear, compelling way – establishing their executives as highly regarded Thought Leaders with key, target audiences. If that sounds like something you’d like to discuss, please do contact us.