Crossing the content chasm

“Say Tom, let me whitewash a little.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

In my last post about creating the content marketing pipeline I omitted a crucial piece of information.  Why would otherwise sane co-workers do the marketing team’s work for them? Some say you need a culture of content creation, while others say that’s just the happy ending in a marketer’s dream.

As I mentioned in my last post, Peter Drucker once said that, “marketing is not a function, it is the whole business seen from the customers point of view.”  The business connects with customers across a wide range of touch points. The stories we tell, the problems we solve and the information we share across every connection is the content we need to capture, optimize and amplify. So the point is, we’re already creating it; now it’s our job to find, edit, curate, promote, and publish it when and where our customers want to consume it.

It’s all about who you know

Since we’re already creating the content, I think the cultural shift that is needed is in the discipline of sharing. Studies show that children learn to share around ages 7 to 8. Research indicates they are most likely to share if they know the person they are sharing with. It may come as no surprise that often adults behave like children. My first recommendation is to get to know the people you need to share with. Take them to lunch, build relationships. It seems absurd to use an SEO metaphor, but here goes:  internal link building is as important as external link building.

A big idea

To successfully launch a new program that gets everyone in the business involved in content creation you need a big idea. Specifically you need a strategic and emotionally compelling goal. This goal is the North Star, it guides your decisions, motivates your efforts and informs your attitudes and beliefs.

Get the right people on the bus

You’re not going to turn poor writers into good writers. And people who hate to write will not become silver-tongued bloggers.  Instead, you need to focus on getting the right people into the right seats on the bus.  Anybody can participate in idea creation by sharing their ideas and forwarding their emails. However, when it comes to actually writing, you need people who can write. These people are gold so treat them like it. It would also be wise to consider this when you hire new people.

If you turn those people into Rock Stars in your organization you’ll find that more good writers are going to want to get on the bus. Also, people who never thought much about writing before are going to aspire to be good enough to be on the team. Your innovators will be the first ones on the bus. They’ll be followed by a group of early adopters, but it will require much more effort before you get the early majority aboard.

Be clear about the value proposition

Clearly define what’s in it for them. What is it that your co-workers get in return for their efforts that they can’t get any other way? Maybe its financial incentives, maybe it’s the promise of time saved in the future, or it could be social currency. FMRI studies suggest it truly is more pleasurable to give than to receive. Whatever you decide, be sure it matches the motivation of the content creators.

Maybe they want to grow their influence, connect to the right people, be recognized as a leader, or get on a soapbox and make their opinion known. Some organizations use gamification to motivate their employees. Remember Tom Sawyer’s observation, “in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

Reduce friction

Now, I’m going to seem to contradict myself. Make it easy. Remove all of the obstacles to sharing. You don’t need 50 pages of style guidelines. Make a simple process that’s easy to understand and remember. Clearly explain the process to everyone you want to participate so that you maximize the ideas flowing into your pipeline. Help them get in the habit of sharing. Ask them to describe how they solve problems, prompt them to share information they share with customers. And remember sharing goes both ways! Make sure your colleagues know what’s available to share once you’ve collected it.

Reduce anxiety

Not everyone likes to write. Nobody likes to have their writing criticized. Writing is personal and people will take your criticism personally. So, the quickest way to lose your contributors is to publicly reject their work or ideas.  Be clear about your goals and your requirements. Be accepting and supportive, and don’t set them up to fail.

It’s inevitable that some ideas are not going to be blog-worthy.  It could be poorly written, violate your policy or run counter to your strategy. Your first thought might be to avoid confrontation and not bring up the ill-conceived content. However, please acknowledge that you received it, express gratitude for the effort, and offer feedback on what could make it even better next time. That kind of support is needed if not expected to prevent your volunteers from abandoning your cause.

Finally, provide training and support for people who want to be better writers. Suggest classes or meet together once a month to discuss best practice. Be encouraging and provide as many opportunities to improve as you can.

Incentives to take action

This is a delicate balance. You may need incentives to get the process going. One idea is to try a point system that allows participants to trade in points for social or financial rewards. Remember, social pleasures can be just as satisfying as financial rewards. Also, recent research on motivation suggests when the desired behavior is complex, increases in financial rewards actually leads to decreases in performance.

Meet regularly

This may be the most important advice of all. If you meet together regularly to share ideas between marketing, sales, and service you will be doing something that you should have been doing all along that you might not have been doing before. The teams will find these meetings so beneficial that they’ll be hard to stop once they get going. You see, it all comes back to who you know.

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How to build the content pipeline

Peter Drucker once said that, “marketing is not a function, it is the whole business seen from the customers point of view.”  If marketing is the whole business, then it follows that content marketing has something to do with the whole business too. The content our customers see is the stories we tell, the problems we solve, the information we share, and the feelings we communicate through every connection with our customers whether the connection is through sales or service or the guy who delivers the package to their doorstep. The job of the content marketing machine is to collect these stories, package them and redistribute them when, where and how our customers wish to consume them.

A content machine requires a pipeline of fresh content in order keep up with demand. The question is how one gets the content to flow through the pipeline. It all starts with the voice of the customer. Customer demand tells us what content needs to be produced. For example, the sales team hears the same questions over and over again. Having written the same email two or three times to answer a question they now have a signal that there is demand for that content. When this signal is received a new concept enters the content pipeline. The exact method used to share the new concepts is less important, the most important thing is that everyone knows what the method is. You could use email, SharePoint, or a content marketing platform like Kapost.

There is another way that concepts can get started in the pipeline. Marketing conducts interviews while developing buyer personas. During these interviews marketers learn about the problems that buyers have that lead to making a purchasing decision, they learn about the decision process buyers follow, where they look for information, the criteria they use in evaluating alternatives, and the metrics used to judge their success. This information tells the marketer what content the buyer is looking for at each stage of the buying cycle. This informs the content strategy. An audit of existing content versus the content strategy reveals gaps. The gaps become the concepts for new content that then enters the content pipeline.

New concepts will be evaluated against a set of criteria that will include alignment with content strategy. If the concept passes through this step it will be placed on the editorial calendar and assigned to a writer. The writer turns in her assignment before the deadline. An editor reviews the content and evaluates it against a larger set of criteria. The content may be returned to the writer for rework or move on to the publishing phase. Once published the content is tagged for future reference with information such as persona type, phase of buying cycle, product category, format, etc…

You may have noticed that one piece of this process seems like magical thinking. Who are the content creators that show up and take assignments for new content? Where do they come from?  The answer is they usually come from within your company and many of them are from outside the marketing organization.  Sounds great, however, it’s not clear why people who have their own work to do would suddenly start creating content for marketing.

I’ll explain how to cross the content chasm in my next post.

How to build a content marketing machine

Inbound marketing needs to get content to get customers

Inbound marketing should engage more than 10% of your organizations brain.Content marketing needs more than 10%

In today’s world of inbound marketing, we have to get content to get customers. At different times and in different situations consumers are looking for insight, data, and entertainment. If we want them to find our content we have to share it. Our content is the stories we tell, the problems we solve, and the information we share through every connection with our customers and throughout the organization. That means getting content is a team effort that involves the entire organization and not just an agency, a singularly creative individual or the marketing team.

Each member of your organization is responsible for its success. There is a popular urban legend that humans only use 10% of their brains. Due to functional magnetic resonance imaging technology we know this is not the case.  However, it may be true that collectively, organizations use less than 10% of their brains when it comes to sharing insights and knowledge in ways that add value to customers and optimize their share of mind and market.

Building a clock is better than telling time

Build a content marketing machineBuild a content marketing machine

For an organization to be wildly successful at inbound marketing, you can’t rely on the efforts of a single individual. You’ve got to build a machine that continuously generates the content you need. Jim Collins famously expressed this in his book Built to Last with the analogy of building a clock versus telling time. He said, wouldn’t it be amazing if an individual could look at the stars and tell you the exact date and time?  But, wouldn’t it be more amazing if that individual built a clock that that could tell the time forever even after they were gone.

page 214 Nervous System

Content nervous system

The content generation machine needs to be built into the DNA of the organization and become a living part of every connection. It must grow and adapt as needed.

To function, the machine requires a central nervous system. Data from each part of the organization is transmitted and centrally stored. That data is filtered and organized into usable chunks of information that can be expressed in stories, conversations, and publications. In a healthy organization a feedback loop acknowledges receipt and expresses gratitude for the time and effort it took to create and share it. This reinforces the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that led to the sharing event.

Continuing with the nervous system analogy, if a member of the organization who shares content senses disapproval, unfair treatment, or rejection they will feel social pain. Hurt feelings can be just as painful as physical pain. Writing is personal and writers are likely to take feedback personally, so managers need to be using their best feedback skills. If the person is ineffectively told that their ideas don’t align with business strategy, are out of scope, or are just plain wrong, then that person and those who observe the feedback may never share again.

On the other hand, social pleasure which comes from being accepted and valued by your own group is also very real. Most people would not predict that social rewards could be as pleasurable as financial rewards, but they are and only require a bit of time and thoughtfulness. Something as simple as, “I liked what you wrote today” can make a huge difference in somebodies attitude about writing and sharing.

The central repository for all share-worthy content is the blog and is the hub of all of you content creation efforts. A blog post can be shared again in a number of ways. You can publish links to your blog posts through micro-blogging sites like Twitter.  You can post links to the blog on Facebook, or Linkedin discussion groups.  A series of blog posts may become a whitepaper or an ebook. A Whitepaper can be broken into pieces to become a series of blog posts. Any of these can be converted into videos, podcasts, or webinars. Finally, you can use these as the basis for press releases, the content of newsletters, infographics or whatever you want. In this way your content is part of a living and growing ecosystem of content that can be re-imagined to provide nourishment for new possibilities.

Next post: Building a content pipeline

B2B content marketing tips for more blog viewers

It's hard to be under a microscope Why aren’t you getting more blog viewers? It can be hard to put yourself under a microscope to find out. Not liking what you see could be terrifying. It feels safer to read what the experts have to say:

“Simply put, do these six things, get more viewers”, says Joe Chernov, VP of content marketing at Eloqua. I read these 6 tips and so should you.

I thought the post included useful stuff that already seemed familiar. But looking closer I thought the most interesting thing about Joe’s insights is where he got them:

We recently deconstructed why some of Eloqua’s 280 blog posts generated considerably more views than others. We looked at the headline, topic, author and whether or not there was any PR driving traffic to the post. Then we came up with six absolute locks for triggering views.

In short they looked at where they were having success, identified the factors that were common among their most successful posts and shined a light on how they could reproduce those results elsewhere.

This is the same method suggested by Chip and Dan Heath in their new book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. You probably think their names sound familiar. That’s because they also authored Made to Stick, which is a favorite in my library.

When change is hard, Chip and Dan recommend looking at the data, finding the bright spots, and figuring out the underlying cause of success. Getting more traffic to your website or blog is a continuous fight. Some posts do well and others do not. Why not find the bright spots, and reproduce success?

Content is not King – it’s a monster!

Content is not King. Content marketing is a monster and wants to feed. If you’re going to feed the content monster, you will need to follow some rules my friend, or it may eat you alive.

Content marketing is a monster

Rule #1 – Know what the monster likes to eat

You know the topics that interest your market. Make a list. Identify the most popular topics on your website. Prioritize them.  Pay attention to frequently requested information. Realize it may be buried in your email. Finally, monitor what your audience is talking about on the web.

Notice that people go through stages when making a purchase. At different stages they need different information. In the beginning they want to know who they can trust. Later, they want to evaluate which solutions are best. Ever notice that good opportunities will sometimes hit a snag? The right information at the right time can remove the friction that stalls a sale.

Rule #2 – Get organized

So you have a list of topics. I will bet you have already written on some. Take an inventory. Collect everything you have: articles, press releases, emails, technical notes etc… Tag each item with a topic and stage in the buying cycle. Notice which topics or stages of the buying are not represented. Check out Content Grid published by Eloqua for ideas.

Rule #3 – Reduce, reuse, recycle.

During your audit, you may find that some of your content can no longer be used. Archive it.  But not so fast! A lot of old content just needs a simple face lift to be ready to use again. For example, an old article can be turned into a new engaging blog post. If you have a blog post why not tweet about it? You probably belong to a LinkedIn group that would like to discuss it. Why not post a link to it on your Facebook page too?

It could be that you have the basis for a new video or podcast. You can stretch the content and re-use it over and over. Finally, don’t forget to mention the blog post, video or podcast in your next newsletter!

Rule #4 – Fill in the gaps

This is where it gets a little harder, but if you follow Rule #3 you will have significantly fewer gaps to worry about. In step #2 you noticed there was some missing content. It could be that you don’t have anything for an important buying stage, or you have nothing written on a topic of strategic importance. First prioritize the gaps. Focus on the critical few that need to be filled to drive results in your business. Use the Pareto principle which states that 80% of your results will be gained through 20% of your effort.

Often the experts that you need to write the content are too busy with other priorities. You will only get so far on the kindness of others. Try a little persuasion. Why do sales and marketing people forget how to sell when the customer is internal? Figure out the value proposition and sell it!

If you need to fill in a lot of gaps quickly, don’t have the man power, but do have some budget you can hire writers to interview your experts and write the content for you. A word of caution. If you have a technical product and the people you hire do not have experience in your market they may not produce credible material. However, there are a lot of great writers out there and many agencies have the ability to help you with your strategy and the writing.

Rule #5 – Put the monster on a feeding schedule

Once you have prioritized list of topics to write about, you can embrace your role as a publisher and maintain an editorial calendar. Make sure those who are assigned know what is expected of them and when it is due. Even if you are the only writer it helps to have a plan to stick to. The amount of content you generate will depend on your resources and your goals. Be sure you have a clear understanding of what both of those are.

There’s a monster at the end of this blog

Don’t be overwhelmed by the task ahead of you. You can tame the content monster if you have a strategy, keep organized, prioritize, make efficient use of resources, and stick to a plan. Follow these rules and you won’t be eaten alive.