Why content marketers don’t want instant gratification

When marketers set realistic expectations, they’re in a better spot to succeed long term.

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When marketers invest in content, they have to face a difficult truth. No content program is going to drive substantial results in 30 days. Maybe not 45 or 60 either. They may have to wait 90 days or more before their content strategy starts to move the business.

That may go against our need for instant gratification, but when marketers set realistic expectations, they’re in a better spot to succeed long term. Writing a single blog post and asking your team to “make it go viral” is like planting a seed one morning before heading to work and demanding it become an aloe plant by the time you get home. Speed just isn’t a big part of the equation.

Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t admitted to cutting corners at every turn. Of course, you can adjust a lot of variables to help the process along, but you can never press fast forward on building a trusting relationship with your audience. Consumers make very logical decisions when spending their time online. We may not always agree with those decisions, but people don’t spend much time engaging with content they don’t like.

In my experience, too many executives still want to see results from their content on an unrealistic timetable. Marketers tend to want every strategy distilled into three quick steps. Unfortunately, the search for a quick fix leaves many vulnerable to misinformation. I’m talking about the industry leaders who’ll dole out the “why” and “what” of content while mysteriously never delivering on the “how.”

But there is good news — none of that time you spend waiting will be wasted. There’s just so much to determine before your team starts creating: brand voice, target audience, goals, values, etc. After you’ve nailed down the details of your strategy, you begin creating content by focusing on metrics and messaging that encourage brand familiarity and engagement. Only after several months of nailing those concepts can you delve into conversion, lead generation, brand advocacy and more.

A content marketer’s mix of determination and patience also pays off SEO dividends as well. When you launch a digital publication, you’re not starting with domain authority, and search algorithms don’t tend to play nice with rookie mistakes. Search engines want to see you’ve constructed a healthy foundation of content for readers, and that’s what sends your work to the top of the SERP.

The truth is, you don’t want your early content to go viral only to have everyone walk away because you don’t have anything else to show them. They’ll chalk your viral success up to a lark, which is hard to recover from. Your brand is providing a new service by creating content that helps customers make sense of a topic or industry. You have to build trust over time so that those relationships can become meaningful. In other words, you want to be The Allman Brothers, not a one-hit wonder.

So I’m sorry to say that success won’t happen overnight. But for marketers like myself, the real beauty of content is that a good strategy pays off every time. When you deliver something beneficial to your target audience, and you make a habit of doing so over time, you leave second place in the dust. Your competitors will be miles behind.

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5 predictions for B2B marketing in 2019

Connected data will be king and ABM will take over as a core platform but the tired old persona-based advertising will die in the coming year.

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As we close out 2018, most of us have already been spent the last couple of months (at least!) thinking about 2019. And as I think about the coming year, I think about “what’s next” for B2B marketers. This gets more and more challenging each year, because the pace of change has accelerated each year. But that’s also why B2B has become such an exciting and dynamic market during the past several years.

So, here are five trends I predict will be hot for B2B marketers in 2019.

1. ABM will become a core platform for marketers in the martech stack

While CRM is the system of record for all sales activity and marketing automation systems are used by almost all sophisticated B2B marketers, each carries well known limitations. In particular, both focus on known, individual contacts. In an account-based world, that’s not enough. As a result, ABM platforms are quickly becoming the third leg to the B2B marketing tech stack. Together with CRM and marketing automation solutions, B2B marketers can span individual to account, and known to unknown in their marketing and sales activities.

2. Connected data will be king

With a fragmented martech landscape, it’s easy to understand why customer information can become siloed.  Getting a true 360-degree view of the customer has been a challenge that has plagued marketers since the beginning of marketing. But connecting customer data across different marketing technologies is getting closer to becoming a reality for many marketers.

By integrating technologies such as CRM, marketing automation, and ABM platforms, marketers can start to share data across these applications. And this will start to give marketers the complete customer view that we have craved.

3. We’ll stop talking about Artificial Intelligence

For B2B marketers, AI has been front and center of the conversation for the past couple of years.  That’s about to change. Not because AI is going away. It’s just becoming a given- a set of underlying technology  that is just “there”. Like electricity. AI will become an accepted (and expected) part of all marketing, advertising and sales technology. We’ll stop talking about it watch just let it work its magic in 2019, such as anticipating which content or messages visitors to a website will find most useful at each stage of their buying journey. There are almost a limitless number of applications for AI in marketing. And 2019 will be the year that AI based becomes like a utility for B2B marketers.

4. Next best action will become feasible at scale

Marketers have long talked about taking the ideal next best action when it comes to marketing programs based on where people are in the buying cycle. But it’s been impossible to achieve without massive amounts of data being synthesized by AI in real time. Humans just can’t process that amount of information. The emergence of AI means that automated next best action triggered based on specific activity in the buying cycle will become a reality in 2019.’

5. Persona-based advertising is dead

For years B2B advertisers have used personas as a proxy for reaching the right audience: their target buyers and influencers. But personas used for advertising amount to little more than guesswork in terms of who you actually reach, so marketers waste a huge amount of money on poorly targeted ads each year. B2B advertising is one of the last frontiers of marketing to be modernized but is finally undergoing a massive transformation that will significantly improve performance and the efficiency of ad dollars. By combining an immediate understanding of the accounts marketers want to target and sophisticated intent data to identify the buying committee within those accounts, B2B advertising can achieve precision and scale in 2019. And finally replace the tired old personas that we’ve been forced to use.

Let me know if you agree (or disagree) with the predictions I’ve made and how you believe they will impact your marketing organization.

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Measuring return on content: It’s simpler (and more important) than you think

Here are some steps you can take to avoid the consequences of neglecting attribution in the mid-funnel.

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Marketers are investing billions of dollars in content marketing efforts every year, and yet many have a very weak understanding of the return they see on such investments. According to the Content Marketing Institute, a third of B2C marketers (PDF) don’t even measure their return on content. That figure grows to a staggering 47 percent among B2B marketers (PDF).

This lack of accountability is a stark contrast to the data-driven strategies that the same marketers are meticulously applying to their lower-funnel activities in search and display. Why the difference? Well, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 45 percent of B2C marketers who don’t measure their content ROI cite the top reason as “we need an easier way to do this.” That same response tops the list of reasons given by B2B marketers, right alongside “no formal justification required.”

The simple fact of the matter is that many marketers aren’t tracking return on content because they’re intimidated by what they perceive to be a seriously complicated undertaking. Or worse, they’re not even trying because their superiors aren’t asking, which suggests that they’re OK with not properly understanding and optimizing their content budgets. These marketers are at risk of having their content marketing budgets cut altogether by skeptical superiors who don’t see the return.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Ultimately, tracking return on content in the mid-funnel – where content marketing drives consumers from awareness into the stages of consideration and engagement – isn’t all that different from tracking ROI in the lower funnel. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, marketers need to commit to understanding these mid-funnel activities and get smart about how they monitor activity on the content being circulated by their brands.

In tracking return on content, there are two key areas where marketers should focus:

Engagement indicators

Two key engagement metrics to consider when it comes to content are time spent and scroll depth, but these measures should not be approached in siloes, where on their own they can provide false positives. For example, a person might open a piece of content and walk away from the computer, driving up time spent but never engaging with the content. Meanwhile, if a person opens a piece of content and scrolls rapidly to the bottom, there’s a good chance they never actually read the content and were instead seeking something else on the page.

Fortunately for marketers, they now have the ability to look at a content completion rate that compares the amount of time a person spends on a page against the amount of time it would take an average reader to consume the content (a measure made popular by Medium), cross-referenced with scroll data.  This more-holistic approach allows marketers to confirm with greater accuracy which pieces of their content are driving meaningful engagement with their audience.

Downstream conversions

When it comes to conversions, marketers can lean on their expertise in media attribution when gauging return on content. Using similar methodologies (e.g., tagging exposure), they can determine which pieces of content lead to specific actions within their standard lookback window. This doesn’t always have to be a purchase. It could be something more basic, such as reading a piece of content on a company’s blog and later navigating to look at products, register for an event or sign up for a free trial.

Test and learn

While it might be a relief to some marketers that their organizations don’t require them to track return on content, two problems arise in that scenario:

  1. Without understanding the real-world value of content marketing, executives are likely to target these budgets for cutbacks when cutbacks are required.
  2. More importantly, if marketers can’t connect their content marketing efforts to business outcomes, they will never be able to properly optimize their content, not to mention their media spend across the full funnel.

Brands, especially those in the direct-to-consumer and e-commerce spaces, spend a ton of time optimizing their landing pages and websites to improve their use of imagery and calls to action. Those very same principles should be applied earlier in the funnel as well. It’s not a matter of just creating content and blasting it out there. As with advertising and landing page elements, marketers need to take a test-and-learn approach to their content, and they can do so efficiently.

Think about content testing the same way that studios think about TV show pilots. The studio makes one episode and tests it with a small audience screening. At that point, the episode might be taken to a wider audience and ultimately be developed into a full show – or it might be put on the shelf. In short, the studio won’t invest more deeply if the content doesn’t resonate.

In this same vein, marketers have the opportunity to test and learn with their content by posting it on owned properties and monitoring activity based on a smaller audience. The content that resonates (according to the metrics described above) is where marketers should then double-down with their paid efforts, as well as in future content creation initiatives. Done right, marketers should even be able to identify which content tends to influence higher-value purchases among consumers.

In short, there’s no good reason for marketers today do not have a handle on the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts. The metrics are simpler than many think, and the consequences of neglecting attribution in the mid-funnel have wide-ranging implications for optimization efforts across the entire customer journey. It’s time, as an industry, to get serious about measuring return on content.

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Breaking through with meaningful content marketing in the age of storytelling

A conversation on the state of story-driven content with analyst and author Brian Solis.

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Today, it seems that everyone is a storyteller — some 550,000 marketers list storytelling in their profile on LinkedIn. But connecting with people through the power of the story requires a lot more than changing your title.

The challenge is shifting from content marketing to true storytelling: understanding an audience, inspiring them, compelling them and igniting their imagination.

“As marketers, we’ve bought into the aspiration and the ideal of storytelling-based marketing without going through the exercise of what it actually takes to become a storyteller,” says Brian Solis, a marketing expert and principal analyst at Altimeter Group. When Solis wrote “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design,” he immersed himself in the art and science of storytelling, working closely with Pixar artist and storyboarding expert Nick Sung.

Brian Solis, analyst and author of “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design”

I spoke with Brian about the gap between content marketing and storytelling, and what marketers need to know today.

Q. How should businesses by thinking about storytelling?

Brian Solis: There are some common pillars of quality storytelling — and it all starts with knowing your audience, what they love/don’t love, what they value, etc.

Aside from the seven common plots of story, there are pillars that resonate with certain audiences, depending on their goals and yours. These include inspiration, usefulness, importance and inclusivity, just to name a few — and these apply to content marketing, too.

Q. How can marketers apply this framework to their campaigns?

The arc of a marketing campaign is usually the opposite of a traditional story arc. The climax, which is typically the product launch day in business, is followed by the supporting action and road to wider adoption — until the budget runs out or the campaign is over.

Stories are continuous. Opportunities for engagement are always on. Customers do not go on/off based on your campaign or content calendar.

For marketers, the hero in the Hero’s Journey is your customer. Think about how they traverse their world every day and what information they need to succeed and be the “hero” in their story, then use that to inspire your stories.

Q. What mistakes do you see marketers making when applying storytelling to their content efforts?

Too many marketers have no clear idea who they’re trying to reach, what’s important to them and why. Sixty percent of marketers still don’t have a documented content strategy, my research has found, even though nearly three in four marketers plan to spend more on content in the coming year.

It’s difficult for any brand to stand out right now, and content is more often designed to be “viral” rather than engaging, useful or empathetic. That’s a big reason why a significant amount of content fails.

Q. Is the shortening attention span of mobile users making it more difficult for content marketing to resonate?

Mobile devices are like digital appendages. Consumers are busy living their “best” lives while being inundated with information on mobile.

People don’t want marketing and brand-approved messages. They want personalization, usefulness and value. They’re willing to pay attention to — and share — content that speaks to them, helps them, or boosts them within their community.

That means thoughtful and relevant stories that they can consume based on their state of mind or intent and their preferences and expectations…at the right time, in the right context in the right format.

Q. How can marketers best measure their success?

The underlying problem is that many marketers have lost sight of who they’re really creating content for. Instead of investing in engaging with their audiences of human beings who have intent, goals, aspirations, passions, needs, they’re prioritizing quantity and developing campaigns for the people who are approving their work.

Too often, I see marketers measure success with vanity metrics such as likes, traffic, views and followers. These numbers actually take them further from the people who matter — those who need their experience and advice.

Instead, I’d suggest that marketers focus on growth. Use AI and machine learning to predict intent. Translate those insights into content that matters to customers. Then, consider designing for the A.R.T. of engagement (actions, reactions and transactions).

Track the impact you’re making on the people and the businesses you’re trying to reach. That means knowing what moves the needle with them by considering the meaning, utility and value that your marketing content provides.

Read more about storytelling
Making emotional connections in a digital era
Data-driven storytelling: the intersection of numbers and narrative
The science of storytelling
Storytelling for action: Why brands need to tell a complete story

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