More art than science, content marketing involves a softer, gentler sales approach that aims to inform and entertain prospects with the unstated goal of turning them into customers. Clever videos, e-books, whitepapers and sponsored e-forums are becoming increasingly popular as businesses see that they drive engagement and ultimately sales.
While there are many ways to provide content, it all starts with a strategy, and most businesses don't have one. "Over 90% of businesses out there don't have a content marketing strategy, they're just filling buckets," says Joe Pulizzi, founder and executive director of the Content Marketing Institute. "The great thing about a strategy is that it is less for what we need to do and more for what we shouldn't be doing, allowing you to focus on key content marketing strategies for the business."
Businesses also need a mission statement to explain why prospects or customers should pay attention to the company's blog, weekly e-mail, or video. Once a solid mission statement is in place, a company can choose the channels that make the most sense for advancing its content marketing efforts, Pulizzi says.
OpenView Venture Partners, a Boston-based venture capital firm, takes content marketing very seriously. Every employee is required to blog, and that goal is tied in with his or her annual compensation. "It's an effective way of getting people to blog -- tie it to their bonus!" says Kevin Cain, OpenView's director of content strategy. OpenView employees have been blogging machines for about four years, Cain says, after CEO Scott Maxwell caught the content marketing bug and instituted the mandatory blogging policy.
Yet blogging is only one of the channels that the company uses to spread its message. "It was great to get all of our employees blogging but we wanted to do more," Cain says. So they created a community website called OpenView Labs to house content such as podcasts, case studies, and e-books. "It's about the industry, not about us. It's developed in partnerships with influencers; we'll do a video if they're in town and a podcast if they're not."
A look at the OpenView Labs site shows a potpourri of content, including videos, free guides, infographics and a roundup of content marketing-related news and tips from other sites. A recent post titled, "Your Guide to Creating Award-Winning B2B Video Content," provides background on why startups might want to consider video on their site and a primer on how to channel Ben Affleck.
The results of OpenView's relentless focus on content marketing quality and quantity have pleased Cain. "I'd say a year ago if you went to our site you'd see maybe two tweets on an article and maybe one comment per 10-12 blog posts," he says. "Now you routinely see 30-40 tweets, 15 LinkedIn shares or 10 Google pluses or whatever it may be. We had a recent article that had over 25 comments, which we've never had."
Cain and his team have daily 10-15 minute meetings to discuss how successful yesterday's content was and to plan for tomorrow's blog post or video. The meetings are a sometimes difficult but vital part of OpenView's content marketing success. "Accountability means a lot," he says. "Let's dissect what we did and see what we can learn. It's sometimes painful."
Content marketing is different from traditional marketing, yet the two disciplines share at least one trait: the effort won't succeed if the company doesn't know its audience. "You can spend all the time, money and effort in the world, but if you haven't done your homework about who your audience is you're wasting your time," Cain says. "They're not going to care. It's pretty nuanced - you want to make sure you're getting the right message to the right people at the right time."
("Keyboard with blog key" image courtesy of Shutterstock.)