‘If Only There Were More Content,’ Said Nobody—Ever

Here is the strategy we use to make content, which actually works because it’s based on the content’s value—to the audience and to the brand.
hand selecting perfect marble

For all the effort we put into creating content—the late nights, fastidious copy editing, photo shoots, channel pontification and Trello boards—studies show that consumers summarily dismiss 95 percent of content and it accomplishes nothing.

Just 5 percent of content is responsible for 90 percent of results. That’s a lot of waste.

We’re thinking about content marketing the wrong way. We don’t understand how it should connect to brand strategies, how it drives human behavior, how to orient it around objectives we actually care about. Like climbing Everest, we seem to produce content just “because it’s there.” It’s just a free path to attention.

“We have to transcend legacy marketing
structures that work like an assembly line,
making sequential decisions.”

Let’s all now agree that content is indeed marketing and should be strategic and effective. It should cause people to act, not just hover around them like an annoying rain cloud. We need to understand that content should be a strategic growth engine, and we need to then act accordingly.

Here’s how to start.   

1. Set real business objectives.

We can no longer get away with setting objectives that match metrics we can easily measure through Google Analytics. We shouldn’t go through all the effort of building a content program to achieve an engagement rate or page view milestone.

We need business objectives—the things they talk about in the rarified air of the boardroom: Sales. Conversions. Order value. Retention rate. Lifetime value.

Let’s also consider good old-fashioned brand health objectives like awareness, consideration and intent. Growing your funnel is a noble cause, and something content is good at accomplishing.

2. Build a content strategy that seamlessly connects to your brand strategy.

Somehow “brand” became a dirty word in the content space. We think brand is for those pretentious, above-the-line marketers who don’t carry the burden of metrics.

We’ve got to return to thinking about brand as the sum of all the experiences a consumer has with your company, from the employees and your website to the call center and, yes, the listicle you just posted on your blog.

The more we consider content a core brand experience, connected to all the others, the less our colleagues will think “content” is a dirty word too.

There’s one question at the heart of any great content program: What can your brand uniquely provide that your audience would genuinely value?

Many are good at the second half of that question: They use search and social insights to figure out what consumers want to read, and then provide more of it. But they don’t do it in a way that differentiates their brand or provides a meaningfully distinct experience.

Our model for content strategy, the Content Value Model, begins with this dance of balancing genuine audience need with true brand equity. It takes research and effort to figure out the balance, but once you do, you’ll find that you can easily articulate the value proposition of your content program and make all necessary decisions with a greater sense of purpose.

3. Establish a measurement plan.

Your approach to measurement should be what we call the Outcome-Driven Framework. Every tactic or action should start with one of the business outcomes you established in Step 1. Don’t merely hunt for a goal you can easily append to your content or back into key performance indicators. If you’re finding it difficult to measure real outcomes, question whether you’ve set the right ones. 

Use your business objectives to inform program goals and specific KPIs. For example, a business goal could be to increase market share; the program goal could be to improve brand credibility and consideration among new and competitive users; and the specific KPIs would relate to web visits and engagement rates on product pages, program sign-ups and content shares.

With advanced analytics support, look to correlate tactical actions and business results through attribution analysis. The more time you spend on attribution, the better decisions you will make.

For example, automotive manufacturers know exactly how many car sales will come from the number of visits to a quote request page on their website. Push yourself to understand how this process works in your business. 

4. Understand the ‘5% Rule’ of working content.

The vast majority of your content will probably have no impact. The minority, maybe as little as 5 percent, will be responsible for the lion’s share of results. 

It’s critical to understand the elements of the 5 percent that lead to success: What content, topics, stage of the customer journey, customer segments or channels drive success? 

Scale up what works; phase out what fails. We often hear that marketers think they need to increase their budgets to achieve all of their goals, but before you ask for more money, make sure you understand your 5 percent.

5. Build the right organizational structure.

Strategic content requires new thinking. We have to transcend legacy marketing structures that work like an assembly line, making sequential decisions. Whether resources are internal or external isn’t as important as bringing all key disciplines to the table, including content creators, engagement and performance experts, and analysts.

This team construct will encourage experimentation to find out what works and build on success in real time. At Manifest, we call this structure Audience Engine. When done well, both quality and quantity of content grow as intelligence is acquired.

Don’t Get This Wrong: We Still Love Content

We feel a little bad. We’ve been hard on content. But it’s really just tough love. We are, after all, a content agency—the 2019 Content Marketing Agency of the Year, as a matter of fact.

Ultimately, we love this stuff. Content has a unique ability to make consumers and marketers happy at the same time, and we’re going to see to it that it succeeds. With a little help, we can put a dent in that 95 percent.


If you would like help creating a strategy for making content that actually works, or you want to learn more about Manifest, Audience Engine, our Content Value Model, the Outcome-Driven Framework or anything else related to content, please email david.brown@manifest.com.

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