The Association of National Advertisers’ recent landscape study on content efforts reported that content marketing budgets have increased by 73 percent from two years ago, and they are predicted to increase by 42 percent over the next two—not too shabby in just four years. When asked about their commitment to content marketing, 52 percent of respondents said they currently have a strong commitment. That is double the number from two years earlier.
This begs two questions: Why and how would you scale?
To answer why, we suggest moving forward in the spirit of Picasso and cubism. Leaving behind a linear viewpoint, he created art with new dimensions and multiple perspectives.
Take a big step back to see where your content ecosystem and operations stand.
Look at every piece of content you make as a larger part of a whole, able to be dissected, segmented and distributed with viewpoints that fit the medium.
Here are the steps that will get you there:
1. Be ruthlessly honest where you are.
The question you must ask is: Where do your content efforts stand today? The first phase of cubism is to systematically dissect the subject.
- What objectives and goals does your content strategy work toward?
- What is your content strategy to achieve those objectives and goals?
- How effective is your content strategy at achieving results?
If you are unsure of the answers to these three questions, do NOT scale your content efforts. Take another step back and clearly define what you are trying to achieve and how.
If you’re among the 63 percent of marketers who don’t have a clearly written content strategy, you need to articulate how you are using content to meet your business objectives, marketing goals and audience needs.
You need to be able to answer this golden question:
What does your brand uniquely offer that your audience truly values?
That will lead you on the path to content that matters.
If you judge the effectiveness of your content strategy by measuring views and engagement alone, then you need to scale your measurement plan to better connect views and engagement to business actions and measures such as purchase rates, order values, retention rate and lifetime value. You may need to disproportionately spend on measurement efforts to get the answers you need. But those measurement efforts may justify a five-year investment plan.
Answer these questions before scaling your content operations. In fact, answer these questions well, and your content operations will be viewed as a working investment that consistently drives returns, rather than being part of the annual overhead.
If you have good answers to those three questions, we can proceed.
2. Identify the journey you want to take your audience on.
It is likely that you identified a role for content that works particularly well at one stage of the customer journey, and maybe content is not deployed at other parts of the journey. You may have tried in the past but did not get the results you needed.
That said, map your content strategy against your customer journey, and compare with those of your competitors. The customer journey is the perfect canvas for your content strategy to work on.
Consider new strategies that operate in the white spaces where nobody is operating, or following competitor activity where they are operating but you are not. Don’t be afraid to be both a leader and a follower. It’s a balanced portfolio of content risk.
For a car company, rather than using content to attract or acquire new customers, you can use content to operate after a sale,to encourage advocacy, dealer service adoption or a repeat sale. For a DIY retailer, you can create content to inspire projects across seasons, with supporting how-to’s and before-and-afters to encourage project completion. For a weight loss company, you can use content to encourage compliance as willpower fades four weeks into the diet, or to bring back lapsed customers to the franchise.
Content has typically focused on upper-funnel assignments, building awareness and consideration. But it’s worth looking at the bottom of the funnel and even under it to see how content can improve conversion or even serve your customers better.
3. Identify your top-performing content.
For Picasso, it was cylinders, spheres and cones. For you, content may be blog articles, videos, podcasts and e-books. The individual shapes, pieces and perspectives should be influenced by the journey you and your customers have established and what your customers prefer to digest. If you believe that increasing content scale means creating 1,000 more pieces of content. Please go back to step 1.
Frankly, the world does not need more content.
What your customers need is relevant content that meets their needs at their stage of the journey with you, delivered in a distinct and engaging way. Distinct means that your brand gets credit. Engaging means that the content gets consumed and acted on.
To successfully expand your content into a multiplex doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. A full 51 percent of companies say updating old content has proved to be the most efficient tactic in their current strategies. As we have mentioned before in this series, the vast majority of your content is likely to have no impact whatsoever, seen only internally as it works through your approval process, posted but never discovered by your audience.
What we typically see is that about 5 percent of your content assets are driving the majority of engagement and action. So before you scale, you need to understand your 5 percent: your top-performing content. Because however you have defined your content strategy, the 5 percent rule will confirm the parts that are actually working, and which content, topics, stages of the customer journey, customer segments or channels drive success.
Scale up what works; retire what fails. This approach will allow you to scale up, but in fact your budget may decrease because you removed the waste.
If you have a strong handle on your most effective topics and subtopics, you can find adjacent topics and subtopics where there is sizable activity, and use search volumes as a proxy for content demand.
4. Revisit your vision and mission.
Be crystal clear in how you articulate your vision for your content efforts. You will be tempted to broaden your ambitions and to find new areas where content can play a meaningful role. But this is the time to tightly define and articulate your content vision and how it connects to your objectives, goals and KPIs. Also seek alignment with stakeholders in your organization. Because your CMO and CFO will both need to understand this and be able to explain it to the CEO.
The content leaders who do this well are on the fast track to being marketing and business leaders. Here’s an example of a content vision construct for a financial services company:
5. Understand your total cost of content.
Lastly, with a clear vision, goals and objectives, a measurement plan, and a good sense of current performance, and before you build a business case for more budget to scale your efforts, you need to know your current spending.
Buyers, beware that current spending levels are much higher than your approved budget. Because there is visible spending as well as the more critical invisible spending. Your visible spending is the labor cost you pay for your in-house content team, as well as out-of-pocket expenses on agency support, freelancers, data, production and technology.
Your invisible spending is your cost to the business that you may not be charged for. This may cover real estate, IT support, time spent by other parts of the business in brand management, legal, regulatory and finance. Some complex content programs in regulated industries have the ability to paralyze an organization because of the volume of content and the number of rounds of review that ensue. This is not a financial issue, but an issue of capacity and appetite for an organization to commit to content efforts. Your business case needs to consider both the visible and invisible costs, with a plan for both. Picasso did not have this issue to deal with!
Maybe saying “What would Picasso do?” is too baroque for your content inspiration. But an artist of that caliber created memorable experiences from which eras and trends were built. You’d like your content to stir your industry and separate you from the pack. Perhaps looking to people in all disciplines who have succeeded in this can yield your version of art that is as impressive and as abundant as a Picasso painting.
Consider these strategic steps to be one step closer to succeeding in the world of more.
Next week, we will cover the operational aspects of scaling your content efforts around organizational design, resource management, technology and atomization.
To learn more about how we’ve helped our clients successfully scale and produce award-winning content, please reach out to David.Brown@manifest.com.