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3 things to do before you even begin content marketing

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 26th March , 2019 in Content Marketing
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You’ve heard the old adage, starting is the hardest part, right? When it comes to content marketing, there’s far too much starting and not enough planning.

I understand the urge. I was one of those people who jumped in and figured it out as I went, physically and metaphorically. While I can’t blame content marketing for my bum knees, I certainly realise time and money were wasted on content production in those early efforts.

I wince a little now when I consider how much damage was done in the minds of the early skeptics. When the first content initiatives didn’t deliver as expected, some of them considered content marketing a fad that didn’t deliver on its promise. Some marketers put it in the ‘too hard’ or ‘too expensive’ category and gave up. And I can’t blame any of them for feeling like that.


Slow down, back up, and pay attention

One thing I’ve learned from experience is slowing down is as necessary for content marketing as it is for my gait. There are three things every content marketer needs to square away before they begin their content marketing strategy and certainly before a word of your content program is written, filmed, recorded or photographed.

(Not convinced you need a content marketing strategy? CMI’s annual Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research report series points to a documented content marketing strategy as being the most reliable predictor for success. You can download an e-book to find the essentials of a content marketing strategy if you’re not sure where to start.)


1)    Slow down: Define your business goals

Are your content marketing goals aimed at your business or are they simply objectives for marketing activity? If you’ve sold content marketing as a strategic part of your business – and it’s not a bad argument to get budget – then you’re going to have to show results in business terms. You have to use the right measurements to win over your executive team. Reporting on website traffic, page impressions and click-through rates is not going to cut it.


A turtle sits on a mossy rock, by the sea, symbolising slowing down your content marketing activity until you've defined your business goals.

Photo by Keith Champaco on Unsplash


Determine how to measure success

By all means, track activity metrics but report on how your content marketing strategy has contributed to moving the needle on business goals. Some areas to consider include:

  • Leads generated
  • Sales data
  • Decreases in the cost of customer acquisition
  • Increases in the length of customer retention
  • Increases in the cost of total customer value
  • Increased attendance at events, especially paid events

In addition to business goals, two key marketing trends you want to monitor are:

  • Increases in email subscribers
  • Decreases in email unsubscribes

It’s easy to track subscription rates and get excited when the number goes up with regularity. If you’re experiencing a high number of subscribes and unsubscribes in your list, it’s an indicator your marketing is working but your content is not.

Hot tip: It’s time to calculate how much money your company is saving on other forms of promotion (advertising, SEO, SEM and PR) when your subscribers are trending up and your unsubscribe rate is flatlining. This shows you have an attentive audience at your disposal. Don’t lose out on a magnificent opportunity to show how content marketing is contributing to reduced expenses in other areas.


Why the focus on business goals in a content marketing strategy?

Until marketing has a seat at the board table, and until CMOs hold as much clout as the CFO or COO, content marketers have to continually remind the business of our ability to effect change and do it in a strategic way.

The only way to demonstrate our value is to report. We have to fight fire with fire. We can’t report on marketing activity when decisions are being made from a different set of criteria. If we don’t measure, we can’t report. And if we measure the wrong things, our reports are useless. Content marketing is often viewed as a ‘nice to have’ by people outside of the marketing department. We’ll continue to spend a lot of time every year justifying our existence, begging for budget and trying to avoid layoffs when things get tight unless we change that view.

To get a head start on the ubiquitous question about the ROI of content marketing, associate your calculations to actual business goals.

Finally, I have a special request. If you can prove your content marketing is impacting your business, then please enter the Content Marketing Awards and include those metrics in your submission. You’ll be sure to impress the judges; far too many content marketers tally up marketing metrics that have little bearing on the success of an initiative.


2)    Back up: Get your house in order

Now that we’ve agreed on goal setting, it’s time to back up a little. If you don’t have internal buy-in, that should be your next priority. Content marketing is a long, slow burn and can easily take 18 months or longer before you start to show measurable results. That means you’ll have to survive two budgeting cycles before you can show success. In my experience, new things get tossed pretty quickly — especially when they take a lot of resources.


People in a meeting, symbolising getting your content marketing organised.

Photo by Thomas Drouault on Unsplash


Getting organisational buy-in for content marketing is a content marketing exercise in itself. It takes time and you must be patient. For executives not familiar with content marketing, it’s common for them to expect campaign style results — a rarity in the early stages of a content initiative.

Four things you can do to encourage buy-in for content marketing:

  • Get the doubters to watch The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing I’ve used this tactic many times to convince decision-makers about the opportunity for content marketing. It features content marketers, major brands, and academics speaking about the benefits of the discipline.
  • Urge them to attend the Content Marketing World After speaking to one business owner for months about content marketing and not getting very far, I invited him to attend the annual event in Cleveland, Ohio. He was all in after the first day and hasn’t looked back.
  • Find a case study in your industry from a company of a similar size.
  • Supply them with the latest Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends research for your market segment.

Don’t skip this step. It’s crucial to get agreement about what you want to do before you start. It’s a prime time to set expectations with your management team about how long you think it will take to show results and what you expect to achieve. If you don’t have internal buy-in before you start, it’s a lot harder to establish once you’ve started.


3)    Pay Attention: Sort out your messaging

If you want to drive profitable customer action with your content marketing, your messaging has to be focused on the audience, not on your brand. We’re operating in an era of too much information and too many choices for content. Brands who use their content programs as a form of advertising or broadcasting aren’t typically rewarded with loyalty from their target audience.

[If you need help defining key messages for your business, why not check out our key messaging workshop?]

People on a pro-science march, symbolising the importance of the science to the success of a content marketing strategy.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash


There’s no doubt marketers struggle to flip the perspective in their marketing. It’s especially true when the executive team’s whose whole focus is on brand messaging and brand identity. Developing an editorial mission statement helps act as a filter to guide your production activities.

An editorial mission statement sets boundaries about what you will and won’t produce. It defines:

  • Your audience
  • What you’re going to provide them
  • What benefit they’ll experience

You should be able to distill it down to one or two sentences. If you have your own products or services mentioned in your editorial mission statement, you need to reevaluate your approach.

Good example of an editorial mission statement:

One of my favorite editorial statements is one I helped develop for a company who creates websites for the tire industry.

Traction News is an online magazine for people in the business of selling tires. It provides tire business owners and their employees with news, opinion and information to run a successful tire business in America.”

It’s focused entirely on the audience, speaking to what they want to achieve — not what the company who produces Traction News wants to sell. Because the audience is protected by the editorial mission, they’re more likely to subscribe. Loyal subscribers trust the brand. The brand has an addressable audience they can market to directly through the newsletter.

Strategy hack: Include a representative from your board and executive team in your messaging efforts. It’s a good way to reinforce buy-in for content marketing.


The benefit of slowing down

Before you hurtle into content creation, shift into plod gear for a little while. Give yourself time to contemplate the big questions every good strategist asks before they begin to form decisions about how to go to market. I promise you’ll be happier with your overall efforts in content marketing — and so will your audience.

For marketers, there’s a bigger opportunity to slowing down. We have the chance to change the image of marketing in our organisations. Marketing has been viewed as a support centre to the sales department for too long. We begin to elevate our role when we commit to business goals and bring the business along in our planning. The time you spend in the beginning pays off in the end, especially when you have internal backing and your audience is the focus of your messaging.


What do you wish you had done differently when you started content marketing?

Need help with your content marketing strategy? Find out more about our key messaging workshop here or get in touch.


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