I just adore hearing all the buzz about content marketing. An early evangelist of sponsored content (from back when the dot-com bubble hadn’t yet burst and Google had just launched), I’m reveling in the millions being spent on content marketing. The news that “content is king” was reborn after Google’s demotion of content farms, and their elevation of truly useful and engaging content to center stage, no matter who created it.
Now that fresh content is a marketing priority, the problem of quantity over quality has grown ever larger. Web pages are easier than ever to publish, blogs by the millions clog cyberspace, and far too many folks believe we want 140 characters on their latest playlist or juice fast. With the financial model for editorial in tatters and not many publishers who know how to monetize their digital presence, there are fewer professionals turning out great content online. Anyone who fills a page with words will call himself a writer. Some “writers” are persuasive and engaging without concern for the facts. Others use statistics and data selectively to support a “truth” that is questionable. Many writers share their heartfelt convictions, whether or not they are accurate, useful, or interesting. Readers must root out the rare content gems buried among waves of content sewage. It’s no small task.
Generating content is not the same as content marketing. Sadly, many companies launch themselves into content marketing without adequate forethought. They start a Facebook page and let it languish. They put up a contest, get gobs of fans, but don’t know what to do next. They post promotions and tell readers the virtues of their products. They chatter on and on, often using jargon that obscures meaning. Or they build a user-friendly guide to the key topics in their field, with no concern that 382 similar primers already exist. And then, if they are watching the numbers, they wonder why the public isn’t rushing to partake, why content marketing is a bust, and why their brand isn’t benefitting.
The trick: Do content right—and save money and time—by developing a solid content strategy before you start publishing content. Good writing is an essential foundation of your content marketing campaign, but it’s not enough. You have to be unique, useful, or more entertaining. Better yet, be all three. Here are some questions to get you started.
Is your content uniquely valuable? You won’t get far as a latecomer posting info on coping with colon cancer, touring Venice, or a cookie recipe unless yours is clearly superior in some way. Are your cookies better than Toll House? If not, why bother developing the content? A content strategy will help head you off before you waste time creating the same content that’s out there. Don’t just check what your competitors are posting. Look at the publishers too. Why would your audience come to you for a cookie recipe when they can go to the Barefoot Contessa and Paula Deen?
Do you have the resources to be out there first? Will you get out there with the first review of the latest app before CNET and the existing bloggers? Can you break a big news story before CNN? Media companies spend huge chunks of their time, money, and energy thinking about and writing about their chosen topics. With all that invested, you should hope they get there first most of the time. If you can’t be first, it is probably best to find something other than trends and news to fill your posts. You need a strategy that makes your content valuable even if you’re second, or third, or fifteenth. What will set your content apart and make it useful and engaging to your target audience? How can you present it in a format and a location where those readers will gobble it up? How can you use your limited resources to create content that has impact?
If you don’t know the answers yourself, try hiring a content strategist—before you waste money and time adding to the cesspool of content sewage. A content strategist will help you figure out how to use your time and money wisely to create a content marketing campaign that has the best chance of engaging your target audience while being true to your brand values and goals. The strategy document will outline the best topics, formats, sources, voice and overall messaging to help your content work hard, maximizing the return on investment from creating content.