Are you fully committed to your content marketing program? If so, you’re in the minority: according to the Content Marketing Institute, only 20 percent of marketers feel the same way.
Think about it: 20 percent. That means that the vast majority of companies aren’t all in on their content marketing efforts—and it’s hamstringing their effectiveness. What’s worse, that lack of commitment actually might be doing brands damage. “I believe that mediocre content will actually hurt your brand more than doing nothing at all,” said Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, at the Content Marketing World conference in September 2016 in Cleveland.
There are a couple of key reasons marketers haven’t fully committed to their content marketing programs. First, according to Pulizzi, most companies are still oriented toward using targeted mass media to develop relationships and cultivate behavior change. The idea of consistently using content is still novel. And many of those companies that do embrace content marketing often make the mistake of treating content like advertising: producing campaigns, targeting more than one audience at a time, failing to deliver content consistently, and always looking for the next big hit. “None of these things work when it comes to content marketing,” Pulizzi said.
Secondly, companies seem to lack the patience required to nurture their content marketing program and let it take root. “Over all things, large enterprises are impatient. They have sales goals they are trying to hit and don’t want to invest for the long term,” he said.
Pulizzi notes that the oft-cited content marketing powerhouse Red Bull has been honing its approach for more than 10 years. With content marketing, results don’t happen right away. The most successful programs gradually ramp up their volume, content types, and delivery methods. It takes patience and education to achieve content marketing success and pull everyone (including the executives) in an enterprise on board with the approach.
Companies that are just starting out with content marketing don’t need to emulate Red Bull’s entire approach from the get-go—but they do need to channel the company’s commitment to its strategy. Marketers can start small and scale later, focusing on consistency from day one. Pulizzi suggested keeping it simple with one content niche for one audience, on one platform, and primarily using one content type.
For example, a B2B company might focus on launching a company blog with a consistent posting schedule, aimed at a specific audience niche. Perhaps the content mostly comprises written articles, with the occasional infographic in the mix. Start by building up a small audience and go from there.
“It doesn’t take a lot of resources to get started, but it does take focus and a strategy,” Pulizzi said.
An audience-first approach helps marketers key in on the content most likely to get people engaged—content that helps the target audience solve a problem or address a concern. Marketers can use analytics to understand which stories and topics are most likely to get people to spend time with the content, share it on social media, subscribe to a newsletter, or download an asset.
Before thinking about scaling, it’s best to become an expert at your content niche. “If you’re struggling to get two blog posts out a month, then don’t think about other types of content,” wrote Daniel Hebert, director of marketing at PostBeyond. “It will be a waste of time and effort, especially from a measurement and scaling standpoint.”
Every brand starts somewhere when it comes to content marketing. Here are three examples of brands that have successfully scaled their content repertoires.
Personal finance software service Mint is known as one of the pioneers of large-scale content marketing. Content helped propel Mint from an unknown service to a trusted voice in personal finance.
Back when Mint was first starting out, it faced the major obstacle of going up against more established firms with plenty of brand recognition. Mint knew it wanted to focus on young professionals, a subgroup it felt was being neglected. The company poured resources into its MintLife blog, betting content would help the company build a young, internet-savvy audience that would drive traffic to the app. Mint’s early blogs aimed to be helpful and accessible, with titles such as “Home Budget: Affordable and Cheap Dates” or “Six End of Year Tax Tips and Financial Budgeting Software.”
To help scale up its content marketing program, the company leveraged its own team members, guest bloggers, and user-generated content. Each Mint team member had their own feature on the blog, and Mint persuaded numerous personal finance bloggers to contribute for free. Users could submit their own financial train wreck stories to be featured on “Train Wreck Tuesday.” Infographics and articles played well on sites like Digg and Reddit, said Jason Putorti, Mint’s former lead designer, via Kissmetrics.
By the time of its launch, Mint was earning more traffic than all other personal finance sites combined, wrote Zach Bulygo for Kissmetrics. That dedication to content has turned into more than 20 million users today, helping the brand become synonymous with personal finance.
“Mint became to finances what ESPN is to sports,” Bulygo said.
Customer communication startup Intercom has earned kudos for its blog about design, customer experience, start-ups, and the business of software. But its success didn’t happen overnight.
Intercom cautions that returns can be slow when it comes to content marketing. Companies need to be in it for the long haul.
“Even if your first few articles are smash hits, you won’t benefit immediately, and you won’t be able to measure how much value you’ve created in the short term,” wrote John Collins, Intercom managing editor. “Remember, unless you are selling ads on your blog, it’s not just about page views.”
This long-term view has led Intercom to focus on evergreen content. Each additional piece of content yields incremental returns, but as the content scales, those returns can compound and become quite large over time. Content lives on for weeks, months, and even years after it’s posted. That’s why consistency of effort and approach over time are a critical part of a content strategy.
Intercom’s blog success comes from its relentless focus on quality content that aligns with its editorial mission. Intercom has an internal document the content team refers to that states the editorial values and mission of Intercom and defines what it considers “quality content.” The document has been central to how Intercom has scaled its content, wrote Sandi MacPherson, editor-in-chief at Quibb. If a piece of content doesn’t feel like Intercom, Collins said, the team will pull it. “Editorial values are the key to scaling, as far as I’m concerned,” Collins told Quibb.
IT company CSC’s content scaling journey is unique in that it involved consolidation of its content marketing programs in order to lay the foundation to scale. CSC had marketing programs in place, but they were disjointed and varied across departments and divisions. To streamline and standardize its efforts, CSC created a content hub to function essentially as an in-house content agency.
The hub team handles a large volume of content for the various CSC divisions, with typically about 75-80 content assets in production in a given week, according to the Content Marketing Institute. Reusing and repurposing content has allowed the content hub to achieve greater levels of scale. The content team will customize existing content assets depending on the region, language, and industry.
In fact, for some content types, the team strives to use “75 percent of the original content as-is and 25 percent repurposed content that’s been customized to achieve relevance for additional use,” according to the Content Marketing Institute. For example, an expert interview might initially be written as a Q&A article. But that same interview could also form a blog, be included in a white paper, or be used in social media.
Standardized processes also play a key role in allowing the hub to navigate large quantities of content while maintaining the integrity of the brand. A content request form streamlines the request process, helping the team gather information such as target audience and intended use from the start. The team also uses standardized templates for requests to repurpose content into a different format. For example, internal stakeholders can request content about technology trends in several prepackaged formats.
Uniting these companies is a commitment to content excellence over the long haul. One-hit content wonders aren’t the goal; rather, marketers need to be able to provide value to target readers to create sustained audience engagement. Incremental gains can equal big results in the long term. Whether you’re starting small or scaling up, marketers need to understand that when it comes to content strategy, results are determined in the long run.