Content marketing continues to dominate the marketing agenda. But are your content investments paying off? Samantha Waterworth tackles the tough question and reveals how to make it work…
Content marketing is no new phenomenon. In fact, anyone with a few years’ marketing experience up their sleeve will tell you that it wasn’t even new fifty years ago, let alone five. Marketers (the good ones at least) have always looked for new and exciting ways to engage with customers on their own terms.
No doubt you’ve heard of these flag bearers: John Deere’s famous magazine The Furrow, Michelin Guides, or the NRMA’s bi-monthly magazine The Open Road. These aren’t new platforms. The Open Road is the youngest of the three, and it was first published in 1921.
Today this figure has fallen to 81% and the game has changed. Average budget allocations have increased, different tactics are being used, the goals have shifted, as have the key challenges.
We can see that Australian marketers are employing increasingly sophisticated content strategies, but is the effort paying off?
Here’s what we know
CMI’s latest report, Content Marking in Australia 2016: Benchmarks, budgets, and trends, found that only 28% of the overall sample rated their organisation’s use of content marketing as effective, or accomplishing overall objectives. That figure is down from 29% last year.
At the same time, only 55% of respondents believe their organisation understands what a successful content marketing program looks like.
Clearly we’ve got a long way to go on the content marketing maturity curve.
With that in mind, here’s my tips on what to do next.
First things first: strategy
Begin with two questions.
1. Do you have a content marketing strategy?
CMI found 46% of Australian marketers have a documented content marketing strategy, an increase of 9% in comparison to last year’s report. Of this sample, 73% rated their content marketing as successful, with greater results across many of industry’s best tactics such as social media and paid advertising. So if you’ve got a strategy but it’s a little bit up in the air, or has never been put on paper, it’s time to pull out the pen. The statistics don’t lie.
2. Do you have an editorial mission statement?
Research from CMI shows 28% of Australian content marketers rate their use of content marketing as effective. In many cases they don’t have an editorial mission statement, or don’t know if they have one.
It might seem like a no brainer, but as Joe Pulizzi has said, “if the mission statement isn’t right, everything else will go wrong.”
Because it will give your content a much clearer focus and purpose. Publishing that has no clearly documented editorial mission will almost always be ineffective.
Up next: What’s working?
The next step is to evaluate what content channels and platforms are working for your company. CMI’s latest research shows Australian marketers use an average of 13 content marketing tactics, but it’s important to know where to invest your time and effort.
1. Marketing tactics
For the second year in a row, in-person events were deemed the most effective content marketing tactic (72%), followed by social content (70%) and videos (70%).
The same report also found illustrations and images are an effective way of connecting with audiences, up 10 points in 2015. Meanwhile, webinars and webcasts are increasingly effective, up 10 percentage points in comparison to last year.
Of the social platforms, LinkedIn is the most commonly used way to distribute content and also the most effective, according to 60% of CMI’s research respondents.
Instagram is also a rising star, up 9 percentage points as a content distribution platform and judged to be 13 percent more effective. Make sure you keep this platform on your radar as one well worth the investment.
Your final port of call in terms of content creation and distribution should be consideration of paid advertising. Taking the top spot in CMI’s research as the most used and effective paid advertising method is search engine marketing (SEM).
However, SEM is far from a simple tactic. Findings from Berry Network show that 75% of senior level SEM executives feel that their SEM programs will underperform or barely meet a client’s expectations.
3Q Digital, an online marketing agency specialising in SEM practices, have said that “many SEM consultants and agencies like to cast themselves as wizards of a dark art; acceptance of this myth allows them to charge wildly for their services and dismiss complaints about poor performance by claiming clients simply don’t know what they are talking about.”
While it involves a specific skill set, SEM remains an important content amplification tactic.
Want to know more? Check out these seven habits of highly effective SEM programs.
Reaching for the stars
We’ve talked about setting expectations, but what about setting goals? Different organisations will weigh various outcomes in different ways, so ultimately this question will have many answers.
In 2012, research showed that brand awareness was the most highly regarded outcome of content marketing (73%), followed by engagement (71%), and customer loyalty (68%). In 2013, lead generation hit the scene, coming in as the third most important goal to Australian marketers. By 2015, lead generation was running the show with 84% of Australian marketers declaring it the most important goal for their organisation over the next 12 months. Sales closely followed with 82% and engagement not far behind at 81%.
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding what goals to set for yourself. Think about what’s important for you and your company over the next twelve months and hit the ground running. It may take 3 months to achieve one goal and 24 months to achieve another.
Above all be vigilant. Set yourself milestones and constantly track your progress.
Know how far you’ve come
On that note, how do you measure your progress?
Again, there is no black and white answer to this question so to speak. It comes down to what you’re trying to achieve. You could measure the quality or quantity of your leads, your sales, your conversion rates, your website traffic or your SEO ranking. The list is probably almost endless.
That’s why it will be helpful to break these metric down into categories, which can be done courtesy of Jay Baer’s A Field Guide to the Four Types of Content Marketing Metrics.
Here’s what he has to offer.
Consumption metrics: Utilising tools such as Google Analytics, consumption metrics include measurements such as page views and open rates, answering the questions such as how many people viewed, downloaded or listened to this piece of content?
Sharing metrics: Measuring brand awareness and engagement, sharing metrics answer the questions surrounding ow resonant your content os, and how often it is shared with others.
Lead metrics: A goal in itself, lead generation metrics look at how often the consumption of your content results in a lead.
Sales metrics: Including measurements such as online and offline sales, and customer relationship management (CRM), sales metrics answers the all-important question – did we actually make any money because of this content?
CMI’s latest research shows the most effective Australian marketers meet weekly, if not daily. It’s for good reason: 64% of Australian marketers say these meetings are very or extremely valuable.
These meetings will vary in scope, so not every meeting will need to be an hour long ordeal. You don’t need to invite half the office to daily or even weekly meetings. Keep it simple with key decision makers. Save the larger groups for monthly meetings where you can gain valuable insight via brainstorming, strategising and seeking input from a broader cross section of your coworkers.
It might look a little something like this:
Figuring out your finances
Now we’re getting down the real nitty-gritty business.
How much of your budget should you allocate to content marketing?
The latest research has shown budgets have steadily increased from 25% of an organisation’s total marketing budget in 2012 to 30% in 2015. The research also tells us the most effective Australian marketers allocated even more – up to 44% of their total marketing budget. And guess what? Up to 58% of Australian marketers expect their organisation’s content marketing budget to increase in the next 12 months.
Why, you ask?
Because as the Internet marketing agency, Vertical Measures, so succinctly sum up, content marketing “is proving to be an effective method of building traffic, leads and business. Plus, it’s lowering the cost of lead generation.”
Take reality checks
Dream big by all means, but keep your feet on solid ground. This means accepting the challenges you’ll come up against and understanding what your priorities are.
CMI’s research reveals 69% of Australian marketers say producing engaging content is their biggest challenge. Measuring the ROI of their content marking falls in next, with 54% rating it as a significant challenge, and another 54% say producing content consistently is a difficulty they face.
So if you’re in any of these boats, don’t fret, you’re actually in majority.
But by the same token, don’t just sit idly by allowing your challenges to overwhelm you; take action! Understanding the challenge that producing engaging content presents, 84% of Australian marketers say creating more engaging content is their top priority for 2016.
But want to know what the industry front runners are thinking about?
This just in: The most effective Australian marketers have noted creating visual content, better understanding their audiences and finding new and improved ways of repurposing content as some of their top priorities for the year to come.
What it all means: Getting down to business
So here we are. December’s chaos has hit and the frantic scrambles to lay down foundations for the New Year are upon us. What’s the future for content marketing in 2016?
The research suggests the hype has gone and it’s time to get serious.
This means knowing where you’re at; knowing your goals, your challenges, your priorities, and keeping on top of your data and the latest industry research.
It’s a good idea to know where you sit in terms of content marketing maturity.