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Report: Content and the New Marketing Equation

Rebecca Lieb, my colleague at Altimeter Group released a new report, “Content: The New Marketing Equation Why Organizations Must Rebalance.” The report helps organizations find balance in the creation of effective content strategies while delivering value to stakeholders and consumers and also the bottom line.

It’s safe to assume that the attention of the audience as we knew it is waning. And when we look at the online and mobile behavior of connected customers, a sense of responsibility emerges as everyday people become media beacons in their own right. As such, they rigorously share and curate for their audience with an editorial-style approach as what was once a static audience is now an audience with an audience of audiences. People are learning that there are rewards for contributing to signal instead of the noise. Those who do not, learn the hard way…that people will disconnect in order to preserve the integrity of their stream.

Such is true for organizations. For those organizations that do not contribute value to social streams will find that content and desired voices will fall upon the severed ties of once captive communities. Rebecca’s report will help companies identify a path for increasing relevance. And, it starts with adopting an always-on approach that extends campaigns through a continuum model. As she observes…

Marketers can serve customers and prospects with content through every phase of awareness, branding, intent, conversion, and customer service. Yet, unlike advertising, content initiatives are continual rather than episodic, placing new demands not just on marketing organizations but also across the enterprise as a whole.

When you study the intentions and architecture of many branded social media campaigns and strategies overall, it’s difficult to not wonder whether social media isn’t an oxymoron in its current incarnation. I’ve written about this on several occasions over the past year, calling for an end to an era of Social Media 1.0. It’s a call for businesses to move from antisocial social media strategies and raise the bar for more compelling and mutually beneficial forms of engagement.

Good friend Tom Foremski recently observed that, “Corporations are being pressured by legions of ‘experts’ to exploit social media as a lucrative sales and marketing channel. This will destroy social media…” His point was that brands used social media channels to push traditional corporate media, exhibiting a collective broadcast mentality disguised as social engagement. He then started EC=MC (Every Company is a Media Company), a movement to help businesses realize the opportunity presented by social for not only marketing, but true storytelling, experiential journeys, and engagement. Also referred to as brand journalism or brand publishing, the idea is that brands can earn greater attention, reach, and results by investing in a journalistic approach. It’s a move away from promotional content to the delivery of useful, entertaining, or meaningful engagement and experiences through new media.

Attention is finite and the competition for it is only escalating. But to entice and capture attention will take more than a new content strategy and a supporting editorial calendar. It will take a new mission, purpose, and culture to unlock experiences and pave engaging journeys through content.

As Rebecca notes…

Content marketing requires a shift in company culture, resources, budgets, partners, and strategy. Rebalancing is critical to achieve these goals. The choice is whether to rebalance now, or later when the battle for attention may become even more difficult than it currently is.

To adapt to a new landscape for effective attention marketing, Rebecca introduces a five-stage maturity model. It details how organizations evolve in the quest to market efficiently with content. Not every company will reach every stage. But as she observes, evolution, direction, and purpose must start at the top…

Yet to effectively market with content, organizational change and transformation must be driven from the top level of the organization. Left to the marketing department alone, success is limited. New skills must be developed and training offered, both in digital technologies as well as in job functions more aligned with the responsibilities found at a newspaper, magazine, or broadcaster, than in classic marketing functions. Content requires more speed and agility than does marketing, yet at the same time it must be aligned with metrics that conform to the business’ strategic marketing goals.

1. Stand: This organization may have dabbled in social media or created a blog, but activity is infrequent and not generally viewed as important within the organization. The marketing department relies almost wholly on “push” communications such as email marketing, direct mail, and advertising.

2. Stretch, Taking the First Steps While Scanning the Horizon: An organization at the Stretch stage realizes the value of content marketing and begins to build the strategy and support necessary to create and publish content.Understanding develops that, while many of the tools and media are free, content requires an investment of resources. An executive sponsor is necessary to lead the program and communicate its value and reach to the organization. This executive sponsor is also tasked with identifying team members to engage with early channels, building basic forms of content, and evaluating potential agency relationships.

3. Walk, Ambition and Forward Momentum: In this stage, content creation and production get a solid strategic foundation organizationally. From channel specific (e.g. “we blog”), content begins to become channel agnostic and is distributed across a variety of channels and platforms. Processes are formalized. This is the stage at which a team begins to take shape, strategy is more fully refined and tweaked, and the team begins to establish governance to scale and shape content processes.

4. Jog, Sustainable, Meaningful and Scalable Content Initiatives: The organization’s strategy is clear, as well as communicated throughout the enterprise at this stage. Focus shifts toward expanding the team and its ability to create experiential, engaging content rather than simply create and publish simpler stories and informational pieces. The processes for producing content are also more fully developed and strategic. Content is created with a view toward being reusable or repurposed across multiple media platforms.

5. Run, Inspired and Inspirational: In this phase, a successful, real-time integration of content marketing and curation is part of the fabric of nearly all aspects of branding. The organization has become a bona fide media company, actually able to monetize innovative and highly polished content that is either branded and/or related to the brand proposition. Content is sold and licensed based on its standalone merit, with content divisions having separate P&L responsibility.

In the report, Lieb also introduces four fundamental steps toward content marketing maturity. These steps serve as important reminders that no matter how sophisticated your program is today, its success is always determined by how audiences with audiences engage and contribute to the dissemination of your story, value, and mission. And in turn, success is measured by how they feel and/or the actions that they take as a result of the engagement.

1. Understanding That Content Marketing is Not Free

2. Implementing Broad Cultural Integration Around Content Marketing

3. Integrating Content Marketing with Advertising

4. Avoiding Bright, Shiny Objects

To get there of course is not an easy task. As noted earlier, it comes down to culture…it comes down to leadership. Additionally, effective content marketing strategies and ultimately the experiences and outcomes that they can deliver require a supporting infrastructure that is strengthened by pillars of new expertise. It takes a different vision for what’s possible, higher standards and supporting metrics, and most important, a new perspective.

– Organizational Structure. The infrastructure that allows content creation and distribution to be fostered and encouraged both within the marketing department and beyond it.

– Internal Resources. Staff roles, teams, and leadership that support and create content marketing.

– External Resources. The extent to which the organization works with outside vendors and service providers including agencies, creative resources, and technology vendors.

– Measurement. Creating meaningful metrics around content marketing, including tying them to overall marketing and sales goals.

– New Skills and Capabilities. Fostering understanding of content marketing, executive buy-in, and ensuring staff can manage, create, and publish content.

– New Mindsets and Approaches. Content marketing is almost never a 9-to-5 undertaking. Creating, managing, and monitoring content outside of normal business hours, often in real time, is essential.

Rebecca’s report includes a self-audit that’s designed to assess where your organization is on the Altimeter Content Marketing Maturity Model. The goal is to help you better understand what you need to advance along the framework and also improve the effectiveness in how content increases engagement, experiences, and outcomes as a result. The case studies provided in the report are eye-opening. I also believe that they will inspire creativity in defining your content marketing goals.

In the end, content is a representation of the sentiment you wish to evoke, the story you wish to tell, the experiences you wish to deliver and the journeys you wish to create. Content though, is a also reflection of your vision, supporting culture, and the intentions that define the social objects you introduce. It’s time to rebalance.

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55 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Report: Content and the New Marketing Equation”

  1.  Thanks for sharing such an interesting information.

  2. Nicole says:

    You bring up several interesting points here, Brian. I
    particularly liked your point (borrowed from your friend, Tom) that “brands used
    social media channels to push tradition[al] corporate media, exhibiting a
    collective broadcast mentality disguised as social engagement.”  I agree that this strategy would not work; companies can’t interact with people on social media like they
    did with broadcast commercials. But I’m also wary of this idea of “brand
    journalism” – it sounds good in theory: “Let’s tell our company’s story in a
    way that looks and sounds real and relatable.” But isn’t there a risk that the
    audience/consumers/people will see through that? At the end of the day, it’s
    still just a company trying to sell something.  Maybe the goal should be moving away from this
    need to monetize, as your running man is striving for.

  3. Brian, first and foremost, kudos to Rebecca for addressing this issue with a thoughtful proposal that we (collectively) can all consider, adapt and apply within own own business environment.

    I’m wondering how other companies with complex products/services are dealing with the apparent content creation “talent puddle” that many organizations encounter today. I’ll explain the scenario.

    It seems that creating substantive and meaningful content (that your stakeholders would find useful) is more difficult than the traditional marcom production processes of a bygone era in B2B marketing.

    Case in point: there’s two internal groups that both need help to adjust to this new environment. We see some marcom people who can write in a style that is appropriate, but they don’t have the technical subject matter expertise. Then we have the other group, the subject matter experts, who have the tech knowledge but not the writing or storytelling skills.

    The essential overlay is an executive or managing editor role that mediates and mentors the two distinct groups — with the hopeful intent to bring them both to a common competency level, over time.

    The talent puddle, in contrast, are the few *multifaceted* people who have both narrative/editorial skills and the required tech domain experience to perform both roles. As is, this is not a scalable self-publishing model. Attempts to train and coach the two staff groups are progressing slowly and with inconsistent results.

    If you’ve encountered this scenario before, then I’d be curious to know what others are doing to move their large organization closer to the new model, in a reasonable period of time (months, not years).

    • I whole brokenheartedly agree with David I however would add the need also for someone who understands not only story (which is key) but also the newer skills of multimedia creation (video, narration, animation, 2d 3D etc) and can discern when best to utilize the appropriate medium. 

      In an age of 30 second attention spans your ability to grab the viewer and hold their attention is critical. Mere words are quickly losing that battle. 

    • Stephen, yes, that’s a very good point.

      Multimedia creation is a valuable skill, and an important component — particularly if you are experimenting with transmedia storytelling (as I am currently).

      My multimedia skills are mostly self-taught. I find the video editing process the most difficult to master. Using outside talent for editing helps in the short-term, and their willingness to mentor and coach will hopefully help us in the longer-term.

  4. Marty Smith says:

    Add my KUDOS to you Brian and my Vassar classmate Rebeca.

    Your post and Rebecca’s report are some of the most important Internet marketing ideas I’ve read (and I read a lot of Internet marketing ideas, surveys, reports, Scoops, Hunches, Pins and Tweets). I see companies and minds misaligned in exactly the way you and Rebecca describe daily as Director of Marketing for Atlantic BT, a Raleigh NC Internet marketing and web development company.

    The key idea is we create and curate content for other active content creators and curators. This idea is something I missed when writing Curation The Next Web Revolution. I walked right by the idea that our creative process needs to wrap around a very different audience. An audience different in consumption of our content, different in its engagement with our content and different in what gets them excited about our branded content. Creating content for content creators is different. Their creation of our content trumps our branding or we fall flat (as Rebecca’s report states so clearly).

    The only nit I have, and this is a tiny spec of a nit that goes to the difference between two classmates more than anything, is I like to leave large holes in my content calendars. Holes filled by what I see, hear and those created by the reactions of stones I toss into the content creation pond. Rebecca was always more tied down and organized then me at Vassar and, since we rarely change, she is so now. Social and content as a business function is better served by Rebecca and your approach Brian since replicating my Rauschenbergian curation is almost impossible. Content curation and creation means floating where the Sargasso sea floats us and that is always further out to sea :).

    Thanks for creating some of the most influential Internet marketing I’ve read and wished I’d written.

    Marty Smith
    VC ’80
    Director Marketing
    Atlantic BT

  5. I agree with all the
    comments below. Thanks for sharing nice information with us

  6. Beth Kanter says:

    I’ve been using the “Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly” model for years now to explain social media maturity of practice in nonprofits, although sometimes have to add “sit” on the low end, and “teleport” on the high end.    I’ve just finished a book with KD Paine on measuring the networked nonprofit and we worked out a scale for measurement  … 

  7. cool! thank u! love u!

  8. Very good written article. It will be helpful
    to anyone who uses it, including yours truly. Keep up the good work – for sure
    i will check out more posts.

  9. I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! This is a very informative post, it helps me more. 

  10. Anonymous says:

    Brian, great points but you don’t address the importance of context regarding content.

    Tom Foremski’s point that “that brands [have] used social media channels to push traditional corporate
    media, exhibiting a collective broadcast mentality disguised as social
    engagement” is well made. Tom also has put forth the proposition that EC=MC (Every Company is a Media Company).”  A case can be made that because of the implications of access to social media “Every Company is a Communication Company” (EC=CC vs. “EC=MC”) – focusing on what media enables.

    The first and most important rule of communicating is to listen before speaking/broadcasting. Listening enables the person or organization to understand what the messages and issues are in the marketplace and in turn, fine tune the context of the content so that it’s meaningful and resonates with the audience.  Hence, another case can be made that social business is first and foremost about listening.  Think of the classic local and successful neighborhood grocer.  They were successful because they listened to their customers and tailored their store’s offerings accordingly.

    Great content without the RIGHT context (which comes from listening) will fail.

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    The review determines the five periods of maturation an company can achieve as it becomes more good at articles marketing, with a self-assessment tool to ranking your own level of articles expertise.

  14. simonswills says:

    A measures to help companies recognize the functionality provided by group for not only marketing, but actual storytelling, experiential trips, and involvement.

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