Find out what 400,000 articles taught us about content engagement
Think content marketing can be challenging? Ask any content marketer, and they’ll be sure to tell you a few challenges they face on a daily basis. The Content Marketing Institute even released a report on the major challenges in the industry awhile ago. A few of the popular ones include:
I’m sure most people would love to wave a magic wand and make these pains go away. Or at least figure out the best ways to solve them. So I decided to ask 20 experts in the industry a few weeks ago how they solved their biggest pain points. Here’s what they had to say.
The Challenge: Finding original, relevant, and timely ideas for your content.
I am fortunate in that I talk to a lot of marketers and writers almost every day. I learn what’s important to them, what their pain points are and what they want to know more about. Certainly, it’s always easy to write about industry trends or news. But writing about pain points – especially the ones that people don’t like to talk about – really gets the conversation going.
Some of my most-trafficked posts are the ones where I’m talking about writer’s burnout, “what to do when” or something else that has a more emotional appeal.
For my own content, that’s pretty easy. Excel is a pretty intimidating program for marketers and yet so critical to master, so I have an Evernote note where I keep a running list of blog ideas I’ll never have the time to get to.
I also blog quite a bit about Google Analytics. I find that many marketers have a few reports they look at, but they lack understanding of how all that amazing data works together. And a lot of the resources out there are either a bit on the dry, academic side or excessively technical. So I try to approach Google Analytics from a business objective orientation. To wit, I need to know [x] for my business; where/how do I get that data?
For clients, I really like to base a lot of my content recommendations based on an analysis of what their competitors are doing. I find that it’s also easier to get buy in when I show them what their competitors are doing.
To do that, I reverse engineer their competitors’ marketing strategies using this data-driven technique.
We always start with a content marketing initial, where we analyse competitors and audit the content the client has created in the past. This gives us initial ideas. We then work with the client and their PR agency (if they have one) to get an understanding of news, events and key dates. After that we brainstorm – one method I like to use when brainstorming is the checklist approach, always ask yourself why, where, when, who, what and how when it comes to your client’s products and services – this will unlock loads of ideas.
HA! If I had a short answer to this, I’d be a millionaire – “How to Solve Writer’s Block”. In all seriousness though, there are a couple of things that can work wonders. The first is to just go out and see what the zeitgeist is about a particular topic. So, I use a few curation tools to get the mood – and then I usually start with “what if the opposite is true?” or “what if it was a million times better?” or “what if nobody knew about this?”. Once you start down that road it can lead to all kinds of interesting creative alleys.
The other is to take something that’s in a completely different subject – and see how applying it to yours works. This is why I read voraciously outside the “marketing” topic.
I make a point whenever I’m at a magazine rack to buy one that’s completely outside of business or marketing (maybe boxing, or psychology, or architecture) just to see what other people are talking about. It’s a great source of ideas.
You need to deliver the information and content your audience wants. And to understand just what that is, you need to listen to and address their challenges, aspirations, and top-of-mind concerns.
At the highest end of the budget, you can derive those insights by conducting market research and interviewing prospects and customers. You then develop buyer personas and craft your content with those in mind. But persona development isn’t the only option. Other proven yet affordable ways to get inside your buyers’ heads:
We are constantly researching and working to discover what interests and engages our audience by looking at all kinds of sources like Quora, our social media channels, our blogs, our email newsletter and our resources. What we’ve discovered is you have to have a variety of content to use across all these different channels because what works on one, may not on others.
We also work hand in hand with our sales and customer support teams here at VerticalResponse to ensure we are creating content around common questions we are getting from customers about our product, advice on overcoming obstacles and anything else they need.
We recently created a guide about email delivery based on a conversation we had with our sales team and it became our most downloaded guide of the quarter. We also created a document that has every piece of content we’ve created that is mapped to the product and service it’s associated with, the state of the funnel and a link to the content so that everyone in our organization can access it and share content with our customers. It’s been priceless.
Monitor how [your audience] respond to topics you test out on your blog and then choose the topics that seem to resonate most. Be sure not to just look at views, but also at the amount of time spent on page to see if they’re spending enough time to get any value or just looking to find the content isn’t what they expected. Other ideas include watching what’s being retweeted and what status updates are being Liked on Facebook or on LinkedIn by people who could be your customers.
Identifying engaging content ideas is about two things: listening and reading between the lines. The standard advice is to listen to your audience so you can get a sense of the kinds of topics they’re talking about, questions they’re asking, and problems they need to solve. That’s solid advice, but the goldmine most people overlook is the unspoken need. To find the content ideas that will really resonate, you need to go beyond what’s on the surface and ask the “why questions” behind each topic, issue, and inquiry.
I’m confused as to why you refer to this as a pain. Finding content ideas is the FUN part! 😉
I’ve written previously about some of the content marketing tools I use, including Ubersuggest, Google Ad Planner, social media intel and even talking directly to both customers and support staff. Ideas come from understanding who your audience is, the needs they have and the type of content they need during the various stages of the buying cycle (hint: different stages rely on different content for conversion). Once you’re able to create those personae and pinpoint those needs, the rest is the fun part! Content marketing is like putting together a great puzzle…you just have to find all the fun pieces first.
I find that my day job really helps here, I manage a marketing agency that has a high focus on content marketing which provides me with a lot of inspiration for coming up with ideas.
There are times where we do need some sort of external inspiration though, and for that I look at: Industry news, my competitors and Google Trends.
One thing I look for more than anything is content gaps in my market and rather than looking at what other people are saying within the industry, I look at what people aren’t saying, what’s not being said in the right way (people like to give advice on what they don’t have a clue about in every industry) and what could be said better and in more detail.
For as much as I rely on tools, data, analytics, I’m also a huge “listener.” I want to “be” in the spaces users frequent, listening to their wants, needs and pain points. Many times, this act of observation can yield untold cues, especially when users are not being annoyed, bombarded by marketing messages. For example, if I’m working with a restaurant client, I’m less concerned with who he thinks his core audience is and what he thinks they desire in the way of content. I’ll learn as much as I can about them, through search and social, or in person, then “camp out” there, listening and interacting with them. As content strategist Kristina Halvorson has said, “Audience research isn’t just nice to have; It’s necessary.”.
“Interested in” is a pretty broad thing to cover. It starts less with superficial “interest” and more with user need-states; we’re interested in what solves our problems, entertains us, meets our immediate needs on some level. I solve the problem by beginning with the audience:
What do they need to know? What keeps them awake at night? What are their frustrations? Do they want answers – or to be entertained?
I mine a lot of information from forums, social media, sites like quora – and just direct conversation with the market. I’ll occasionally look at what’s been published in the past by reputable competitors, and then look for engagement signals (links to the post, social metrics, etc.) to help gauge if that content was a success. Then, I’ll recreate it – but better somehow – whether more complete, more current, a stronger voice, and so on..
If you’re really inside a market, content ideas fall out of the trees and bubble up from the water. If you’re not inside your market, generating ideas will be a struggle.
So get inside your market. Don’t try to throw content into a market from outside.
@HenleyWing I use a reader persona and write to it, track popular posts & tweets, & answer questions I get.
— Mike Brown (@Brainzooming) November 8, 2013
The Challenge: Define the unique buyer personas that make up your audience/customer pool.
Is that painful? It’s one of the things we love to do (or maybe it’s just me and my team goes along with it begrudgingly). We do an extensive amount of research into the existing customer, who they are, what they do, where they spend time online, how they consume content, and how they prefer to receive it. Then we create brand personas from that. It’s not an easy or fast approach. It takes time and a lot of elbow grease.
It’s funny to see persona creation get so much attention right now as if this is something that just started becoming important. Understanding who it is you’re targeting and what they want is the core of any marketing campaign, always has been. For us, we use a number of tools depending on the client need and what it is we’re looking to accomplish. Our process looks something like this:
Master the data we have: You likely already have some customer data at your disposal – whether its data found via your analytics, a history of customer buying patterns, customer surveys, whatever. So break it out and start analyzing it. Identify what you have and look at it from a high level. You may be able to find strong behaviors and patterns directly from this initial research (don’t stop here though). While the plural of anecdote certainly isn’t data, sometimes good stories do emerge.
Collect new data: We do this a number of different ways. The first thing we’ll do is put together a list of questions we want to know from both customers and employees of the business. Once we get their answers, we’ll compile the answers into a template that we use to help identify patterns. This gives us an easy way to spot trends, but also to continually refer to the data.
We’re also big social stalkers, using Facebook’s Graph Search and other tools to identify what people share, who they are, their interests, where they hang out on the web and other information that we add to the stories we’re creating.
Use other people’s data: Services like comScore and Experian let marketers purchase consumer insights, measuring online behavior and offline attributes to identify important customer segments. This is a great way to collect data on a large segment very quickly.
Over the last 12 years at VerticalResponse we have always been in service to small businesses that are trying to grow. By developing personas around these different potential users of our products and services, as well as where they are in the funnel helps us identify areas of opportunity for our content.
We also recently ungated all our content which may make lead gen people roll their eyes, but we saw an instant increase in the number of downloads our content got. In just two weeks time it increased by 10%. We believe by giving away our content, we are helpful and useful and when it comes time to pick an email service provider, we’ll be top of mind because of it.
You really need to understand the industry. We have a full time staff dedicated to R&D and really helping understand the pain points of specific industries and businesses. Once you can identify these pain points and help create and deliver content that is going to make a difference, that is the first major hurdle you have overcome, then it just becomes a matter of duplicating that process.
The only way I know how to do this is to do the work. Essentially, you need to interview a variety of stakeholders (sales, customers, product marketing, customer service, etc.) until you see patterns develop that point to commonalities. Developing the “right” customer personas means that you let the research point to the personas to develop instead of deciding beforehand which personas you’ll create.
Spend more time with real customers and prospects.
The more time you spend with them, the better your personas and the better your marketing.
A persona is not an excuse to avoid meeting your customers.
Get out there. Buy them coffee. Pick their brains. There’s no shortcut.
The Challenge: Ensuring your content gets viewed, shared, or downloaded after it is created
It’s not enough to just create great content. You’ve got to simultaneously be building strong networks on your key social media platforms. By that I mean investing the time to build real relationships with key people on those networks. Become useful to them, and when you share your content, you’ve got an almost automatic distribution system in place.
We use a combination of social media, direct outreach and newsletters. We’ve found that customizing a post intro for our different audiences (our LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group, our Facebook group, Twitter and Google+) is the most effective. Granted, it’s easier to auto-post and not spend that additional time. But we find that there’s more engagement when people can read a little bit about why a post is important- and then they can click through and learn more.
There’s a clear difference between content marketing and content strategy, and a lot of the leg work comes in during the content strategy and ideation process to help increase the chances of engagement and success. Without writing an essay, the following is part of the solution, assuming we’ve already identified the client’s goals:
Organic amplification. We do an extensive amount of data-driven research in order to create effective ideas that will reach a specific market or persona. During the ideation process, we’ll start identifying authors, bloggers or publications that have an audience with whom the message of our content will resonate. You have to identify the who, what, where, when and why, and collaborate closely with those authors, publishers or bloggers to make sure you’re adding value for both parties. In other words, you need to have a strategic foundation in place that maps out exactly who you’re targeting and why, and with what medium and supporting content pieces, in order to encourage sharing and engagement. This process starts well before content production and execution.
Second: Paid amplification. Marketing and supporting content through select paid channels by segmenting and targeting a specific audience/persona casts a wider, yet highly selective, net and also bolsters the piece if the timing is correct.
Amplification is rooted in the audience. If you’re creating something you know your audience will actually care about, then you tie it all together by figuring out where that audience goes to get their information and who they look up to. Amplification is baked in to the writing process, you can’t just create something and then hope someone needs it. I create with a well-defined audience in mind. When I’m done creating, I start sharing, and I already know where to look.
What I noticed was that there was something that all the big players had in common – they were all sharing each other’s content and linking out to each other. The word most people know this by is influencer marketing and it’s an extremely powerful way to amplify your content.
Think of like this – by finding the influencers within your industry and connecting with them, building a relationship and then finding a way to get them to help share your content you will be able to instantly tap into an established and highly targeted audience.
Doing this is easier than you might think, here’s how to start off the process:
This hinges on getting on the influencers radar and the more content you share of theirs and more ways you engage with them, the better.
First, things first: you have to make sure the content has value.
Creating content doesn’t have to be done in a vacuum. Most companies have user groups or forums. Take advantage of those to test out content topics and drafts. See if the message rings true. Even old customers can put themselves into the shoes of a curious prospect. If there is not a user group, reach out to the top sales folks. See if they’d be willing to pass topic ideas and even content in the works by customers they have great relationships with (it will also make the customer feel more special).
Secondly, simply track downloads. This is not just in outbound campaigns featuring the content, it is also metrics on the number of clicks you get from the content being placed on your webpage. If it’s not been downloaded in months, but it’s been searchable (and findable), you may want to consider the value.
NOW you can consider what to do after the content has been consumed.
You must have a plan in place for “continuing the conversation.” Like a good series of novels (a la Game of Thrones or Twilight), you should have content topic streams… regular new content that stands alone, but also compliments what came before it.
The Challenge: Writing great content with time constraints or a low budget
Budget is a real challenge. First, companies need the right contributors to develop good content. Like social media, there is a real cost to creating a successful content program. Businesses need human and financial resources to generate material that engages audiences. There are content shops that have a lower price of entry and that tend to generate more general content. But the content that really shines — whether it’s a Slideshare, landing page, article, even a Tweet — does so because it is creative, engaging, thoughtful, provocative. That requires investment of some sort.
Sustainable, quality content creation is difficult for many companies. Beyond hiring dedicated content resources, find internal experts and contract writers to fill the gap.
You have to prioritize with goals in mind. Why are you creating content? Who is it aimed at? What are their needs? From there, my thinking is a little different than most. I prefer to produce as much content as needed, but no more. For example, not every client needs big content or ebooks or twice-monthly blogs. Even if they do, I attempt to match the content, in type and frequency, to the needs of the end users, not the desires of the clients. By operating in this manner, we are able to pare needless expenses and focus on the true priorities of the business..
The Challenge: Organizing all the content ideas you have
Regardless of the size of the organization, the more commitment to content creation means more challenges with coordinating topics, contributors and channels. The creation management challenge is often solved by having two important things in place:
The Challenge: Getting upper management to recognize the benefits of content marketing
Although we do provide some writing services, most of what I do now is train companies – and that tends to be a different conversation. Many companies go through sticker shock when they learn how expensive good content actually is. Granted, the ROI is always there – but it’s the initial outlay of “We need to pay how much” that tends to cause things to come to a halt. To address this, I train in-house teams in content development and marketing. That way, the company can do it themselves and they feel empowered. Plus, then they can see the results – so if they need to do more (such as outsource some writing,) they are more clear about the value.
From my experience, it’s not hard to measure the effect of content marketing. Content Marketing is planned content with customer insights used to create specific stories for target audiences. There are goals and measurement from all angles from reach and engagement to actual inquiries, leads and sales.
Gaining executive approval is a matter of showing the value and also the deficiency in not being able to compete with very little or low level content. At least that’s the way we view and implement content marketing.
Data. Data. Data. Higher-ups like a little proof before their pudding is even baked. There is a sufficient amount of research out there now indicating not only the perceived value of content but also the actual positive effect it can have in accelerating the buying cycle. Some great resources are the Content Marketing Institute, Compendium etc.
And if that doesn’t work… print out what your competition is offering and lay it out on a conference room table. That should scare anyone into getting the presses running.
The Challenge: Measuring the ROI of your content so you know you’re not wasting your money and time.
You can’t force clients to spend more, or get them to accept certain ideas – but the key is to show them the fruits of your labour. Do the best you can on the allocated budget, get as many shares, likes, and traffic as you can. Show the client this compared to larger scale content ideas, and simply educate them on the reasons why. When it comes to getting ideas accepted, again simply find a similar idea that has worked well. Education, education, education.
For us this is easy. We set expectations from the beginning as to what that content is suppose to do. Some content is created for sharing, some is created for gaining leads & sales, and some is created for brand awareness. There are so many different types of content, I think you just need to make sure the client understands the purpose.
For example; we might produce an infographic that is highly shareable and that will gain tons of amazing natural links, but get no leads. You must understand by the piece getting traffic, links and shares it will in turn help out the overall search traffic of the site. So you do things like pay attention to the overall search traffic, links, brand mentions, sales, leads etc., depending on the specific purpose of whatever piece of content.
I don’t measure my content marketing in terms of dollars. I measure it in terms of engagement… Are people responding, sharing, visiting my website, and joining my mailing list? This is ROI enough for me.
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