4 minute read
"Why is content marketing so hard?" In one form or another, I have often heard this question from business owners and marketing teams alike. I believe the sentiment stems from the assumption that companies need to create huge volumes of content in order to be successful. Thankfully, this assumption is usually incorrect.
The Idea of "Lean Content Marketing"
Having worked in the field of inbound marketing for most of my career, I have come to understand that the quantity of content does not matter nearly as much as the quality of content. At first blush, this may seem quite obvious. But many fail to consider what defines quality in their content strategy. It's not enough for the content itself -- whether a blog post, whitepaper, video, or something else -- to be well-executed. It must also answer a pressing question for your audience. Misguided but well-executed content is the root cause of the false assumption that content marketing is an arduous task.
I refer to this idea as "lean content marketing," borrowing the well-established business concept of lean manufacturing (producing only what is needed and eliminating waste by being totally in-tune with demand). If you are planning to create a piece of content, resist the temptation to dive right in. First, stop and ask yourself:
Who is the intended audience?
Is the audience even asking this question?
Where would this content fit in the marketing funnel?
Would this content move prospects further down the funnel?
What defines "success" for this content?
Can you measure that success?
If you're not able to answer these questions, you have some more homework to do.
A Tale of Two Projects
The idea of lean content marketing occurred to me as a result of two content projects in particular. At the time, I was working for a B2B human resources software company. The leadership had decided a key value proposition of the product was that it helped clients think strategically about their businesses. With that in mind, they tasked me with crafting a whitepaper about how to be a more strategic thinker. Months of research, writing, editing, graphic design, and printing went into this piece, and when it was complete, I have to admit I was extremely proud of it. To date, it was one of the best things I had ever written, and I was thrilled to share it with current and prospective clients.
The weeks went by, and I anxiously began checking the download stats from the website and the field sales utilization of the professionally printed hard copies. Much to my chagrin, this piece had the least amount of downloads of anything else on the site, and the hard copies were gathering dust. We had put all this work into a great whitepaper, and for what?
Around the same time, a salesperson requested my help in updating an outdated chart from the company intranet. It was a training document showing which federal employment laws businesses had to comply with at a certain number of employees (for example, if you have 10 or more employees, you have to comply with X; if you have 50 or more employees, you have to comply with Y, and so on). Pretty dry stuff, right? Still, I worked with the legal department to bring the chart's information up to date, spiffed up the document with our colors and logo, and just for kicks, made it available for download from the website.
Imagine my surprise when, upon checking the stats a few weeks later, this boring little chart had the most downloads of nearly any piece of content we had ever produced! The whole process of updating and redesigning the document probably took me less than an hour, and yet our audience was loving it! That's when it dawned on me -- the audience found this chart, dry as it seemed to me, to be incredibly useful. They weren't concerned with becoming better at strategy as much as they were concerned with not getting in trouble with the government. If we as marketers had understood this insight about our audience, we could have created so many more useful and effective pieces of content in all the time we wasted on that strategy whitepaper nobody wanted to read.
Do Your Homework
Nobody likes to add to a project's lead time, especially in today's "We need results NOW!" environment, but your mom was right: haste makes waste. Take the time to do your homework on what your audience actually needs from you content-wise before you go out and start creating things willy-nilly.
For those of you out there that don't even know where to start, let's go back to the example of the federal law chart. This was content that already existed within the organization as an internal training document. It just needed updating and finessing before it was ready for prime-time. So don't think you have to start from scratch. Chances are, you already have the foundations for several great pieces of content -- they just need a little love!
Content marketing doesn't have to be complicated or scary. All it takes is the discipline to find out what questions your audience is really asking and the commitment to answering those questions in a useful and straightforward way. If you can repurpose something you already have on hand, so much the better. Either way, your research and targeted effort will pay off!