The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers

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By Karen Webber

This morning I spoke at the Figaro Digital Conference as part of the Digital 21s series. It’s an interesting concept: speakers present 21 slides, with only 21 seconds allowed per slide. I found it challenging to keep the focus on quality content with a giant stopwatch breathing down my neck, but gave it my best and spoke about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers.

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Of course, a lot remained unsaid, so I wanted to elaborate on a few of my points in a blog post.

Habit 1: Data-driven content strategies

One of the main things that set effective content marketers apart from the rest is that they have advanced content strategies in place. These strategies are driven by data which informs the development of buyer personas. In a B2B context, prospects complete two-thirds of their buying cycle before they make themselves known to vendors, so effective content marketers use personas to develop highly relevant content to resonate with their prospects in these early, anonymous stages.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking data = analytics. You need to make use of multiple data sources when developing your personas and informing your content strategy, as your existing analytics will not tell you what you need to know about the people you’re not yet engaging.

It’s also not about big data any more. Effective content marketers are able to take big data sets and interpret and personalise it. It’s no longer good enough to target “ABC1″ or even “30-something mums in Manchester”; you need to find a way to form a connection with individuals who are engaging with your content right this minute. Effective content marketers use data to personalise the whole brand experience.

Wearables are both a great challenge and opportunity in this regard. Consider this: Someone wearing a BodyMedia FIT Armband transmits 5,000 data points a minute – that’s 2.4 million data points a day. We’re not there quite yet, but effective content marketers will be able to harness huge data sets like these to create highly relevant, personalised brand experiences through content.

There is a temptation when looking at data and creating buyer personas to get hung up on minutiae. You don’t necessarily need to have tonnes of meetings to discuss the names of your personas or debate whether or not they have a dog. Yes, personas should “humanise” the behavioural model, but extra characteristics are only relevant if they affect whether or not someone will perform the actions you want them to perform when engaging with your content.

Habit 2: Write it down

Content strategies have to be written down, but nearly six in ten organisations admit to not having a documented content strategy. I bet you marketers in those companies underperform, because without a written-down strategy, they can’t convey their mission to their teams and stakeholders, they’ll struggle to get buy-in and budget, and have difficulty forecasting and measuring success.

In fact, effective content marketers write more in general. Sure, you don’t have to be a good content creator to be effective at content marketing, but it helps. So keep your writing skills fresh and immerse yourself in your industry by writing for the intranet, your company blog, external sites, on forums and on LinkedIn’s Publishing Platform, which is currently being rolled out to all users.

Habit 3: Give the people what they want, right?

There’s debate over whether Henry Ford really was the one responsible for this great quote, but let’s go with it. The relevance here is that while buyers and personas need to be at the centre of content strategies, this doesn’t necessarily mean giving them exactly what they want all the time.

What you should do is innovate in order to surprise and delight your audience. If you only tick the boxes of things your audience asked for, you risk a competitor coming along and sweeping them off their feet by giving them something better – something unexpected that delights and surprises.

The enemy of innovation is doing something “because that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Effective content marketers have an agile approach that allows them to innovate constantly. Look at your audience – observe closely how their behaviour changes and look critically at the message you’re trying to convey. Is your strategy still fit for purpose?

Innovation requires content marketers to tap into both their left and right brains – data working with creativity. It’s all about balancing a whacky idea with cold, hard facts, or coming up with a genius content campaign inspired by delving deep into your analytics.

Habit 4: Be selective (or just don’t do it)

 

I have a Steve Jobs quote up in my office (I know, how original) which helps me be a more effective marketer. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

Effective, selective content marketers aren’t afraid to say no: to bad ideas, to “content for the sake of content”, to being on all social networks “because we have to be” and to doing things the way they’ve always been done. They can be confidently decisive, because their choices are driven by a deep knowledge of their buyer personas and overall objectives.

They also select really good teams. David Ogilvy famously said that the way to build a company of giants is for managers to hire people who are bigger than they are. That means saying goodbye to ego and understanding that no individual can be an expert at everything, so you need to find the best people or service providers for each element of your content marketing.

To build a strong team, you need to have:
a) Flexible but firm processes to guide actions.
b) A culture of content, where content marketing moves beyond the marketing department to become an ingrained part of the organisation which is contributed to by lots of people
c) Confidence that anything you outsource is entrusted to a service provider who specialises in content marketing, has a good track record, and offers you lots of choice and flexibility.

Habit 5: Money-minded (aka but what’s the ROI?)

Effective content marketers understand that in the end it’s about return on investment, and that they have to be able to prove your value. They do this through measurement and reporting in a way that explains the value of social shares, traffic and so on in business terms, as a contribution to overall company objectives. Numbers remain the best way to shut down any excuses or arguments about budget and resource. Technology already helps effective content marketers a lot in this regard, and technology is also where they will spend much of their hard-won budgets in the coming years.

Habit 6: Embrace marketing technology

By 2017, CMOs’ tech spend will eclipse that of CIOs. Marketing technology is a complex landscape to navigate, but effective content marketers embrace it. This means building relationships with IT and upskilling your teams – now. I highly recommend this webinar and presentation by our CTO Janaka Abeywardhana if you want to understand the importance of technology for marketing and what you need to do to get in the best position for this new way of working.

Habit 7: Social networking IRL

You can’t be a highly effective content marketer if you live behind your screen(s). You need to take time out from your daily grind to invest in your own development, and to network and collaborate with your peers. While Hangouts and Skype are good, they’re no replacement for in-person relationship building.

In conclusion

No effective content marketer will claim marketing with content is a silver bullet. It’s a long game – a marathon, not a sprint. So what we need to cultivate is good habits, and then we need to be relentless at sticking to them. We become what we repeatedly do, so keep doing what effective content marketers do.

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