James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

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Opinions, ideas and ramblings

What CMOs Should Do Before Creating a Single Piece of Content Marketing

The comedian and social critic George Carlin was constantly accused of being a cynic. He once responded by saying, “Actually, I’m a disappointed optimist.”

The same could be said for today’s shoppers, whether they’re looking for a washing machine or a web server.

They’re tired of hyped, self-serving, exclamation mark-filled marketing messages that try to appear “personalized”. 

No wonder why content marketing is all the rage these days. By providing value and forming trusted relationships before asking for a sale, you ultimately turn followers into customers.

But more and more I see cases, especially from less experienced companies, where “content” turns out to be nothing but PR pieces in disguise.

They’re missing the most important step in content marketing: What to do before the concepting, writing, designing and filming begins.

Go back to the objective

There are two kinds of content. Either it’s valuable or it’s useless.

Valuable content informs and educates. Readers learn and think, even smile and laugh. You give away something beneficial so people will pay attention to your brand.

You can help them make smarter technology buying decisions, improve their accounting process, overcome challenges in their personal lives, learn how to cook healthier food, the list goes on.

Over time, as they continue to engage with your content, they’ll automatically think of you when they need a product or service in your category.

Then there’s useless content. Company updates, new product announcements, blog posts about your wonderful hiring practices, videos of employees saying how much they love working there.

This is not content; these are commercials.

When you understand the true purpose of content – to provide valuable knowledge, data and advice – you’ll help the sales team and avoid disaster.

That’s because ads masquerading as content only hurt your reputation and turn people away for a long time, maybe forever. And that’s something you can’t measure. General rule: The less you mention your company or use “we”, the more effective the content (At most, a company logo will do just fine).

Also, when you don’t understand the real objective, in turn you won’t know what your hired or contracted content pros require to do their best work. That means arbitrary expectations, and fingers pointing in the wrong direction when you don’t get the desired results. Not pretty.

Understand the “why”

All content decisions require a rationale and justification. The “why”. Every ebook, blog post, infographic, video and thought leadership piece has to map back to the messaging, the positioning, the brand values.

But some executives place orders for content before they’ve clearly positioned the company, clarified the key messages, or formed coherent opinions regarding the issues that shape their industry.

Before randomly deciding your content plan will include this, that and the other, spend considerable time tightening up your positioning and messaging.Then connect the dots between strategy and content. Your content team is expected to make suggestions, but they can’t be expected to read minds.

Clarify your point of view

List out the key issues and trends (maybe 5-10) that affect your industry. Jot down your point of view for each one so you’re prepared for content like ebooks, blog posts and thought leadership pieces.

For example, if you run a dairy farm, you’re probably affected by the GMO debate. What’s your take? Is that opinion consistent with your desired perception? If you work at an education technology company, you might have to address the organization’s view on the digital divide. Does that belief sync with your positioning?

These exercises, and the discussions they inspire, help to form genuine consensus about the topics that will form the content strategy. The greater the consensus, the more successful your content practice.

Create a culture of content

Content pros don’t just work within the confines of marketing. They potentially have to gather subject matter expertise and opinions from people in sales, accounting, HR, product management and engineering.

In that light, it’s imperative to inform the entire company about the content initiative. Send out a series of emails, announce progress during weekly company meetings, whip up a short video.

But you need to do more than merely announce the birth of the content practice. Since non-marketing folks rarely know about content’s true purpose, provide context and explain why content is integral for a healthy bottom line.

Explain how reach, and thus exposure, multiplies big time when employees share company content with their personal social networks.

Send them links about social selling and how people trust their connections more than brands.

When you educate employees about the value of content, they’ll understand what you’re doing and be more apt to lend a hand. 

Hire a social pro

Content marketing is only as effective as the social media that promotes it. If you can, choose a dedicated expert to manage your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms.

Sure, in the 21st century everyone needs some semblance of “all-purpose” in their repertoire. But social media has become a distinct discipline. There’s a difference between knowing which buttons to press and knowing how to get the best results.

And I’m not being cynical.