For so long, we have been taught that marketing is about persuading people to buy something. It's about the end result -- the sale. Well things have changed and marketing has evolved. Yes, many online marketing processes are still about that end result, but there's a another way to build loyal subscribers to your brand, and it's not about selling, it's about providing something valuable -- information. That is the essence of content marketing. What's the hardest part of content marketing? Now that's a good question.

The Question

What is the hardest part of Content Marketing and how does one do it well?

The Responses

Deb Lavoy -- OpenText

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Deb Louison Lavoy has been studying what makes collaboration, organizations, marketing and complex systems work since the early 1990’s. She has lead teams in every size and stage of technology company, and seen both phenomenal successes and confounding failures. Driven by the need to understand the differences between them, she has been researching, writing and consulting in team, product and marketing strategy ever since. In the last several years, she has lead product and marketing strategy for organizational design and software enabled collaboration - launching the Purpose Driven Speaker Series, restructuring marketing approaches and roadmap structures at OpenText, a $1B enterprise software company. Learn more about Deb on her blog, her twitter stream and her linkedIn profile.

At one point most advertising was designed to build brand awareness and convey a brand message. Then the Internet came along and we measured every click, and a lot of marketing investment started to pool down toward the lower, more measurable end of the sales funnel. But the top of the funnel is equally important. The goal of content marketing is to be a valued contributor to the market and as a result build trust and confidence prior to a purchase decision.

Great content marketers reject that “buy or fly” view of viewers and try to turn it into “see and stay”. You need high quality content that represents a point of view or unique expertise, of course, but you must recognize that you are not (only) trying to snatch leads with content marketing, but to grow audience and community. You want ensure that you maintain as many relationships as possible - regardless of whether or not that person will ever become a customer. So - aside from ensuring that you have excellent content, the key to success with content marketing is ensuring that you have an excellent way to stay in touch - that every interaction with a viewer can lead to another interaction with that viewer, whether through notifications, social media or some other clever thing.

If you master this, then your content marketing is building broad credibility and awareness with an ever-growing audience, expanding the size and impact of your footprint in the market.

Scott Paley -- Abstract Edge

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Scott Paley is the Managing Partner and Chief Marketing Strategist at Abstract Edge, a digital marketing agency that has launched new brands for Clairol and The Century Foundation, inspired a million moms to march on Washington, assisted American Idol’s fight against malaria, and helped Discover Magazine increase web traffic by more than 500%. Follow him on twitter @spaley.

Content Marketing is simple. It's "Marketing 101." You break down your organizational goals. You figure out what motivates and interests your audiences. You segment. You look at the buying cycle. You create content for each stage -- content that taps into the lizard brain, that educates, builds trust, entertains. You make it about them, not about you. You work on snappy, shareable, keyword-rich headlines. You push it out on social networks and to your permission-based email list. You track results closely and A/B test to improve.

Well, it's simple in concept, that is.

In practice, it's a lot harder than that. Consistency and follow-through are the hardest part, especially for smaller organizations without dedicated staff. We've all seen this, right? A new content strategy kicks off. The team has great ideas. Everyone is excited and motivated. For a couple of months there's a steady stream of blog posts, premium content, white papers, eBooks, podcasts. But Rome wasn't built in a day and Content Marketing, usually, isn't a quick fix strategy. Success takes time. But, without frequent, significant, and obvious wins, initial enthusiasm can fade. I've been guilty of this myself on my own company's blog (note how few posts we've published this year.)

So how do you resolve this? One way is to plan out a long-term editorial calendar. Sure it needs to be flexible so you can address timely issues or "newsjack." But those become short-term editorial decisions. Then, you must make specific staff members accountable for the calendar. With this kind of structure, you know you have a framework in place for when you're feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed with all of the other things you need to get done.

Also, acknowledge and celebrate small wins. Did your last blog post drive more action (however you define it) than the previous one? Did you get a nice comment? Did you click-through rate improve? Did you get new subscribers? By tuning into to, and celebrating, incremental progress it's easier to stay motivated and not let your Content Marketing plan sit on the back burner.

Marcus Sheridan -- The Sales Lion

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Marcus is the founder of The Sales Lion, a Marketing/Sales consulting company focused on helping small and large organizations develop a culture of content and inbound marketing. He also speaks around the world with fire and passion. He is the author of 3 Published Self-Help Paperback Books, Co-Owner of one of the largest inground fiberglass swimming pool companies on the East Coast and a Professional Blogger.

What's the hardest part of content marketing? Ahh, that's tough to say and I don't think I can possibly say just one...so we'll do two. ;-)

1. Create a CULTURE of Content Marketing: Most people see content marketing as a tool. That's sad, it really is, because when done right, content marketing is the furthest thing from a tool. In fact, content marketing is an attitude. It's a way of seeing your organization. It's a culture where each person understands the "Why" of what it is that they do.

For example, let's say you talk to an employee that views content marketing simply as a tool. If you ask that person why they blog, or produce eBooks, etc.-- you'll likely get a response like this: "We do content marketing to generate more leads and attract more customers."

But ask that same question to someone in a company that sees content marketing as a culture and they'll say the following: "We are a company of teachers. That's what we do. If someone has asked the question, we want to be their source for the answers. We do this not only because it leads to increased web visitors, leads, and sales -- but we also do it because we care, and we love what we do."

See the difference? It's a big one.

2. Guts: OK, this one will be short and sweet, but it's very important. Most companies don't have much guts when they produce content. They're afraid to have opinions. They fearful of getting negative reactions to them taking a stand to a particular subject in their industry. This is unfortunate, because great content marketing isn't achieved by living in the world of grey where there are no right and wrong answers. Rather, great content takes a stand. And this is exactly what most companies sorely lack with their writing and other pieces of content.

Carla Johnson -- Type A Communications

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  Carla has a 20+ year career helping companies tell better stories. Since launching her agency, Type A Communications, in 2001, she has helped multi-national companies, government agencies and local organizations build stronger brands through content marketing and storytelling. Her clients have included companies such as Motorola Solutions, Sybase, VMWare, TeleTech, Encana Oil & Gas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Carla’s a frequent speaker and contributing author to the book, “Advice From the Top: The Expert Guide to B2B Marketing,” and writes articles on the power of storytelling and content marketing for high-tech, industrial and business audiences.

When you’re just beginning to dip your toes in the waters of content marketing, you may feel intimidated by the ocean of information available about what to do, how to execute it and the need to measure everything. It certainly can appear overwhelming.

When I see companies struggling with content marketing and building meaningful engagement, it’s generally because they haven’t invested enough time and thought in the up-front work. No, not the strategy. It’s before that. It’s taking the time to ask and answer the questions about “why” content marketing even matters in the first place:

  • Why do we want to shift to content marketing from our traditional marketing approach?
  • Why is our story different and unique from those around us?
  • Why should someone listen to us?
  • Why will our employees/experts want to generate content?

The answers to these questions will serve as the foundation for the story you’re trying to tell. And figuring out why your story matters -- most importantly to you -- is the toughest challenge in the content marketing journey. Because the story is what engages people, and moves them along the path from a person to a prospect to a customer and ultimately to an evangelist for your brand. It doesn’t matter how many blogs, white papers, web pages, case studies, articles and so forth you pump out, if they’re not supporting a bigger story your efforts will lack context. And content initiatives that lack context will always suffer when you begin to measure their effect and prove their worth.

What’s the common thread that connects all of your content? What’s the difference you’re trying to make in this world of your customers and your industry? That’s your story.

Billy Cripe -- Bloom Thinks

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Billy Cripe is the founder and Principal BloomThinker of BloomThink -- a social media strategy consultancy. Billy is an Oracle E2.0 ACE. He is author of the book “Two Types of Collaboration and Ten Requirements for Using Them” (2010 Smashwords) and Co-author of the book “Reshaping Your Business With Web 2.0” (2008 McGraw-Hill). He has held positions ranging from Vice President of Marketing, Director of Enterprise 2.0 Product Management, Director of Sales Enablement and Consultant. He is a recognized speaker, author and evangelist for Enterprise 2.0 and social computing. Follow him on twitter: @billycripe and his blog.

Content marketing is an absolutely immense topic. It can span everything from social media to traditional print and mass media and even event marketing. Great content marketing is a grind. Doing it well requires patience, persistence & productivity. To me and my BloomThink customers, content marketing means giving away high quality information, insight & tools to boost awareness, spur a transaction & deepen relationships. Your goals vary depending on where the customer is along her journey with your brand. But ultimately, content marketing helps organizations guide, speed & shortcut that journey rather than only showing up at the finish line.

Great content marketing requires patience. You must be patient to understand the needs, wants and motivations at different stages of the customer journey. That means paying attention, listening and showing up in all those places where your customers hang out. Are they on bulletin boards or Pinterest? Are they looking up answers on StackOverflow or Recipes on foodnetwork.com. It takes a bit of "customer anthropology" to figure this out. Then realize that different kinds of customers are in different places and each have separate needs.

Great content marketing requires persistence. Your early stage prospects are likely researching you along with competitors. You want to delight & entertain them with insightful content. Infographics, videos and content with a "cool factor" will help you get their attention. Fresh content is important. But remember that freshness is in the eye of the customer. This gives you a key ability to re-use and re-mix your content and get it out there. So definitely re-use but never overwhelm. And please don't make the all-too-common mistake of simply re-blasting content that contains dated material. Statistics, URLs, and events are especially dangerous. So get into the grind and update, update, update.

Great content marketing requires that you are productive. When customers are ready, provide some more detailed content. Case studies, whitepapers, customer testimonials and user generated content really shine here. This informs them of the deeper value you provide. When you include user generated content (like Facebook comments, ratings and user group threads) you let your current happy customers persuade. Their voice is always trusted more than yours. But your happy customers are also more willing to listen/read/watch your content. So make sure you are productive with getting great content into their hands and empowering and encouraging them to share it as well. This helps to drive decisions.

Good content can be a grind. Doing it well requires patience, persistence & productivity. Consumers require value not gimmicks. Make lives, transactions & decisions easier. Provide genuine, unique insight. Give to get.

Loni Kao Stark -- Adobe

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As director of product & industry marketing for Adobe's Digital Marketing Solutions, Loni Stark leads a team responsible for defining solutions and go-to-market strategies essential to CMOs and digital marketers worldwide. Stark has over 14 years experience helping businesses apply technology to optimize critical functions to meet business objectives including building brand awareness and driving consumer demand. Stark co-founded Stark Insider, a west coast online magazine covering technology, theater, arts, wine and food to over half a million readers/year. She holds a masters in management science and engineering from Stanford University..

Creating and sharing content that people care about, that is authentic and interesting enough to incite reaction and to make it available at the point it is most useful to your audience. That is hard. To do it at a scale and consistency needed to build a global business. That is really hard.

Customers connect most with companies that do content marketing well. It is at the heart of successful campaigns, online properties and mobile apps. And because it is difficult to do, companies that do it well, such as Nike, stand out and build a differentiated brand.

Companies that do it well obsess about understanding their customers. Not only what makes them buy a product or service, but also how someone wants to use and enjoy the product long after the first transaction. These companies side-step their ego. They realize that their interactions don’t happen in a vacuum, it is within a broader customer context. Being aware of this, actually contributing content that elevates someone’s use and enjoyment of the product, is key to creating content that people care about.

Secondly, with the explosion of channels and devices, having the right technology to support content marketing is critical. Tools enable smart organizations to excel in content marketing. Although digital marketing solutions such as Web Experience Management are not silver bullets, if a marketing organization has the wrong tools, they may find themselves in a horse race riding a dog. The right tools will let organizations create compelling content, manage it effectively, deliver and personalize it across channels and continually optimize this cycle.