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

DebLavoy.jpg 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

scott-paley.jpg 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

marcus-sheridan.jpg 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 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

carla-johnson.jpg  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.