Content Marketing isn't exactly new, but it's certainly come mainstream with the evolution of the Internet and recognition that the online customer experience should be as much about engaging and building loyal subscribers as it is about selling products and services. The two go hand in hand these days.

To learn a little more about content marketing and how it helps engage customers, we spoke with Robert Rose, Senior Analyst at Digital Clarity Group and co-author of Managing Content Marketing.

Q: When did you first recognize this need for brands to become storytellers?

Well certainly the idea of “brand as storyteller” isn’t new. There are some amazing people that have been proposing this for twenty or more years. But I think what is new -- and something that I discovered really about 5 years ago is that there are three ideas coming together simultaneously.

There’s this notion of content being both easier to publish, and easier to search and consume digitally. Then, there’s this idea of the “experience economy” to engage customers at a deeper level. And, finally, there’s the idea of Content Marketing -- using content to pull and aggregate -- so that you earn and own audiences rather than just rent the space to present to them.

When you put all this together the idea of brand as storyteller takes on a whole new meaning. This is because it’s no longer just a “branding” perspective -- but rather transforming demand generation marketing into a media/publishing organization that services the entire lifecycle of our customers.

Q: Does every organization have a customer journey? What can they do to understand what it is?

Wow am I glad you asked that. Yes, they *really* do. Everyone has a customer journey.

That means everyone from you as a person -- to the ‘you’ that’s a Fortune 100 company to the ‘you’ that’s a government agency.

For you as a person it might be to influence your way into a new job. Or, it might be to convince your wife that you need those new golf clubs. Or -- it might be that you have to facilitate a million customers to buy your new tablet computer, or effectively inform 10 million constituents what progress you’re making on their behalf.

In any regard there’s an engagement journey that your customer goes through -- and the key to understanding it is to understand your audience. The key is knowing these people as people -- not as a demographic, a title or a segment of population. Who are these people -- and why do they care about us.

Editor's Note: Get more of Robert's content marketing insights in our free August 8th webinar: Webinar: Rethinking Web Engagement — Leading with Content Marketing. It's going to be a great one!

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your “new” marketing funnel, mentioned in your book “Managing Content Marketing”?

Sure… the new marketing department is now charged with much more than just driving leads into the organization. We’re more than just the “brand” guys who take long lunches and don’t do much.

We now have direct responsibility of not only driving sales -- but in keeping that customer, upselling them, retaining them and ultimately turning them into an engaged, brand subscriber.

I can’t tell you how many companies I go into where marketing is “not allowed” to communicate to customers. That’s just crazy.

Simultaneously, I go into companies where marketers have never ever talked with a customer. That’s even crazier.

As marketers -- we have the opportunity to be more strategic than ever for the organization these days. We have so much power. But, as Uncle Ben in Spiderman says -- with that great power comes great responsibility.

Q: What kinds of resistance to content marketing have you received? (e.g. from people with well-oiled systems and process in place or simply resistance to change)

Well, I dare say no one these days has a well-oiled machine. Or, if it is -- the question is, how long until the oil needs changing?

The landscape of business is changing so fast today -- it’s just a matter of time until any business is out-marketed. I’m also happy to say that the “building the business” case (formerly the biggest resistance) has come down every year in the study that CMI does with MarketingProfs every year, and is now below 10%.

The biggest resistance I actually see these days is businesses feeling like they can’t “feed the content monster”. I think and (I hope) that businesses will learn that this isn’t true.

Q: How do you get the organization to buy into this new approach to marketing? And who is responsible for this cross-organizational team?

The key to getting an organization to buy into the approach varies by their hunger level -- but the proof is in the actual results. I often advise managers who are just starting to build a business case -- pick your worst performing tactic and just start to apply a content marketing strategy to it. As it improves -- use that saving to add another and another. So, instead of jumping in head first -- built it iteratively.

The key is looking at new models of valuing consumer engagement.

I have a paper coming out on this shortly that covers this in more depth. The “who is responsible” varies widely -- and of course Joe and I detail out the roles in the book.

But ideally, you have a Chief Content Officer (this does not have to be a VP or Executive level position). This person serves as the lead storyteller for the organization and organizes the content much like a publisher does at a media outlet.

Q: What skills are needed to implement a content marketing strategy? Are new roles being defined?

Indeed, all the time. The Chief Content Officer and the Managing Editor are two notable ones. I think communication and storytelling are the new master skills that every marketer needs to have to stay competitive.

Q: Where’s the ROI in content marketing? What kind of stats/reports best demonstrate its success (or failure) to senior management?

So, to be clear -- ROI is a result, not an equation to be proven. I’ve seen so many marketing (content marketing and otherwise) fall on their face because of either a demand or some mistaken promise of ROI. Businesses can’t *prove* ROI so why is it that it’s demanded of the marketing department prior to the start of what is inherently a new and creative endeavor.

All that said, a business case can and should be made for content marketing -- and a measurement plan is extraordinarily important to help improve our process over time.

There are 3 keys to measurement:

The first key is understanding what KPI’s you need to help you improve that process to reach the business case goal. Your goal will differ greatly by what part of the funnel you’re trying to affect (see new marketing funnel above).  

The second key is to ONLY report to senior management what is absolutely necessary to illustrate your progress to stakeholders.

For example, if my goal with content marketing is to increase leads, decrease my cost-per-lead by 10% and spend no extra budget, then, I should know EVERY KPI associated with that goal -- page views, blog subscribers, landing page conversions (whatever your tactics are). But I’m only going to report three numbers to my senior management team for that goal -- number of leads, my current budget percentage and my cost per lead. Everything else is only there to help me improve my process.

The third and last key is knowing WHEN to report those numbers. I’ve seen so many programs get thrown out because they don’t *immediately* provide cost-savings, when they need time to grow and create the real results.

Q: Where do you see content marketing going in the next 5 years?

The real focus over the next few years is going to be on telling stories over myriad channels -- mobile, social etc… and in delivering quality content that can rise above the noise.

There will be technology hurdles for sure and experiments in search, and sharing, and curation and personalization, and contextual awareness and all that will be very noisy in the content marketing space.

I believe the key to long-term success is figuring out how the organization is different. What DIFFERENT story can we tell that will matter to our customers -- and that represents who we REALLY are as a company.

Building passionate subscribers to what stories we tell, and what needs and wants we solve as a company will be so much more important than what our product actually does (though they need to be great don’t get me wrong).

In short -- anyone can copy our product these days. But it will be the myths, the shared stories, the emotional experiences we create around those products will be what differentiate us over the long haul.

Pick up a copy of Robert's book, Managing Content Marketing or follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

Editor's Note: To get even more of Robert's insights on content marketing, sign up for our free August 8th webinar: Webinar: Rethinking Web Engagement — Leading with Content Marketing. It's going to be a great one!