Discussion by Samuel Zeller

If you have any doubts about the imperative of content marketing, just turn your attention to Cleveland and Boston this week. 

Thousands of people are meeting in both cities for two of the industry’s biggest content conferences — and both are championing the idea that marketing’s not all aboutbatch and blast.

In Cleveland, the Content Marketing Institute is hosting Content Marketing World, while Cambridge, Mass.-based HubSpot is hosting its annual customer conference,INBOUND, in Boston. 

Showcases aside, content marketing comes down, to, well, content, right? But maybe it's not all about content — maybe it's also about the right people, processes and technologies.

The Question

What's the most important part of a content marketing program?  

The Answers

Dorie Clark, Professor, Consultant and Author

headshot of dorie clark

Clark is an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the author of Reinventing You andStand Out. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Time and Entrepreneur. 

Recognized as a branding expert by the Associated Press and Fortune, Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients including Google, Microsoft, Yale University, Fidelity and the World Bank. Tweet to Dorie Clark

Probably the most critical element of my content marketing program is repurposing everything I create strategically. I'll often write a blog post — my initial piece of content — because I want to connect with someone. 

So the interview initially serves a networking purpose. Writing the blog creates a valuable piece of content that can then be re-used in multiple ways.

For example, I'll create up to 10 tweets from that post based on interesting quotes in the story or summary points. 

Because I have a large repository of content, I can also repost the articles on my LinkedIn profile several years later, and to many readers, they'll be fresh and new. Soon, I'm going to start posting quote cards on Instagram, as well.

We all have a limited amount of time, and while it's essential to create a lot of content, you can't constantly be writing new material. Being smart about how you repurpose it can save you time and hassle, while ensuring your online ubiquity.

Jake DiMare, Digital Strategist, Agency Oasis

Jake DiMare

DiMare has worked in digital marketing for the past 15 years designing, building and optimizing digital customer experiences for a variety of client partners in entertainment, lifestyle, transportation, publishing, health and higher education. With a strong focus on enterprise content management, measurement and optimization, and marketing automation, DiMare focuses on the business impact of placing customers at the center of fully cohesive and seamless digital customer experiences. Tweet to Jake DiMare

From my perspective, the answer is easy but counter-intuitive. The most important aspect of a content marketing program is strategy. When done properly, content marketing is an incredibly powerful and effective way to drive awareness and mid-funnel conversions. However, done improperly, it’s an incredible waste of time and money, while simultaneously burning out resources and negatively impacting customer’s perception of the brand.

I say this is counter-intuitive because many people I encounter tend to focus on the technology. Interestingly, the very fact that it is so easy to spool up WordPress sites is why we often find vast content marketing programs that are completely divorced from the overall marketing strategy of an organization. Rogue sites that act as a virtual content cul-de-sac, contributing nothing to the pipeline and often not well aligned with the brand or organizational goals.

The building blocks of a good content marketing strategy will include a meaningful understanding of the audiences served, what the customer journey looks like and where content marketing fits in it, how success will be measured, what the conversions are and how the technology and experience snaps into the overall digital customer experience.

An excellent strategy will also include elements of a more traditional content strategy, including a content style guide, message architecture and fundamental information around workflow and governance to make management easier. It’s possible the voice and tone style guide for content marketing could be subtly different from other categories of content representing the brand, so it’s not necessarily acceptable to simply hand over a dusty old brand style guide.  

Finally, as we all know, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — so the strategy must include consideration for measurement. For this, I recommend focusing in on what author and blogger Avinash Kaushik refers to as the critical few metrics of success, associated with your content marketing program. The key thing is to remember that content marketing, like any form of marketing, exists in service of higher order business goals and objectives like driving revenue.  

Kashyap Kompella, Research Director, Real Story Group

head shot of Kashyap Kompella of real story group

Kompella is a research director with Real Story Group (RSG), a technology industry analyst firm, and leads its research on digital marketing and social collaboration technologies. He also leads RSG’s quantitative research and is its chief data scientist. Tweet to Kashyap Kompella

Let’s tweak the classic 4Ps of Marketing: Purpose, Product, Process and Promotion. These 4Ps are content marketing’s critical success factors.

Purpose: What purpose does your content serve? What customer need does it speak to? It's easy to forget these first principles in the clamor to create content. But spray and pray seldom works. Stay laser-focused. A clearly defined purpose helps you measure performance, course-correct when you are drifting and aligns content marketing with the overall marketing KPIs.

Product: You can pick any two: Quality. Quantity. Yes, both of them. And circa 2015, your content portfolio should go beyond blogs and white papers. It should also include e-books, FAQs, slide decks, case examples, infographics, pop quizzes, ROI estimators, images and videos.

Process: No one said it’s going to be easy. That’s where process discipline comes in. Define your content calendar, identify experts dispersed across the organization (memo to marketing: don’t fly solo here), cajole them to tell their stories and stick to the plan. Be prepared for a marathon. This is no sprint.

Promotion: This is the toughest part. It is really, really noisy out there. Don’t budget just for content production but allocate enough resources for content promotion and distribution. Experiment with different channels to see what works best for your industry. Run campaigns and reel in audiences with progressive depth — bite, snack, meal.

To conclude: Go on and crack the 4P code. Content marketing can be your marketing mix element with the maximum leverage.

Kipp Bodnar, Chief Marketing Officer, HubSpot

headshot of kipp bodnar, chief marketing officer at hubspot

Bodnar sets HubSpot’s inbound marketing strategy, which focuses on driving awareness and demand for inbound marketing globally. 

Before becoming CMO, he served as vice president of marketing for the company, overseeing demand generation activity worldwide, hiring and building out marketing teams in Europe, the Middle East and Asia as well as Asia Pacific, building out a content team and managing HubSpot’s field marketing, localization, strategic partnerships and social media efforts. He is co-author of The B2B Social Media Book. Tweet to Kipp Bodnar

It’s all about context. Each customer, each audience has a specific set of problems and context allows companies to address these problems and solve for them on a personal level.

Today’s buyer demands a certain level of excellence from businesses. 

Thanks to tools like social media and the Internet, buyers can gather information and make decisions before they even make their first contact with your business. Your marketers and salespeople are no longer in control of the buyer-seller relationship — the balance has shifted toward the buyer.

Luckily for marketers, there are a wealth of technologies available that were created to help meet the discerning tastes of the modern buyer. 

These tools can help businesses perform the critical task of gathering and tracking data at every interaction. This information facilitates the understanding your business has of the prospect and is paramount to providing context for the modern marketer.

Once you collect enough data from your prospects, you have to understand them. 

And that means knowing their pain points, what they care about and what success means to them. 

Then, your business can create tailored and tactical content, delivered to specific prospects at exactly the right moment based on their unique needs.

Many businesses can solve their customers’ problems, but with the right amount of information and context, you have the ability to go beyond and truly delight them.

Got a question for this Discussion Point series? Contact Staff Reporter Dom Nicastro.