Building good systems is challenging. To build a content machine, for instance, you need to create content that aligns to what your audience wants and you need to get it out to the right places, all in an efficient, cost-effective way. Doing all that and then ensuring your system scales as you get better and need more content – when you’re in the middle of a transformation – is even harder. However, given how important it is to create good content, it’s well worth the time and effort to build as good a content machine as you can.
There is a lot of information out on the Internet on creating good content so I’m just going to bring up a few pitfalls I’ve seen others run into, so that you can avoid them. The first few, listed in this blog post, are about planning your content. We’ll deal with actually creating content in another post.
Account for Format Preferences
People learn differently. Some need to see informational graphically. Others need to experience it themselves. Still others need a combination of written material reinforced by audio. Which ways does your target buyer prefer to learn? If you don’t already have some information about the learning style and content format preferences from your persona research, do more research and find out. There is no point in making content without knowing what your target is most receptive to.
Mind you, I’m not talking about the messages contained in your content and whether they address the concerns of your target buyer or speak in that buyer’s language. You still have to do that. However, the breakdown I’ve seen the most often is where content creators make content in the format they are most comfortable in without ever bothering to think about what their target buyer might prefer. Don’t fall into this trap. Ensure your transformation content creation checklist has a spot right near the top that confirms someone checked the preferred formats and that the creative brief for the content clearly specifies that this is the buyer’s preference.
Account for Stage of Buying Cycle
In the same way, you need to consider the format preference at each stage of the buying cycle. An Aberdeen Group study found that top marketers are 81% more likely to align content to each step of the buying cycle. There are also some basic hypothesis you can use to match the content format to the stage of the buying cycle. At the Selection stage of the buying cycle, for instance, you can infer that you’ll need to create some sort of experiential content so that the buyer has the ability to feel what it’s like to purchase your offering, maybe with an interactive demonstration, or a return on investment (ROI) calculator, or even a free trial.
Again, use your persona research to inform which of the options make the most sense but ensure that the content meets the needs common to buyers at that stage of the buying cycle. In terms of your marketing transformation, add another item to the top of your content machine’s checklist that outlines the buyer’s mindset at each stage of the buying cycle.
Make Derivative Content
I don’t like the term “snackable” content but the concept is sound. Make sure content is easy to digest by making it small and easy to understand. One of the best ways to do this is by breaking down large content into smaller chunks, shared in different formats than the original content. For example, you can take some factoids from your webinars and Tweet them out. You can break up your white paper into several infographics or podcasts.
Its stunning to me that more teams don’t take advantage of this basic idea. It’s as though they think this is cheating or – I can barely write this without shaking my head – unnecessarily repetitive.
IBM estimated that 2.5 exabytes of data was generated every day in 2012. That’s 2.5 billion gigabytes (GB), those units of measure that they ask you about when you buy a new phone, as in “do you want 16GB of memory or 32GB?”. And, we’ve only gone up from there, with all the new photo and blog content being generated by new users or just users who find it easy enough that they too can create content now. Given the huge amount of data buyers are exposed to these days, how likely is it that they’ll run into your content twice in close enough succession that 1) they’ll remember it and 2) be annoyed at seeing the same thing again?
On top of that, a Microsoft study shows that you have to repeat an audio message between 6-20 times before it was effective, meaning your one little piece of content will not only get lost, but people need to be exposed to it multiple times before it sticks. Even more important for the cost-conscious marketer, in the same way it’s more effective to retain existing customers than acquire new ones, it’s less expensive and less time consuming to break down existing content than to create new content. So, make sure you train marketers in your transformation to acquire this habit.
Write Out an Editorial Calendar
One of the best ways to train marketers to create derivative content (as listed above) is to ensure your transformation requires editorial calendars. These are typically thought of as planning documents used by publications and content aggregators but that’s what you will become when you commit to making large quantities of content.
However, spending the time to document the content your team will be creating, when that content will go out, through what platform, and each piece’s associated parameters is not easy for many busy marketers to justify. There seems to be no benefit. In reality, this helps ensure that marketers see what they are doing so that they can stay on track with the strategy they’ve laid out.
Imagine a spreadsheet (or whatever format you prefer) with a heading for each stage of the buying cycle. Filling this out will ensure you don’t miss any stages. Imagine another column heading for format, perhaps with a pull-down that includes all the preferences of your target buyer and an “other” category for new formats you want to try out. This ensures alignment to the formats most likely to be accepted by your buyer. Another header could include a section addressing whether its a “main content vehicle” or a “derivative asset,” just to remind marketers they need to break down their content into snackable pieces.
More than just looking at formats, though, an editorial calendar can help you ensure your organization is aligned to the topics your target buyer is interested in. Use your persona research to identify information needs at each stage of the buying cycle and key motivations and concerns overall. You can also use feedback from sales, customer support, and other departments to determine what topics you need to address across the various stages of the buying cycle. Then, ensure that there is a column indicating the messaging in each piece of content matches the key messages you want to convey to address these needs.
You might also want to add a column to your editorial calendar to track what geographies the content will be used in and whether it needs translations. Similarly, track where your content is coming from so that you ensure you’re using the type of sources who are the most credible to your target buyer. Tracking how many times you’ve gone to each source will also help you prevent overburdening any one content creator and, later on, so you can track whether content creator was a factor in which content was most successful.
Comments are welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization built a content marketing machine.