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Essentials of “True” Content Marketing



Last year, during a Q&A session after a content marketing presentation I’d given to business owners, I heard myself say the following: “Content Marketing is like being pregnant. There’s no such thing as being ‘just a little bit.'”

In that moment I realized that this unplanned, unrehearsed remark cut right to the quick of Content Marketing’s biggest challenge for businesses large and small, which is the inability to make the kind of “lifetime” or “all in” commitment that it requires.  And without the commitment, failure is almost guaranteed.

In my role as the head of a digital creative agency, I have certainly seen content marketing successes, but more importantly, I’ve been eyewitness to failures, too. In this regard, I’m reminded of a Thomas Edison quote: “I have not failed; I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

Now, we haven’t personally experienced 10,000 ways in which content marketing hasn’t worked, but we have determined that there are five essentials to doing “true” content marketing that improve chances for success. Without addressing these essentials, a content marketing program is almost assuredly dead upon arrival.

First, let me explain what I mean by “true” Content Marketing.

I think that it’s essential that we begin to distinguish between producing and distributing content for marketing, versus practicing content marketing. There’s a huge difference. Currently, I believe that a majority of marketers are doing the former, and not the latter. As a marketing colleague once observed to me, she feels like they are simply doing “random acts of content,” divorced from anything resembling a systematic editorial approach.

True content marketing, therefore, is the antithesis of “random acts of content.” True content marketing means a wholesale commitment to systematic editorial planning, publication and distribution of content to achieve business outcomes (i.e. sales, fundraising), a commitment that requires structural, cultural, and systematic changes in order to achieve content marketing’s full potential.

This means that the following essentials should be understood and accepted before a business should even begin thinking about writing a blog, shooting a video, recording a podcast, or producing an infographic.

Subscriber Database Growth is Paramount

The mantra of content marketing, from day one, has been “think like a marketer and act like a publisher.” What is the number one most important asset of a traditional publisher? It is the subscriber base. In other words, it’s building an “owned” audience.

This means that if content efforts aren’t done in service of building your subscriber database, then you’re not doing true content marketing, you’re just doing content for marketing.

The Website is the Hub

Over the years, the role of a brand or service’s website has shifted in importance. During the rise of social media, in particular, web sites took a back seat to the emerging social platforms based on the belief (hope?) that those platforms were the most important places to engage with prospects and customers.

But, in true content marketing, your website is your most valuable piece of digital real estate. It’s where you must drive all traffic, from your SEO efforts to your social media activities. It’s where your subscriber list building activities–including integration of CRM and marketing automation technologies–is headquartered.

Content Marketing is Cyclical, Not Linear

True content marketing is approached as a cycle of meeting, planning, publishing, observing, evaluating, and then repeating the cycle. It is not isolated, linear “one offs.” Magazine publishing is the perfect example. To make the commitment to send subscribers a new issue each week, Time’spublishers have a publishing cycle they adhere to. Businesses must do the same.

Everyone Must Be All In

This risks stating the obvious. But, sometimes the obvious needs to be emphasized. Whether you’re a small business, or a small team within a big business, everyone must be committed to what true content marketing means, starting with buy-in that building the subscriber database is paramount.

This “all in” requirement is critical to success of true content marketing, because it requires redefining existing, or defining new roles and responsibilities. Alongside defining roles and responsibilities are other critical decisions impacting the team, that range from designing the website, to the selection of cloud based applications and services used to publish, distribute, measure, report and sell.

A Written Content Strategy is a Must

An ability to stay focused is critical to any effort to stay committed to something that is ongoing, enduring and multifaceted, which pretty accurately describes content marketing’s characteristics.

Not surprisingly, then, the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B, B2C and Nonprofit Benchmarks, Trends and Budgets surveys and reports have consistently identified the existence of a written content strategy as one of the most significant activities that separates the successful content marketers from the unsuccessful.

As in with most things in life, there are no guarantees. That’s certainly true with content marketing. But, if you’re feeling like it’s the right approach for your brand, service, product or cause, your odds of success will jump substantially if you take the five essentials shared here and address them from the start.