No matter what your industry or your depth of marketing experience, content marketing is more important today than it was yesterday. And tomorrow it'll be more important than it is today. In 2013, the practice of content marketing has vaulted out of the midsection of the marketer's agenda to become the top priority among both B2C and B2B marketing organizations, according to a study by Econsultancy and Adobe.
So if you're a marketer and you haven't yet donned your content marketing cap, you soon will -- and as you set out on your grand content marketing adventure, you're bound to encounter four utterly inevitable stages of content marketing realization. If you can succeed at the third stage, you're well above average. If you can successfully address the fourth stage, you're a true content marketing ace.
Stage 1: "I need content!"
In the first stage, you're feeling the need to create the content. What's our market interested in? What topics best support our brand? What will rank well in search? Who's going to write it? What formats should the content take?
"The blogging revolution started to change thinking about using content in marketing," says Jeff Rohrs, vice president of marketing insights for ExactTarget, whose team has invested heavily in making content a central component of their marketing strategy. "Our team was challenged to think outside the box and break through the noise."
In this creative stage, there naturally tends to be tremendous emphasis on simply bringing the content into existence and feeling good about its quality and usefulness for its intended consumer. For some, a general refrain has been "If I build it, they will come," with the hope of instant SEO benefits and social sharing that lead to viral adoption.
Not necessarily. On to the next stage.
Stage 2: "Now I've got the content. How can I get it seen?"
At this stage you've amassed a respectable portfolio of content: one or more blogs, a library of videos, a how-to series, a collection of whitepapers, and perhaps a smattering of e-books and infographics. Now you're asking yourself, "How do I get the eyeballs on it?" The emphasis here tends to be on getting the content distributed far and wide.
"There's a misunderstanding that the audience is just there," says ExactTarget's Rohrs. "We realized that content creators need to own some responsibility for the distribution as well. Connecting them with the distribution and the results was an important step."
So on you go, building inbound links to the content, tweeting it, posting it to Facebook, and even paying for promotion "around the web" to point some traffic at your fine creation. The traffic from content-based programs is making a healthy overall contribution in terms of visitors and page views.
But will you be satisfied at that point? Almost. But if you're obsessed with revenue and measuring results, you might head straight into the next stage.
Stage 3: "OK, people are seeing it. But are they the right people? And what's the business outcome?"
Now that you've built an audience for your content, you want to know if it's the right audience. You're curious about what they're doing after they watch your video or download your e-book, and whether it's making a difference to your business.
"For us size isn't as important as relevance," says Linda Boff, executive director of global brand marketing for GE. "We care less about growth and scale numbers than we care about connecting with the right people."
In this stage you're keeping a watchful eye on the conversion rate among visitors who find you via content. You're uncovering what content is contributing most, and you're taking steps to make sure that each new piece of content you create has some business goal and associated business action that a visitor can take.
If you've come this far, you'll know you're within striking distance of the ultimate state of content marketing enlightenment.
Stage 4: "I'm seeing results. But how do I close the loop between program costs and resulting revenues?"
While you've still got on your content marketing cap, you're now starting to look at your creation through the eyes of your CFO. The urge you'll feel here is to figure out which programs are working, how much they cost, and how much actual revenue can be attributed back to each.
"We're working closely with our agencies on measuring cost-per-engagement (CPE), which is still evolving and requires a massive amount of data," says GE's Boff. "We look closely at what we call 'highly valued tasks' such as watching a video, visiting a dealer locator, or making an inquiry for services or parts."
Measurement at this level sounds hard, and it is. Perfecting content marketing measurement is pretty much the holy grail of end-to-end demand generation planning for content marketing.
But don't worry!
Your demand gen lead and even your finance team will more than likely be delighted to help you illuminate and optimize the dollar-performance of your content marketing programs.
The subtext here is that knowing and understanding all of these stages sooner rather than later will help you lay the groundwork to manage your content marketing efforts holistically and with an appropriate level of future-proofing from the outset.
Which stage best captures you or your team? What hurdles or war stories have you encountered moving from one stage to the next? We'd love to know. Sound off in the comments!
Steve Sachs is CEO of OneSpot.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.