Required Reading: Getting a Peek Inside Content Marketing

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Modern marketers—and all business professionals, for that matter—are expected to offer customers value that extends beyond just discounts on products and services. To build relationships that can lead to additional sales, it helps to earn customers’ close attention by providing them with meaningful and relevant content, argues author Theresa Cramer in her new book, Inside Content Marketing. Associate Editor Oren Smilansky recently caught up with Cramer, who outlined some of the elements that define a successful content marketing strategy.

CRM: In 2016, how pronounced is the distinction between content marketing and traditional marketing?

Theresa Cramer: The two are coming together. Traditional marketing, advertising, and commercials are starting to look more like content marketing, because they know people are tuning them out. Take what we know about Super Bowl commercials, for instance. For years, you could watch one of these commercials and if they didn’t throw the logo on there, you wouldn’t know what they were about. I mean, what does a dog and a Clydesdale have to do with Budweiser beer? Absolutely nothing, but it’s entertaining, and it’s cute, and we watch it because it’s not just about selling beer. That’s been going on for a long time, but content marketing takes that to a new level.

What’s the biggest mistake made with content marketing?

[Lacking] a coherent, documented strategy. In content marketing, the bar is low. Nobody’s coming to your company blog just because you started it. You need to have social media marketing that goes along with it, or reach out to the traditional publishers in your space. If you’re in the B2B area, that’s especially easy to do with some more branded-content-type things, because they have an audience you don’t necessarily have.

You argue that writers are important to the endeavor. Should companies hire journalists internally, or outsource this sort of work?

It depends on your needs. If you have a big marketing department and you’re trying to start your own little content wing, then yes, hire a writer. What you don’t want to do is hire another marketer because they don’t necessarily know how to tell a story. But not everybody has the budget for that, which is why agencies have been hiring journalists to do this sort of thing. I talked to a lot of freelance writers for the book, and some of them still do traditional journalism on one topic, but then they do content marketing jobs on a completely different set of topics.

One of the things I suggest to companies who are looking to hire their own journalists is to find someone who’s already working in the trade press in your industry, because they already know the topics you’re covering, they know your audience, your customers—and they know how to tell a story.

What should companies be mindful of when recruiting journalists for marketing roles?

Be clear about expectations up front. You don’t want to hire a journalist who thinks he’s going to be doing content marketing as he might understand it, [when] only what you want him to do is just show off for your company and write white papers. That’s not a recipe for success. What you need is to let a journalist do what they do. You might have an idea of what your editorial calendar is going to look like and the kind of topics you want to cover, but they need to do it as a journalist would do it. To tell those stories properly, you need to sort of back off a little bit and understand they are doing something a little differently.

Whose content marketing strategy have you been particularly impressed with?

Red Bull is sort of the granddaddy of this. They have magazines, they make feature-length movies, shows on Sunday morning TV. Red Bull has a rule internally that their content needs to be self-supporting. If they make a magazine, they sell subscriptions, or ads, to make up the money for that. It’s not just that they’re selling Red Bull off of it. It’s a completely different model than what most companies in content marketing are doing, but there’s a lot to be taken out of that because they really understand their audience. When they were first starting and targeting their drinks at snowboarders and surfers, they saw that there was a media gap where those guys were. No one was covering what they were doing there, so they said, “Well we’re going to do that, then.” And they did it better than just about everybody else.

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