"From the days of cave men writing on the walls, brands have been creating stories to sell their product and form a connection."
That's according to Joe Pulizzi, who is one of the leading thought leaders behind the content marketing and social media movement. Pulizzi is also the founder of The Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing World and Chief Content Officer Magazine. He is often recognized as being responsible for coining the term "content marketing".
Pulizzi shared his thoughts with me in an interview, that spanned the topics of SEO, demand generation, content marketing, and much more. We covered a lot of ground, but here are five takeaways.
1. Where Should Content Live?
This is an interesting question, partly because of the varying level of responses. Some experts will suggest that the majority of content should live on your site, and others, like Pulizzi, suggest otherwise:
We want to have a content asset. Ultimately, most people use a blog or something like that. We need some form of repository for our content in order to build a subscription strategy around that. After all, we don't own our Twitter followers.
But really, when you look at it from a big picture standpoint, the majority of your content will live on other people's sites – it will be spread around. You have the core of that content maybe on your website, but I would say well of the majority will be on other channels, other people's sites.
So me personally, even with the book, I would say 99 percent of the content we've created around the book is not on our website, it's on other people's sites. I think that's the key to getting that shared and then growing relationships with influencers.
This is clearly a difficult question that doesn't have a simple answer. I think every business's content strategy will vary depending on their unique goals and priorities. For example, lead gen organizations with very little existing visibility are likely to lean toward having content picked up on other sites. On the other hand, subscription modeled organizations will almost certainly have majority of content on their own properties.
I can see the merits of what both Pulizzi and Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz, have to say on this subject. The differences in their opinions clearly reflect their own personal business goals.
Moz is a subscription-based company with a large and loyal following. It makes a lot of sense to publish the majority of content on their own properties.
Pulizzi, on the other hand, talks about his strategy for marketing his new book. His priority is reaching a new audience, increasing awareness, and reaching out. For him, increasing the reach of his content is a key priority.
It's all about aligning the content to business goals.
2. Marketing Automation
Marketing automation continues to be topic of hot debate. It's clearly something that will be very important to digital marketers in 2014. I was keen to get Pulizzi's thoughts on the topic:
I guess the recommendation that we give for everyone is "have a strategy before getting started." Most people just look at the technology first and say: oh, we're this size company and we need marketing automation. No, you don't. Not necessarily. What are you really trying to solve?
For many companies, the promise of automated lead generation and lead management is just too tempting to resist. This allures them to jump in with little preplanned strategy, and often leads to disastrous outcomes.
Pulizzi is saying that, like many other digital marketing channels and techniques, it will only deliver a meaningful ROI if it's properly planned and implemented. This means identifying your target personas, defining the actions you want them to take, and then selecting and implementing the most relevant technologies to help you target these.
3. Developing Personas
Creating content that speaks to the interests and personalities of your readers (or customers) is fundamental to developing great content. But this is difficult to do. Most people don't know where to start. Said Pulizzi:
You can build what looks like a persona through social chatter and surveys and all kinds of other listing tools. But if you ask my good friend, Adelle Robello, who's CEO of Buyer Persona Institute, she'll say the only way is to talk to customers.
This is really interesting. Pulizzi warns against jumping right in at the level of keywords, platforms and big data. Instead, he emphasized the importance of filling out your persona profiles by really getting to know your customers before you take any action.
You can get ROI right away if you get a very simple persona profile. One sheet of paper, some picture representation, some bullet points of who that persona is. Then, give it to all your contact creators and get them all on the same page. You can do more advanced stuff later. If you can get them started on the same page, you will see return right away.
I think this is something we can all take on-board and implement straight away.
4. Great Content
The sheer amount of content that's now available is mind-boggling. You might expect that, as the Internet becomes increasingly saturated, the ROI that companies can expect from their content will slowly decrease. In reality, the opposite is true.
The returns from content marketing, if it's done well, still offer fantastic ROI for digital marketers. What this volume of content does mean for marketers, is that we need to think more carefully about our content in order to maximize ROI. Said Pulizzi:
A lot of people will disagree with me on this, but I would say what you should be doing in your content is asking, "what content niche can we be the leading expert in the world?" And I'm serious when I say "in the world". I see so much content out there. So many sites and businesses are all talking about the same thing. That's a problem. We have to tell a different story.
Pulizzi clearly thinks that we should be looking to avoid "me too" content at all costs. There was a time when saying the same thing a little better than the last person was enough to build authority online. That's no longer the case.
If you want to dominate your niche, become an authority and become the "go-to" person in your industry. You need to be original and lead the way.
5. Getting Content Picked Up
Content marketing is closely aligned with PR, both of which are closely aligned with SEO and all other forms of marketing. An integral part of the integrated digital marketing mix is getting the attention of media outlets and getting content picked up. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of the SMI process. How does Pulizzi approach this problem at CMI?
So I'll be honest with you. It's our fourth year for the program and we got picked up by all the major media outlets in the marketing industry – and we didn't do anything!
All we did was let them know it was available.
Our content mission is to advance the practice of content marketing. In order to solve that mission for our customers and our readers, we need to do these research projects. If it's that good, they will get picked up and be the news.
Obviously, we still do press releases. We still do traditional marketing. We still market them; but if the content's good enough, then you just have to notify them. It's going to get picked up.
So, you might be thinking, "yea, sure, if we had the same influence as CMI then maybe it would be that easy, but we're not." That's the approach most businesses take.
Unfortunately, it's this mentality that's holding them back. All it takes is one great piece of content that's easy and appealing for media outlets in your industry to pick up. It's achievable for any business. It's all about your approach and mindset.
Pulizzi was also keen to offer some practical tips for approaching media outlets in your industry. He suggests reaching out to influential outlets and saying:
" …look, we know you have holes in your editorial calendar. We would like to fill those holes. Here are some ideas."
Because you know what? To be honest, most of those publications are hurting. The media models are hurting. They could use original content from expert resources. You can give that to them.
Pulizzi then went on to explain the importance of identifying the "pain points" of any media outlets you may want to approach. These are topics that have very high value to their readers, but that they struggle to produce enough of.
You can usually identify this type of content by reading their blog for half an hour or so. Pulizzi uses CMI as an example: their pain point is analytics focused content. Their audience loves it, but they could never produce enough of it themselves. This means that whenever a contributor comes to them with high-quality content on this subject, they can't wait to publish it!
If you ever have a chance to attend one of Pulizzi's sessions, do it! Not only is he incredibly intelligent, but he's one of most entertaining speakers I've come across.
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