I’ve been in the content marketing game since 2003, when I launched IDC’s Marketing Services business into Asia. It wasn’t called ‘content marketing’ back then, and I didn’t actually identify myself as a content marketer until 2009, when I was running my own business. Of course, for the dynamic region of Asia, it’s only in the last 12 months that the term has really taken off. We all know about it now.
Throughout this period, the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that a successful partnership between a content agency and client requires a deep level of intimacy between the two entities. A content creator no longer merely delivers static brochures or web content; today they are ghost-writing blogs, creating executive interviews, developing significantly more powerful customer success stories, and they are factoring in design as a core part of the content process with, videos, Infographics, PPTs, and images part of the content mix as well!
As such, when Novus Asia works with clients, we endeavour to:
- Understand how our clients speak and think
- Challenge clients on some of their ideas in order to build stronger arguments
- Make clients work hard to find the real story with a compelling narrative, because their idea may form a great starting point, but it might not be persuasive enough to get their audience to act
- Get them to stand back and ask, “Will my audience be interested in this? Does it address their pain points? Am I putting myself in my customer’s shoes?”
- Educate them, because what they consider important may not be that interesting to their customers, which can be sensitive to navigate
As content is now firmly entrenched in a strategic position within the marketing function, here are my five tips to help brands identify a great content partner:
Unless both parties understand and appreciate the role that great chemistry and mutual respect plays, it can be tough to create the perfect partnership between content provider and client. Content is a human business, after all, so having great synergy is critical—in fact, it’s the only way to be successful.
- Look for good personal chemistry with your brand editor. It is vital to get on with your content partner. Much of today’s content will require you to work closely with your content team, so getting inside each other’s minds and challenging each other is fundamental to a successful partnership. You want to work with creators who can bring out the best in you and your business. People on your content team will come and go, but a constant must be the brand editor – the custodian of your voice at your content agency. So dig deep and ask, “Are they brave enough to tell me when I’m wrong? Are they going to be a pleasure to work with? Are they capable of capturing my spirit or my company’s essence? Are they curious and intelligent? Are they open and inspired?” Creating great, authentic content requires you to be involved in the process – yes, this means more demands on senior executives time, but that’s the truth if you want to be amazing. There has to be a level of involvement to ensure your voice is captured, so making sure there’s chemistry – especially with the brand editor – is essential.
- Find out where your brand editor’s passions lie. Make sure your brand editor is an engaging storyteller who’s excited about your company and can reflect your message and passion in what she and her team are producing for you. It’s one of those things that should be obvious when you meet, but read their blogs and their testimonials to see if their style and natural voice indicate that they would be a good fit with your team. You can also look at their broader body of work – other published articles, cross-published blogs, their LinkedIn profile, the way they use social media – to get an idea of what they are passionate about. If they’re able to express their passion socially, chances are they have learnt some valuable lessons your business will benefit from. For me, this is a deal-breaker when deciding on a content partner, because those who express passion understand what it feels like to be on that stage and can provide better guidance. Knowing what it feels like to put yourself out in the world is critical for anyone in the content game; it makes them better at what they do for clients.
- Find a strategic marketing thinker. Work with a content partner who understands the overarching marketing and messaging strategies of your business, and understands how important this is to everything you’re trying to achieve. The ultimate goal is to have this messaging subtly wrapped into all content developed. Therefore, make sure your content team knows your core messages. If this can be done, it will result in your ideas complementing the content output. Content professionals who understand the messaging dimension of business are worth their weight in gold, and will be able to create even more powerful content for you.
- Look for a proactive professional. You need someone who has great ideas and is familiar with the emerging issues in your industry, because that person knows where to find the real stories your audience wants to consume. The sign you’ve found a great content partner? The very first time you meet, they’ll come up with a bunch of great story ideas – even before they’ve been briefed about your business and goals. A great content creator can see story opportunities everywhere. While they may not be on the money with every idea initially, you know they will be once they’re in. A pro-active and creative professional will be constantly on the pulse with new ideas, angles and approaches. They will feed your content channel months in advance, as well as alert you to topical news that must be acted on immediately – an essential quality that reassures you of the quality of your content.
- Watch out for ‘yes’ people. If you want to do something amazing, don’t work with content creators who will blindly follow your lead and say ‘yes’ to every idea – that guarantees failure. Your content partner should be free to challenge you every step of the way, and everything they produce should exceed your expectations or shock you because of its success – always a great sign. But you need to give them the space to achieve this. So, find people who listen to what you want, but are capable of surpassing it. If they can ‘wow’ you, they can ‘wow’ your customers and prospects. The key skill your content creator must demonstrate is an understanding of both your company’s goals and what is important to the audience the information is intended for – a ‘yes’ person will only see your company’s goals. How to find ‘wow’-factor content creators? Look for people who have serious experience and credibility behind them. They may be more expensive, but they will be worth every cent. And don’t overlook talented and eager new writers, as they offer great skills in the content mix. Accept that what you think makes great content ain’t necessarily so! It’s hard to see this inside a company, as you’re often focused on what you want to say. These days, it’s about what your audience (customers, prospects, shareholders, influencers, media and many more) want to hear. A ‘yes’ person won’t help you see that.
- Partner with brave and creative content partners. The one thing the world needs right now is brave and creative content professionals. People who will challenge you to take risks, even if you can’t always understand the potential rewards up front. In fact, even if they can’t see the potential rewards up front – they just know it’s right. Obviously this is not a typical quality valued in business today, but magic happens in that sweet spot when you get it right. Being brave is critical to making breakthroughs and is the only way to be phenomenal. A lot of people are watching and waiting at the moment – on both sides of the fence – and it is the few who will go against the tide that will win this battle. If you’re brave and love to be challenged, make sure you partner with content creators who are like that too. You’ll be unbeatable if you do
A great content partnership is one of the most valuable decisions you will make today. In fact, making the right decision has never been more important, because those who don’t choose well will just be contributing to the content deluge. You don’t want to do that.
Well, those six things are what I believe are important in succeeding in today’s content world. What have I missed? I’d love to hear your feedback.