The challenge with content marketing hasn’t changed in 10 years

One of the initiatives of the Asia Content Marketing Association (ACMA), is an exclusive event series called ACMA Content Conversations Select (Select). Select is a peer-to-peer discussion, focussed on current themes and challenges around content marketing, and we discuss how to help each other overcome challenges and embrace the opportunity content marketing delivers.

Only CMOs, heads of communication or heads of content marketing are invited, working for a brand. Chatham House Rules apply, which means I can’t tell you anything specifically discussed, but I can tell you the conversation is always fantastic and enlightening. I am also able to share the big themes and discussion points.

In preparing our recent event, we decided to go back to two core questions that keep coming up again and again and again. You probably won’t be surprised by what they are:

1.     How do we convince the leadership to embrace content marketing?

2.     How do we measure it? What’s the ROI?

Every content marketer knows these questions only too well, because we’ve been having this same discussion for over a decade. And as we’ve been running Select over a few years now, we know the same conversation is happening within the big brands too.

Beyond Select, if you mention the term content marketing, these questions come up at every event, discussion, panel, in blog posts, and more. It is perplexing to me that we are still having this same conversation, when we see such magnificent examples of content marketing if a brand commits, truly understands the purpose of it, and embraces it as a philosophy that transforms a business.

Three examples

  1. American Express OPEN Forum – the single, largest driver of new business leads for American Express
  2. Adobe’s CMO.com and HubSpot’s inbound marketing blog – that’s how you own an audience
  3. And more recently, as a judge for Mumbrella’s marketer/marketing team of the year in Asia, I was super impressed with Lenovo – the winner. From the CIO community portal, to the empowerment of staff to create content, and so much more, they are doing a terrific job. The highlight for me was there wasn’t a mention of the word campaign. It was all long term, content driven, and completely transformational in approach. Go and check Lenovo out

Social leadership answers these questions

I know content marketing works, because my blog has helped me build a great business, but equally, social leadership (which is my training focus with MNCs) is the core approach I believe is needed to overcome the challenges businesses face in embracing and succeeding with content marketing.

When I started The Digital Conversationalist, I did it because I could see a gap in the content marketing landscape. When only marketing is involved in content marketing, it’s almost impossible to succeed, because they do not have the full view of the customer.

Too often beautiful content is sourced through content agencies, it turns up at the business, and dies a slow death. With less than 10 per cent of content actually being read/watched, there is a problem with content marketing, and the problem can be solved with social leadership.

The four reasons content marketing isn’t succeeding

  1. Brand reach has diminished on social channels – we basically don’t want to hear from brands and the ability to reach customers across traditional channels has shrunk too. Think advertising and any marketing that interrupts you – yeah, we aren’t fans of that anymore
  2. The beautiful content being created is aligned to the themes the business is promoting, but the sales team are not involved in the conversation around what content will drive customer engagement. For a sales team, this content is meaningless, and they refuse to use it. They must be involved in this conversation. They want to be involved and even better if they start creating content aligned to customer-need
  3. Companies are too focused on employee advocacy, but they need to move to social leadership. Employee advocacy is asking employees to be mouthpieces for a brand and any employee with integrity and a strong sense of their own voice will refuse to do this. Employees must be empowered to own their voice on social media, on the topic they are most passionate about, and then by default, the brand benefits off the back of the employees as powerful influencers. This is the only approach that can bring the desired results, if you want your employees representing your brand. To back this up, I published this case study with IBM Asia Pacific, showing how creating a social leadership culture – where employees across the business embrace social media and become a content marketing army in their own right – drives content marketing to the heart of business, where it can then thrive within an organization. Content marketing succeeds when everyone gets involved and become social leaders
  4. And finally, moving away from the idea that employees can be controlled on social media, but equally, understanding today’s opportunity, so that anyone working for an organisation can become an influencer in their own right. This still terrifies many organisations, but I always ask, why hire people if you can’t trust them? Equally, why only value those at the top of your organisation? Train your people well, guide them and they will become a powerful advocate for your brand, but they must build their own voice first to earn the respect of their audience. Social leadership moves away from the spray and pray model most advocacy programs seem intent on pushing. All that does is make the brand look bad and the employees look bad too

The people talking to the customer must be actively involved – the sales team, the executives, customer relationship professionals, business development professionals, and everyone else critical for a business succeeding – if you want to succeed at content marketing and be meaningful to customers.

If you can empower the whole employee community to get behind the business and share its powerful stories, you will see a big surge in support for content marketing and success from content marketing.

The problem is…

It’s not easy to be successful. It takes time. It takes absolute commitment. It must be world-class to get the customer’s attention. And it needs everyone on board, embracing it as a deep philosophy across the business.

Naturally, there are still many industries that are more traditional, where face-to-face matters most. The human touch will never go away (well I hope not) but when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of customers digitally, it is all about the quality of the content. We don’t give brands a second chance today.

And yet, to this day, when I review the content being shared by MNCs on their channels – like LinkedIn – it is still sales and marketing content. The message is buy buy buy. It’s not I get your problem and this is how you overcome it.

That and only that is what gets your customers attention these days. But you’ve got to do it better than anyone else to really earn the customer’s time – and we are all in the business of earning time today, and keeping it. That’s a special skillset.

Because getting their attention is hard. Really hard. Gaining their trust even harder.

We are all bombarded digitally, where we spend an extraordinary amount of time today! So if brands want to succeed at content marketing, they’ve got to do something very special. Then they’ve got to invest and keep going, no matter what.

And it’s got to be about the customer, not about the brand. This is the switch that is needed.

But the appetite is lacking. Too few brands are willing to go for it and never stop until it succeeds, so we are left with what we’ve always done. Because we know how to do that right? We can measure it too, even if it is unsuccessful.

Elevate the content marketing conversation in your business

Content marketing is not another tactic. It needs to become a driving force of the business – to solve your customer’s challenges through the high value content your business is pushing out onto digital channels – whether it’s brand content or employee content.

I have proven it generates millions of dollars in revenue. American Express have proven it too. But then, what are you valuing when you measure content marketing? New sales and leads is one measurement for a successful content marketing strategy, especially if social leadership is central to the culture.

Others include…

  • Deeper relationships with customers, and employees becoming strategic advisors to customers because of their social leadership activities
  • New partnerships and alliances
  • An attractive company to work for – especially for millennials, soon to be 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020
  • More engaged employees, because they are empowered to own their voice and become influencers in their own right
  • More industry awareness for your employees and the opportunity to own the conversation for your sector
  • Externally looking business, because you can’t remain internal when your workforce is engaged and participating out there

And so much more.

Empower your people

If you can bring this all together, you’ll completely transform your business for the digital revolution – yes, transformation starts with the voice of your people.

But it’s not easy.

It takes time.

It takes deep commitment.

You have to turn the cynics around.

Employees will push back and say it’s not my job to create content.

Other’s will say they don’t want to be a mouthpiece for the brand.

There is a lot of pushback, until they realize that this message is about them.

Get the bosses social

So if you’re still struggling with your leadership, tell them to participate where their customers are today – online. They can never understand this new world if they are not part of it. You can never get them bought into these ideas, unless they get out there and experience it themselves.

Social leadership must start at the top and then filter across the entire business, not because leaders need to drive it (anyone in any position can be an influencer for your business), but because they’ll never support a content marketing culture if they don’t understand it.

You can only understand it if you get involved and become part of the conversation. You do that by putting your own ideas out there, share other’s ideas aligned to yours, and the most often missed – but also where the most value lies – participating in conversations with your communities – asking questions, challenging ideas, making social media social.

So if content marketing isn’t working for you and you can’t get your leaders brought into it, the first job is to get them engaged and contributing on social media. Show them how to start – which is always with focus (see my blog on that and another that is useful too) – and then over time, if they truly commit, they will start to reap the benefits of participating themselves, which will lead to a broader cultural shift within your business, where content marketing becomes the beating heart of your business – with everyone involved.

And I mean everyone. Marketing cannot succeed in a silo. They need more open-minded leadership, willing to give news ways of working a go. Working out loud is a core part of that. Social leadership is what working out loud looks like.

Let me know if this is still a challenge for you?

Cheers

Andrea

Want proof social leadership transforms business and attracts customers?

Check out this case study with IBM Asia Pacific. Incredible results.

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I believe it’s time for all of us to embrace our voice and embrace the future. We do this by working and living out loud with meaning, intention and by being true to ourselves.

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