Content Marketing: The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Type: Features
By Mike Winkleman
1 November 2014

content-strategyThe content revolution can best be characterized as a never-ending tsunami. With so much content being created and so many new channels through which to distribute it, audiences are inundated. As a result, consumers are becoming much more selective about where they find content, what they read, and how much they can absorb. Which means that, if they’re to have an impact, content creators need to be that much more careful about what content they produce, where and how they distribute it, and how they package it.

That’s why the best and most effective content today is marketed and the best and most effective content marketing is strategic. Here are a few things to think about when you’re developing that content marketing strategy.

If you can’t break news, make news

While it’s still important to let consumers and clients know you’ve released a new product, hired a new executive, or closed a big deal, that’s not the sort of content that builds relationships. It conveys information, but, unlike good data, that information can’t be converted into broader knowledge of an issue. And surveys by groups such as The Content Council show that consumers are delighted to receive content from companies and brands—even if it’s “branded content”—as long as it’s useful information that enhances their knowledge base and helps them do their jobs better or go about their lives more productively.

For example, one of our clients, Vantiv, is a payments-processing company that works with merchants and financial institutions that commissions four surveys each year—talking to both consumers and executives about such topics as mobile banking, e-commerce, credit and debit card security, and the like. They then use the data from those surveys to craft white papers, webinars, blog posts, bylined articles, infographics and more. Having conducted these surveys for three years, Vantiv now has longitudinal data—which it is able to position as news—to share with consumers, clients and the media, allowing the company to differentiate itself from its competitors by demonstrating its understanding not only of its industry but of trends that are propelling that industry forward (or, in some cases, holding it back).

EComm Infographic2 (2)
Payments-processing company Vantiv uses data from its thought leadership research to create infographics, like this one, on trends in e-commerce. (Click to enlarge.)

Thought leadership inspires followers

Vantiv has used these surveys, and the vehicles through which it releases the survey data, as the foundation for a thought leadership-based content marketing strategy. Much of this content is housed on a thought leadership page on the company’s website, a page that has become the company’s most frequently visited page (through which viewers register to receive white papers, allowing the company to then follow up by inviting them to webinars and sending them other useful content). To the content marketer’s eye, this visitation (and registration) rate indicates that the company has successfully established itself as the go-to place for information about payments; the fact that the company can track sales generated by content marketing that total a nearly 1,000 percent return on their content marketing investment further supports that assertion.

The point here is that when a company establishes itself as a—if not “the”—thought leader in its field, and proves that assertion through the useful, informative, analytical and relevant content it releases, the audience reads, responds and is reeled in.

Slice, dice and slice again

The range of content vehicles available today makes it theoretically easy to follow a prime tenet of marketing: frequency. You can take the same message and send it out in myriad formats, using as many channels and technologies as are appropriate—including print.

Each January when the law firm Crowell & Moring (another client of ours) releases its annual Litigation Forecast (which is intended to help establish the firm’s attorneys as not only knowledgeable in the industries and practice areas where litigation is likely, but also as forward-looking thought leaders), each piece is written with several uses in mind. The publication itself, which is sent out as a print vehicle to key clients and prospective clients and is also available on the Web in PDF and flip book versions, is written in a journalistic style. But the pieces are then recast as bylined articles for use in trade publications, and snippets from the pieces are used on social media.

The law firm Crowell & Moring publishes a forecast of major litigation trends for the coming year on topics like energy, financial institutions and health care, positioning themselves as thought leaders in the field.

Using different technology, another client of ours, the law firm Dentons, developed a content marketing program around a hardcover book called Courageous Counsel. The firm took the book, which chronicled the careers of 40 women general counsel in the Fortune 500 (who had been interviewed by female partners at Dentons), and used it as the fulcrum to launch a series of events that helped to underscore the firm’s commitment to the advancement of women in the legal profession (and, at the same time, building relationships between the firm and the general counsel involved in the program). During the six months after publication, the firm helped organize a road tour, through which the authors, as well as many of the women profiled in the book, spoke with anywhere from 100 to 1,500 women at various venues across America. After the road tour ended, Dentons created a number of “bespoke” events, and then, earlier this year, launched a General Counsel Academy to address the key themes of the book, bringing in a new group of women general counsel as speakers—to an audience that was three times as large as the firm expected.

Two words: Native advertising

It could be that no trend exemplifies both the evolution and acceptance of content marketing as much as what’s come to be called native advertising. This Web-based version of the advertorial has raised hackles among journalism purists who fear that website readers, looking at sites as varied as BuzzFeed, The New York Times and InsideCounsel, won’t be able to distinguish between paid content and independent journalism. So heated did the discussion get last year that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission convened a conference to help it determine if some sort of regulation was necessary. No regulation was imposed, and most attenders came away believing that native ads were not only being properly labeled but that, more important, they were offering readers the sort of valuable information that, in essence, made the source of the information irrelevant—except to the extent that the gratitude readers might feel toward the company providing the information might translate into both loyalty and sales.

And that underscores the point of this whole article: If content provides readers with value, they’re happy to read it and even act on it. And knowing who is providing that content, when it’s perceived as useful, helps build relationships that build loyalty that build sales. And that translates into ROI.

Run, don’t walk

Many companies, daunted by the array of content vehicles with which they’re faced, figure they’ll take baby steps, testing a vehicle here, a vehicle there to see what works. But while there’s some logic to that approach, the real value of a content marketing strategy can only be realized when it’s strategic, not merely tactical, when you’re rolling out sliced and diced, multi-channel, thought-leadership-based content to the right audiences in the right places at the right time. Dive in—don’t just put a toe in the water. Given the climate and the competition, it’s really the only way to get results.


Mike Winkleman

Mike Winkleman is president and co-founder of Leverage Media, a Hastings-on-Hudson, New York-based creator of books, magazines, white papers, and other content vehicles that works with law firms and other businesses to craft strategic content marketing programs. He is the recipient of the Content Council’s 2013 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award.

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