If you’re like many content marketers, when you tell your mom your job title, she reacts with a perplexed smile and something like, “Oh, so what do you do?” An explanation fit for a layperson only yields a brief, labored expression before giving way to an epiphany: “So you’re a writer?”
“Yeah,” you say, realizing that your mom is probably picturing you hunched over a vintage typewriter in a New England cabin, decked out in beatnik attire, while tapping out your great American novel and trying to figure out how you’re going to pay off those pesky student loans.
Not that you can blame Mom. After all, the term “content marketing” didn’t even exist 10 to 15 years ago. Unfortunately, many of us get this same reaction from folks in our own department.
When our colleagues do (sort of) know what we do, they treat us like we’re just off creating “cute” videos and blog posts that just keep people entertained until they can come in and do the real work, or they fail to see our contributions because they’re nested inside much larger campaigns. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how our ebook or whitepaper contributed to the stew.
If content is at the heart of all great marketing (and I believe it is), then why do so few people inside and outside of marketing understand what content marketing is and how it creates value? You and I know that our work permeates everything the department does, influencing and converting prospects in subtle but powerful ways. So why is it so hard for others to see that?
Here are five reasons content marketers are underappreciated, plus solutions for getting those who matter to see the value in what we do.
1. Everyone Thinks They Can Write, Design, and Shoot Video
Except for the most self-aware, everyone thinks they can write. They can crank out an email (albeit a terrible one) in three minutes flat, and they get lots of great responses from their friends on their personal social media accounts. So naturally, when they see your well-crafted article that just happened to be awesome enough to be published in Fast Company, some think, “Yeah, big deal. I could do that.”
The same goes for design and video. People assume that just because they can throw together a bunch of clipart in PowerPoint or get 150 likes on a video they shot on their iPhone of their daughter making her first soccer goal, our design or video work must be just as easy—more play than work, in fact.
The Solution: Accept that some of your colleagues will naturally appreciate the difference between writing for a personal blog and crafting truly useful content that fits the brand voice. Others won’t. You can blame it on the internet and social media being the great equalizers, giving every individual a platform, a voice, and a bit of overconfidence. Unless the skeptics happen to be in a position of authority over you, just embrace your inner Disney princess and “Let It Go.” Your focus should be on making sure you have the support you need from above. You can do this by building a relationship of trust with your superiors, perhaps pointing to statistics that show just how big Fast Company’s reach is, and making your work processes more transparent.
“My personal solutions,” says Vincent Orleck, CMO at BRANDish in Phoenix, Arizona, “are to either A) align myself with others who see the content value similarly to how I do, or B) guide those who don’t see it the same way in a direction that allows them to essentially ‘create’ the same content themselves so they are bought into it on their own level rather than me convincing them to do so.”
2. People Don’t Understand What Our Work Requires
We make it look easy. The hours of focused attention that we have to carve out of a distracting workplace aren’t always apparent to others—especially when we have to lock ourselves in a conference room or work from home in order to escape the constant interruptions and concentrate well enough to write. (The biggest office pet peeve cited by marketers in a recent survey? Co-workers who talk too loud. This may be why 53 percent of those polled expect most workers to be remote within just a few years—which will only make our perception problem worse.)
Even while we’re at the office, clacking away at the keyboard, composing the best blog post customers have seen in years, it outwardly looks no different than someone responding to an email or updating social media. Like synchronized swimmers, the effortless grace that is seen by spectators above the water masks the frantic effort that’s taking place beneath the surface.
The Solution: You could do a better acting job. Grunt more. Sweat more. Make sure you look disheveled and stressed out by the end of the day. Or you could map out your workflows in detail and publish them for all to see, perhaps using work management software. Once your colleagues recognize just how many text and design drafts it takes to get to one finalized and approved whitepaper, not to mention the resources involved, they’ll be less likely to take you for granted.
3. We’re Battling Conflicting Definitions About What Makes Our Content Valuable
“People in the marketing industry are at varying levels of experience,” says Orleck, “so their understanding of what truly valuable content is will vary greatly. Often what I see is newer marketers focusing more on the approach or the platforms instead of what the content actually consists of, and whether it should even be put out there.”
Just because you can publish everywhere doesn’t mean you should. And different individuals within the team can have vastly different opinions about what types of content will work with the audience—not to mention how much of that content should be produced on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Deborah Strickland, senior digital marketing strategist at Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale, California, says, “I’ve seen a lot of ‘throw it over the wall’ processes, which can result in poorly produced content, content that doesn’t fit the audience, or redundant content—how many whitepapers on X do we need?”
Many marketers are being asked to manage a “content factory, spewing out tons of often disconnected material,” without regard to strategic goals, Strickland says. “In some teams, just creating content is the end goal—if it gets used, or visitors can find it, isn’t their problem.”
The Solution: To avoid arguing about subjective opinions on what is and isn’t valuable or relevant, tie all content back to the company’s strategic drivers. Understand the metrics that are being used to evaluate your output—is it about how many assets you release, how many pageviews or downloads each asset attracts, how many different platforms you’re publishing on, how many new prospects are drawn in, or some combination of the above?
In the end, if your boss admits that he’s most interested in releasing more content this quarter than last quarter, then that’s the metric you should be paying closest attention to. If he values “more, more, more,” then by all means adopt the content factory approach to get the appreciation you’re looking for.
If you can, however, take a stand against time-consuming content that has little strategic value. Pull out your documented work processes to show how many resources are involved in creating this asset, especially if it isn’t being appropriately leveraged down the line. Get those who create the content and those who release and distribute the content on the same page about how much room there really is in the pipeline. If you scale back the number of pieces you produce, you can focus on amping up their individual impact.
4. We Suck at Showing ROI
I recently read a comment on LinkedIn that implied that, because webinars bring in more leads per dollar spent than ebooks, that marketers should ditch ebooks and just invest in webinars. I fired back that people probably wouldn’t give the webinar the time of day if they hadn’t first had experiences with the brand via social, blog posts, and ebooks. We all recognize this kind of overly reductive thinking for what it is, but it does expose how marketing’s metrics obsession is making it very hard for us to gauge and advertise the value of our content.
Some of this isn’t our fault. By its very purpose and nature, a thought leadership piece placed in an industry publication isn’t going to result in measurable sales. When the content marketing team’s work is devoted to pure brand awareness, it’s difficult to evaluate in terms of return on marketing investment. “Some executives understand that marketers need a portion of the marketing budget to be exempt from strict ROMI analysis,” writes Workfront CMO Joe Staples, “because awareness campaigns that are not tied to direct revenue are essential for the growth of the brand. But for other executives, it’s a message you’ll have to impart again and again.”
Some of this is our fault. We can do a better job of translating our results into language our bosses care about.
The Solution: Words and pictures (whether still or moving) are the native language of most content marketers, while other marketers and business professionals are all about metrics. Spend some time getting fluent in the language of business.
Comprehensive work management solutions can facilitate your efforts by tying budgets directly to tasks, improving resource management and allocation, and making forecasting and reporting easier than ever. Imagine being able to prove with data that you completed 10 percent more projects this quarter than last quarter, 95 percent of which were on time and under budget, and that you improved resource allocation, too. That will earn you some appreciation from the number crunchers, but you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone in another way, too. Content marketers have got to get better at touting their work and being their own cheerleaders.
“To succeed, content creators must be able to do more than research, write, and communicate,” says Shelly Lucas, content marketing director at Dun & Bradsheet. “We must be literate in data, analytics, SEO, user experience, design, advertising, demand gen, community, engagement, storytelling, and multiple lines of business. The past few years, many of us have busied ourselves learning all these things. How far has the rest of marketing progressed in its knowledge (and appreciation) of content? For too many organizations, the reciprocal pendulum is stuck.”
Content marketers have got to get better at touting their work and being their own cheerleaders.
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5. The C-Suite Hasn’t Bought In
“Most of the companies I’ve seen in the past 10 years still believe the purpose of marketing is to promote the company and write about the product,” says Jack Jenkins, director of product marketing at irth Solutions. “At its core, content marketing is about understanding the customer problems you solve and then sharing your expertise in creative ways to attract prospects. This doesn’t happen overnight, and the C-level always wants immediate results.”
Jenkins points out that marketing is often expected to produce isolated email campaigns to drive leads for short-term goals. But content marketing is the long game. “Unless the leadership team understands and commits to this strategy,” he says, “content marketers will continue to struggle. It’s a mindset change that is slowly being realized in many sectors of B2B.”
The Solution: You are a master at speaking to different audiences; don’t forget that your C-suite is an audience, too. “Rockstar content teams are contextual masters,” says Lucas. “They’re good at building bridges, both internally and externally. They develop resonant concepts and narrative structures to convey memorable marketing messages to prospects and customers. They create vehicles to create market momentum. They show buyers—and brands—the way forward.” They (we) can show executives the way forward, too.
This post is part of a paid sponsorship between Workfront and Convince & Convert.
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