The Content Marketer's New Reality: It's About the Business, Not You
I've always believed that one of the best paths to lasting happiness is to marry up. I don't mean to marry up in the financial sense, of course. After all, my wife of almost 20 years is the daughter of history teachers and is a teacher herself. I'm referring to the fact that she's also caring and smart and fun and funny and a world-class mom.
I most definitely out-kicked my coverage, as they say. But even so, I had long resisted one of Kate's most heartfelt requests.
"Please," she would ask. "Please take me to a Def Leppard concert."
She would tell me childhood stories of belting out "Love Bites" while looking longingly at bedroom posters featuring Joe Elliott and the boys in all their 80s hair-band glory, but she had never seen them live. I heard her talk about this over and over again, but – because I am a man – I didn't really listen. Thankfully two neighbor wives did, and for her birthday this year they bought us all tickets to the Def Leppard show here in Jersey a few weeks ago.
We had a blast. (Yes, Kate was right again.) The place was packed, and what I loved most about it was that the band knew why. Kate didn't come there to hear anything they have put out in the last, say, 20 years or so. She wanted "Pour Some Sugar on Me," baby! And they delivered. They fired off one classic after another. During "Photograph," they showed pictures of themselves prancing on stage 30 years ago. They understood their reality and they owned it.
Chalk this one up as a sentence you didn't expect to read today, but here goes: Content marketers – we need to follow the cue of Def Leppard. We need to own the reality of our true role in modern marketing and be ready to deliver on it by creating, measuring and managing a content supply chain.
Reality Number 1: We don't "own" content marketing
Marketing activities have always been pointed toward creating an output, right? Whether you’re writing a post or developing a sales presentation or buying the back-cover ad for Fortune or producing a 30-second spot for the Super Bowl, everything that a marketing organization does is meant to make something. There’s something tangible at the end of the effort.
More and more, especially for B2B marketers, the something that you’re putting out is a story. It's narratively developed and delivered. That is the essence of content marketing. But the fact is, it takes more than just you hiring some former journalists to do that at scale, nimbly and effectively. It requires multiple different parts of your organization working together effectively.
At Dun & Bradstreet, we have been developing a content supply chain that mandates how this interplay works. I am one of five direct reports to our CMO, Rishi Dave (who will, by the way, be talking about how the content supply chain helps scale account-based marketing at Dreamforce next week – September 15 at 4:30 p.m.). All five of us, and our teams, play vital, interlocking roles in content creation.
- Our head of strategy and his team create the persona-focused and account-based messaging, based on deep knowledge of what our customers want, that is the foundation of the content created. (Who do we want our content to engage, and on what topics?)
- Our head of digital and his team build and optimize the environments and campaigns where the content lives. (Where and how do we want that engagement to take place?)
- Our head of brand and communications and her team provide unique voice and targeted amplification. (Are we relevant and unique?)
- And our head of customer analytics and her team measure our effectiveness. (Is the engagement we planned actually happening?)
My team's role – to build great stories – is of course important, but it's just a cog in the content supply chain wheel. I used to have a grandiose vision of a cool little brand newsroom that felt like a mini version of The Washington Post in All the President's Men, cordoned off in some corner of the marketing floor just writing whatever interesting story popped into our minds. That isn't reality – and nor should it be.
The content supply chain speaks to the fact that content is a key enabler of marketing strategy holistically. It is interwoven throughout everything that marketing organizations do. The content marketer's job now is to look across your organization and figure out how those different elements come together to create great assets. And then you need to establish and manage process and workflows to execute.
It's all about the handoff, and that's hard to do well. Companies speak in terms of partnership and collaboration all the time – and that’s all well and good. But I try not to use those words, because partnership and collaboration seem optional. I can partner with you if I want to. It doesn't have that “we’re tied at the hip” dimension.
Perhaps the most important role of content leaders today is to make sure that the organization doesn’t fumble those handoffs. That the different people, within the different organizations, know exactly what their role is, when they’re supposed to perform that role, and to what effect – and that they have the processes and technology in place to do it. You can build a beautiful restaurant with an amazing menu and a chef you brought over from the Loire Valley, but if you have the hostess washing dishes, the dishwasher tending bar, the bartender seasoning the fish and the chef waiting tables, you aren't going to last long.
Reality Number 2: Our responsibility is to drive the business forward
I'm currently hiring, and I usually spend the entire first conversation with a candidate explaining what we're building here. I want them to know what they're potentially getting into.
When the candidate has a journalistic background, I make something especially clear: Yes, we want to create good, valuable, relevant and meaningful content. But at the end of the day, we're marketing, and our job is to deliver business growth value by growing relationships with customers and prospects. End of story.
That’s the role of data. One of the challenges many organizations have is not being driven by one single source of clarity and truth in terms of what “good” is. Our ideal is that everyone in marketing will have access to this one universal source of the truth and clarity, around what’s working and what isn’t. Without this, the collective effort of the content supply chain falls down. You must create that one version of the truth – is it about brand growth or pipeline growth, conversion or conversation? – and then make sure that everyone understands what they can do to make it happen.
Data-inspired content creation delivers business growth and has four faces:
- First, we must be data-inspired on the front end to understand who we are programming for. What does deep segmentation analysis in an account-based model tell us about what our most valuable customer and prospect relationships are?
- Second, we must be data-inspired in understanding what those people care about. We use digital and social traffic behaviors – and read and talk to a lot of people – to identify hot topics and white space we can credibly fill for our key audiences.
- Third, we must be data-inspired in terms of how they find the content, both in digital and also in sales enablement. So, we want to make sure that if CMO from Tech Company X enters into our digital world, when they do so they get served an experience that fits her world, and not a small company’s CFO.
- And fourth, we must be data-inspired in the way content is presented. It must feel progressive and smart and interactive.
Growth is demanded of every marketer. Your content is a driver. Sure, tell a great story. Just know that its success is dependent on far more than your buddy telling you it was a good read.
If we embrace the realities of content marketing now, another reality will come our way soon: The end of content marketing. Not because the practice will go away. The phrase will.
Marketing is storytelling, more and more - storytelling that makes a difference for the business by making a difference for the audience. Makes them smarter or happier or more successful at their jobs. Content marketing won't be its own thing. It will just be what marketing does.
I would say I look forward to that, but that isn't owning my reality. I'm Joe Elliott with the chorus of "Animal" to belt out, even if my wife likes his version better.