The ease of publishing content online means anyone can become a content creator with the click of a mouse.
So how do companies make their content stand out in the endless sea of ad campaigns and marketing tactics?
Sam Chapman is a content strategist, brand builder, and storyteller. As Content Director at Aprimo, he heads up brand experience and creative direction, and mapping content strategy to growth objectives. Sam has over a decade of experience in content operations, communications, and brand management for startup and global B2B tech organizations.
In this episode, Sam gives us his thoughts on building competitive marketing content, the importance of thought leadership, and how to keep creatives from burning out.
- Don’t make content transactional
- Adapt to non-linear strategies
- Develop authentic connections
- Build an ongoing conversation
- Prioritize quality content
Check out Aprimo
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5:25 – Invest time and effort into thought leadership
Productive thought leadership takes time and energy. If you want real results, you have to go beyond ROI and vanity metrics.
“One of the biggest inhibitors to decent thought leadership is one, time, and then two, the confidence of the thought leader that actually has something in there that’s buried maybe, or they’re too close to it that they need to get out. And your job as a facilitator, as an elicitor of their ideas, is to just get comfortable, coax it out of them. Not everyone’s a great writer, not everyone has the time. So those two things, and then the effort, what you mentioned, in content marketing as you know, the whole elusive ROI that’s long and always asked for. ‘How many impressions did we get?’ ‘What are my vanity metrics this month?’ Getting past that to say, ‘Well, what’s the return on the effort that went into this piece?’ So I can know before six months, seven months if it was worth my team’s time to produce. I think those two things go hand in hand, especially with thought leadership.”
7:05 – Don’t make content transactional
In this new information economy, free content is available everywhere. If you want people to engage with your content, you have to be genuine.
“The thing that I love about real genuine thought leadership is that it’s asking for nothing in return. We’re putting this out there. We actually want you. People that I follow the most on social media for work are people that are out there just giving it away. In this new information economy and just the crushing sheer weight of Big Content, with the amount of content out there, if you’re asking for something, if you’re getting too transactional, I’m not going to listen to it. You’re not going to listen to it. You’re not going to sift through it. It really needs to be in a way, it needs to be this bi-directional relationship, because as a content marketer, you know this, we know a lot about our audience. We know what to expect. We know that tactics are changing. They’re shifting from B2B, B2C—the lines are blurring. But they need to know how to engage with us. It’s like governing dynamics for content marketing. We assume that both actors on either end are not going to change. But that’s our job to actually be open, honest, transparent about the things we produce. So it’s not, in a word, bullshit.”
9:30 – Keep it conversational
You don’t want your content to feel forced or stilted. Consumers want conversational information, so keep your content casual.
“Any consumption has to be frictionless, and that’s going to be part of the strategy. That’s why it’s like, keep it conversational. Do some limited direction going in, but keep it open because, I’m sure you found doing this, that when conversations are allowed to ramble and meander, that’s when you get to and this is why setting this format up for if you’re running your corporate marketing thought leadership program you want to distill this more conversational information, setting this up as just your tactic to go beyond the SME interview. Set it up in a casual, open way where you can really foster a conversation then just grab it, drop the transcript, and you’re off to the races.”
21:12 – Give content marketing leaders a seat at the table
Content marketing intersects with nearly every area of business nowadays. Make sure you give your content marketers a chance to share their insight.
“In my view, your next round of content leaders of this generation, a lot of them are going to become that go-to, that chief storytelling officer. But having that intersection of the business, knowing, okay, product and product marketing engineering, having to interface depending on your audience, working with customer success. That intersection, that diplomacy of content marketing I think is so cool. That’s one of the reasons I love it, because you’re in the game all the time. You’re in play, and there’s rarely a situation where I would say content marketing content strategy does not have a seat at the table, or it should have a seat at the table.”
26:23 – Adapt to non-linear strategies
Marketing is becoming less and less of a straightforward process. To get customers to come to you, initiate an experience that makes them want to engage with your company.
“It’s totally non-linear these days because it’s, how do you buy a shirt or a backpack or a fire pit? You get 12 tabs open, you probably shut it down. You come back to it. These individual buying experiences are not only for the B2C world. So everyone’s going to do their research on you before they get to your website. Your website is no longer that place where you expect everyone to learn about you and get your key differentiators, all that. Again, go back to thought leadership. You’ve got to put stuff out there to initiate a trustworthy, engaging experience that makes them more comfortable going to where they know they’re going to get hit with the marketing.”
27:15 – Develop authentic connections
Design your marketing around your audience. If you are marketing to other marketers, for instance, make sure you aren’t relying on marketing platitudes and buzzword bingo.
“Especially in a world where you’re marketing to marketers, I always think about the Ernest Hemingway collection called On Writing, and he writes, ‘every writer needs a built-in shock-proof shit detector.’ And as marketers, we have that. We can spot the marketing platitudes and the buzzword bingo. And you’ve got to know that they know that. And that goes back to the relationship with both sides and that governing dynamics. So you want to guide them through a pathway, again a frictionless path that gets them to something where they can actually get into the consideration mode and say, ‘Okay, I want to talk to you. Yeah, that seems like it fits my needs.’ And this is part of designing intent. It’s pathways of intent, really.”
49:07 – Build an ongoing conversation
You aren’t trying to create one end-to-end experience for potential consumers. Look for what is and isn’t working so you can build an ongoing conversation.
“And our job is, as content marketers and this, again, the rise of the content leaders, to see that it’s not about these waterfall experiences, it’s not about saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to build an end to end thing and put it out there.’ And then there’ll be the next thing. It’s about being able to build an ongoing conversation. Something that becomes its own thing that lives out there. And you’re in there stirring the pot, optimizing, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t, but everybody who works for you on your team, everyone who’s got skin in the game needs to be aware of that broader ecosystem of thought in order to, I think, really not only appreciate and get appreciated for what they do, but to see the value and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to put a little extra of myself into this rather than just banging it out.’”
51:29 – Let creatives be creative
If you are forcing your content creators to churn out work nonstop, they’ll burn out. Give your creatives space to be creative.
“Let’s add some space back into our production schedules to think. Let’s take a day where we don’t have meetings. Let’s say once a month is your day to create, and don’t get on chat, play around, it’s an idea day. And then when we get back together, like we had a couple of quarters ago, everyone just had a research, implementation goal where we’re going to like, what do we consume just as creatives in our personal world, and how can we apply that to the brand or the site or to a piece of content or our design principles? Or can we add something to our brand book or our brand arsenal? And having that time to do that, that adds. So you can implement things within your current structure to allow for that kind of creativity and the things that you’re actually there to do. Letting creatives be creative is not a novel concept, but it’s one of the last things that people think about when you’re in that assembly line of content.”
56:41 – Aim for return on effort over return on investment
Marketing often focuses on vanity metrics like ROI, but Sam says return on effort is a better indicator of a successful campaign.
“As I’ve gone through the ranks of content marketing, I feel like those things that I’ve witnessed and tried to formalize as part of my style, that’s reflective I think in the way that the practice is headed. So that’s why we’re seeing things like chief content officer, VP of content marketing at Salesforce. The rise of content intelligence platforms that are realizing that no one cares about the vanity metrics of PSA. Vanity metrics, that’s a contrarian one, you can do without those. Return on effort rather than return on investment. These are things that are slowly becoming the norm because people are waking up. You remember I’ve worked at an agency before and the whole QBR of an agency where like, ‘Yeah, look, you’re trending up.’ Totally. It’s very easy to trend up.”
58:29 – Prioritize quality content
Content shouldn’t be an afterthought. Your content defines what you do, so you need to prioritize creating and marketing quality content.
“Getting content a seat at the strategy table, it seemed often as an afterthought, like almost the exhaust of what our company does. So we’re a company, we’re up here doing our things, and our exhaust downstream is what we’ll create content out of. No, that’s not how it needs to work. You need to be at the level, leveraging your content people to help define your differentiation and your positioning, where you sit in your market, what you should be saying, what you can say, what you should say. And again, it’s back to that intersection, it’s kind of the melange of tech design, journalism, asset management publishing brand, to build an executive business level platform of storytelling that defines and drives what you do.”
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