Nearly all B2B enterprises use content marketing. They’re doing more of it each year and spending more money on it than ever before — on average, 25% of their total marketing spend, according to research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. Yet 65% have no written content strategy, 71% aren’t clear what content marketing success looks like, and 78% are less than satisfied with their results. Little wonder content marketing is entering the trough of disillusionment.
It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots, particularly when you consider that 75% of the “most effective” B2B content marketers do have a documented content strategy (from the same CMI and MProfs report). The implications are clear and the remedy seems obvious. But this latter group is quite clearly in the minority.
As a content strategist I have to wonder why.
There could be any number of factors at play. These include:
- As much as it pains me to write this, a shocking number of companies don’t have a proper strategy at all — content is the least of their concerns. It’s somewhat in vogue these days to question whether digital has made strategy irrelevant, but to get to the root of this problem we need to dig a bit deeper. In my experience, far too many marketers don’t truly understand what strategy is. They might mistake tactics for strategy. Sometimes they even mistake objectives for strategy. I’ve written about this on my personal blog. Or they might see strategy as too far removed from execution to really matter. In any event, a lack of documented content strategy is a symptom of a larger lack of proper strategy overall.
- For those that do have a proper marketing strategy, content might be seen as just another tactic in the plan. Now, to some extent these folks might be forgiven — the things that make up any content program (your blog, your white papers, your ebooks, tweets, infographics, and even entire content destinations) are indeed tactics. And content in general should be pursued in support of your company’s overarching marketing and business strategies. And hey, at least you’ve got a strategy of some kind or other, right? (See above.) The problem though is that these are the same people who are least likely to view content as a strategic asset of the business, as a strategic function of the business. In the end, if content isn’t seen as strategic then it doesn’t warrant its own strategy. You don’t create strategies for tactics, you choose tactics to support a strategy. But organizations that take a tactical view of strategy often fail to capture content’s true value. We may be biased, but we firmly believe that when content is seen as a strategic asset of the business, content becomes a strategic (and substantial) engine for value creation.
- Considering that 71% of B2B marketers aren’t even sure what content success looks like, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that these same marketers might define their entire content program by production quotas — in other words, the number of assets produced rather than the business impact of those assets. This often trickles down to their agency partners as well, who get hired for X hours of work or Y assets produced without the benefit of first going through a proper strategic decision-making process. When that kind of mindset (let alone pricing model) prevails, the mode of operation is do do do and leadership often sees strategy as something that stands in the way of getting things done. I don’t want to diminish the importance of execution — as I’ve said (many times) before, even the smartest strategy is only as good as your organization’s ability to execute it well — but I also don’t think that just “doing things” is a strategic plan (apologies to Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher); you still need to choose the right things to do.
- Similarly, an organization might not invest the proper energy, effort, time and money into the development and documentation of content strategy if they see content as a fad or flavor-of-the-month. These organizations absolutely know they need to do content marketing right now, so they’ve put it on their “list.” They’ll do it, but they may not know why they’re doing it — they just know they need to check the box. Content is less than a tactic, it’s a distraction. And even the nature of the output may not matter, as long as they can show they’re keeping up with the Joneses — and keeping the CEO or CMO off their back about “this content marketing thing we’ve been hearing so much about.” This challenge is in no way specific to content, of course. In marketing, pretty much any shiny object will find its way onto someone’s “innovation checklist,” so it gets gone but it rarely does a specific job for the business or its brand.
Do any of these feel familiar? If so, what comes next?
The simple answer is strategy. The more complicated answer pertains to mindset.
Famed management thinker Peter Drucker once said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” The descent into the trough of disillusionment is bound to be a bumpy ride. If you own content inside an organization that exhibits any of the thinking I’ve laid out in this post so far, you (and your content program) are bound to get thrown from the cart.
So here’s some new logic that should change the way you approach (and act on) content. These points should be obvious, by this point, as antidotes to the tactical thinking I believe stands in the way of highly effective content leadership.
- To survive the ride through the trough of disillusionment and thrive when you arrive on the other side, you need the right strategy for creating value for your customers and capturing value for your company — through content.
- Content is a strategic asset of the business and content strategy as a strategic function in the business.
- Strategy doesn’t stand in the way of execution. It clears the way for execution.
This much is clear: strategy separates content leaders from content losers. You need to move beyond the logic that’s holding content strategy back in your organization. As I’ve written before, every content decision must begin with clear, measurable objectives that inform a carefully considered strategy. Do this well, and document it all. Then execute with confidence and achieve content excellence.
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Note: This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Carla Johnson in the comments section of her blog. You can read her original post and my comments here.