Lately I have been having some very passionate discussions about the best place to start in Content Marketing. Do you start with products, personas or topics?

You have heard me rant before about the biggest marketing mistake when we use our website and too much outbound promotion to just talk about ourselves. So you can eliminate product as the starting point.

This brings us to the question of whether to start with personas or topics?

Recently one of my colleagues discussed the concept of “Return On Interesting” with Content Strategy. And he talked about how to use “Audience Marketing” to get started. I think it’s brilliant, and so I thought I should explain the basic concepts he presented to all of you here…

Introducing Timo Elliott

My colleague’s name is Timo Elliott (@TimoElliott). He is one of SAP’s most prolific bloggers and a self-described “technology evangelist.”  Which, he explains, involves lots of time interacting with customers via social media and at conferences. He has presented 30 conference keynotes this year, mostly on the topic of Analytics (so check out his website to learn more or to secure him for your next event.)

The Basic Argument

You’ve heard this all from me before: traditional marketing is broken! Marketers are working harder and harder to push out promotional messages that are increasingly being ignored by today’s savvy buyers.

The problem comes down to simple math: we’re getting fewer leads for the same money. And the only way to reverse the tide and save marketing is with a content strategy that produces valuable content people want, converts them at the appropriate time and generates more leads for less money. All while landing marketing at it’s rightful place at the leadership table as the advocate for customer value, insights and loyalty.

Which brings us back to the question of where to begin your content strategy? With targets or topics?

I have written before about the problem with trying to label your audience. But I think I struggled to get the point across clearly and succinctly. Once I heard Timo’s explanation, I just had to shine a light on the simplicity and effortlessness with which he explains it. So here it is verbatim:

Why Interesting is Important

The last few years has seen a huge change in the underlying economics of marketing. It now effectively costs nothing to get messages out to the market, via web pages, blog posts, Twitter, or Facebook – it’s easier than ever to “make noise”.

But because everybody else in the market is making noise, it’s harder than ever to get “listened to”. I believe the vast majority of marketing materials created in our industry are professionally-produced, are designed for a specific audience, and talk about customer concerns and problems. But they typically aren’t very engaging or interesting, and do little to differentiate the company from other vendors. These materials quickly fall into a vast sea of “marketing mush” without making any impact on the market, while interesting content gets shared via email, retweeted, or “liked” on Facebook, reaching a much larger audience.

Content Marketing

ROI = Return on Interesting

Hence the notion that the “return on interesting” has soared because of the new marketing environment — it’s gone from being a linear relationship (the more interesting your marketing, the higher the impact) to something more like a black and white step function (it’s either uninteresting, and vanishes, or it’s interesting and takes off).

What is Audience Marketing?

According to Timo, Audience Marketing is the best way to create more interesting content. It’s centered around defining a group of people with common interests. And he warns against separating the “who is interested” from the “what they are interested in.”  Since the categorization is much more subtle than simplistic definitions like industry, title and size of company (as I tried to explain here).

It is generally easier to start with identifying interesting topics which will typically cross common “targeting” labels. And by starting with topics, you will be able to define the types of content people find most interesting.

I would add, that by starting with topics you can begin the whole process with some solid keyword research, which aligns directly with content types and content placements (as opposed to titles and industries which would typically require large research studies to understand researching behaviors.)

How To Create Interesting Content

Timo suggests a number of steps to generating your own Return on Interesting with content marketing:

  1. Want Killer Content? Speak To A Customer
  2. Don’t just talk about yourself
  3. Offer content in the right context
  4. Focus on the details or a unique point of view
  5. Test, test, test!
  6. You don’t have to create all the content yourself (curation)
  7. Act fast to discuss breaking news
  8. Do less, but do it better

Where Do You Start?

Where do you start your marketing planning or content strategy process? With products, “targets” or topics?

Let me know in the comments below or on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook. And Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for future posts and updates.

Photo Source

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP where he leads content strategy and serves as the managing editor of the company’s award-winning Business Innovation thought leadership blog site. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

17 Comments

  1. Tony Zambito said…

    Michael,

    Another good article. I love Timo’s marketing mush label! I believe you have to start with knowing the audience deeply. That should be no surprise coming from me. What I will add though is that you cannot do effective planning or strategy until you have the deep insights into your audience. Personas in general help – a lot. But they alone will not give you the full picture. I’ve been making the case recently for understanding the intelligence that customers and buyers are now seeking. Intelligent Content has meaning respective to advancing knowledge, problem-solving, and innovation. To do this – you need deep insight into your audience. So you know what I am going to say here – you start with the customer or buyer – insights about them will inform planning and strategy.

    Tony Zambito
    @tonyzambito

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Tony! I was really hoping you would chime in and I knew I would agree with you before you even commented!

      The point about deep insights that come from audience research cannot be made strong enough since most marketing starts with the product or the target. The main concern with personas is that they can be helpful but the intelligence can get lost in a large organization when the content delivery happens in a team or person separate from the research.

      So the research has to be done and the insights need to be shared liberally across the marketing content supply chain so that nurture, response and additional content development all work off the same insights.

      But I think we’re in violent agreement!

      Best, Michael

  2. Urban Media said…

    Great article, thank you for sharing! It’s all about being different, not following the crowd, voicing your own opinion, seeing what the customer wants (they come first!) and having the right audience in the first place… In a way, ‘people watching’ especially on social media sites can help you learn if you’re new to it, then learn from your mistakes.

    We always say… less is actually more and quality over quantity – Always. Thanks again for your very interesting read Michael.

    @theurbanmetro

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks for the comment. I really like your point about listening. Many people ask me “how to get started” on blogging or tweeting or really any digital platform and I always tell them to start with some simple people watching. It’s ok to lurk. Then start testing your own approach and stick with what works.

      Thanks so much for reminding us all of that important lesson!

      Best, Michael

  3. Eric Wittlake said…

    Yes! The competition for our attention is overwhelming, even when we are looking for specific information or resources, and definitely when we are in a more general learning and discovering mindset. When presented with boring, lifeless, corporate speak marketing mush, we simply move on (if, in the age of inbound marketing, we even found it in the first place!)

    I like the approach to audience here. Instead of of focusing on title and role distinctions, focusing on common interests and topics ensures you are focused on the real priorities for your audience (instead of your priorities that turned up as modestly interesting in a profile). Good stuff, thanks for sharing.

  4. Ileane said…

    Hi Michael, I’m just making myself familiar with exactly what is meant by the term “content marketing” and I’m wondering if you have a post that details your definition of it. I’m hanging out on Google+ doing searches and your posts keep popping up! Anyway, I think I’m making it way too complicated but I don’t like using terminology unless I know exactly what I’m talking about so if you could give me a hand I sure would appreciate it. Thank you!

  5. Sales Chat Sean said…

    Hi Michael,

    Its a perfect start of the day for me. Your article has cleared me up on content marketing strategy. This didn’t provide any straight forward answer to me though.

    Since you have invited comments, here are my 2 cents which is an extension of your article:

    The Problem of Just “Making Noise”:

    + it is indeed very easy for us to reach to a wider audience through all the social media channels, but it is even harder to make our voice heard by the specific audience we are targeting.

    + the world out there is so intelligent that they will leave a marketer in a second if they feel that we are talking only about ourselves or forcing our audience to see/read anything particular.

    + As a B2B company, where much profit is in greater volume … we of course cannot live without a crowd.

    So, our biggest difficulty is in how to make ourselves stand out of the crowd.

    I also see you are commenting on many comments, Michael.

    Please help me understand ways to improve our approach, if you don’t mind:

    We essentially have made it a goal to share our customers’ interests as much as possible, and to participate & share our experiences (and content) in the channels where our customers already exist.

    Obviously, this is not a short term strategy, as we have to plug this in into a long term marketing approach.

    Are we missing anything important?

    What are the best ways to ensure that we stand out from the crowd, and contribute only value-adding content (vs. just more Noise)?

    Thanks! Great article.

    -Sean

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hi Sean, I’m not sure I can help without knowing more about your situation but I will say that I am not sure I agree that it is easy for us to reach a wider audience with social media unless the content is truly interesting. It is not like email. You can blast larger volumes at a defined rate of response to reach a wider audience but there is a cost with each blast (opt outs). The same is true for social except you cannot buy lists.

      This means content must be interesting. Some studies (Hubspot) suggest that great content outperforms “good” content by 1000x+. So it puts pressure on us marketers to determine what works best for our audience through trial and error. In the end, you have to test and learn. Make some mistakes. Go to the edge sometimes. That is my best advice. To stand out in the crowd, you simply have to beat the competition in being interesting to your audience. this comes from research, trials (and errors) and the willingness to be courageous.

      Not sure it helps, but happy to address your specific situation.

  6. Kevin Yu said…

    Michael, nice to see you here. Actually, I have been audience marketing manager in evangelism group for 7 years before I joined SAP from Microsoft China.

    Audience marketing is advanced marketing which not too much people understand the value because it’s long term, not short term revenue impact, especially in b2b big deal company.

    The good news is many companies are embracing the strategy to that point – content marketing, inbound, community etc. But it is still long way to go for most b2b business. The critical is how to change the mindset other than the way we are doing it.

    Keep in touch!

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Kevin, I agree it is tough but will become more and more required as buyers continue to increasingly tune out push-based messages. For some companies, this realization may come too late.

      Thanks for commenting here and hope to engage with you again soon!

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