Are You Content With Your Content?

Published: August 13, 2012

By Julie Zadow, Marketing VP, Aberdeen Group

I’ve been thinking about the adage that everything old becomes new again, and about how it relates to the epic rise of content marketing as a buzzword, rallying cry and all-important directional philosophy for marketers around the globe. How did we get here?

Or perhaps I should ask: How did we arrive back at the beginning again?

Because in the beginning, there was a story — a really good story – that the best marketers could find, shape and retell ways that made their products more relevant to their customers and prospects. Today, however, a perfect storm — a blistering recession, rampant fear of unemployment, and the explosion of big data — leaves marketers with a bleak choice: measure their marketing efforts or die.

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If you have a job and you have a budget, you know the only way to keep both is to show your boss that your marketing is driving a return on investment. That’s why so many marketers have pinned their hopes on the power and potential of marketing automation, and on its ability to measure how marketing drives leads through the funnel and ultimately converts leads into sales.

I’m not saying that marketing automation doesn’t have the potential to be awesome. It’s just that tapping into the full potential of marketing automation is complicated work. It requires training, dedicated resources and often a fundamental shift in terms of how sales and marketing work together.

Many marketing and sales organizations have been gallantly doing this work. They map out a shared definition of a lead for each stage of the funnel; debate and decide on scoring metrics for leads; calculate optimum conversion rates from campaigns; and so on. This work is absolutely necessary to make a marketing automation platform sing.

It’s necessary –but not sufficient.

Let’s face it: Marketing automation is a beast. We built the beast, and we’ve invested countless hours and dollars into taming the beast. But we still haven’t figured out how to feed the beast.

That’s why, for every phase of the funnel, and for every stage of lead nurturing, we need content – content that makes sense for what the prospect would want to know at a particular stage of the buying cycle. We’ve been so buried under the weight of the data side of this marketing challenge that we spend far too little time on the story side. As a result, we’re starting to see the “ugly side of pretty” of this powerful tool now: campaigns that fall flat, leads that don’t advance through the funnel, and deals that get stuck or die on the vine. We lost sight of critical role content plays in feeding and fueling our marketing automation platforms.

There’s no quick fix to this content conundrum. Content is more than a campaign; it’s a conversation philosophy for customer engagement, and that’s the essence of what all the hype around content marketing is about. If we want to nurture leads, we need to learn how to curate content. If we want to tackle the landscape of multichannel marketing, we need a multichannel content strategy tailored for each medium. We will win the war for customer attention by out-educating our competition. That’s a very different battleground than we’ve fought on in the past.

So the next time you launch a new product or kick off a new marketing campaign plan, remember this: It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about your customers’ needs. Your job is to tell the stories they need to hear, not the stories you want to tell.

For every stage of your lead nurturing plan, you need the right chapter. For every customer persona your data unearths, you need to develop the right character. And you need multiple endings, for the path to the final chapter will vary, and you need to see your story through to the end, wherever those plot twists take you.

Marketing automation has given us a great story structure, but that’s all it is — a structure. We need to own the story again, like we did back at the beginning. And maybe in this era of paperless reading, this story never goes to print. But it does get read. Go write it.

As Vice President of Marketing for Aberdeen Group, Julie Zadow oversees Aberdeen’s marketing, demand generation, creative services, PR, social media and branding initiatives.  Julie’s background is a multidisciplinary blend of marketing, events, sales and management experience.  Prior to Aberdeen Group, Julie was Program Director at IDC, responsible for the Sales and Marketing Integration Summit, among other programs.  Prior to IDC, Julie was Vice President at Yankee Group, and before that, Julie was Vice President of Events at Technology Review Magazine.  Julie has also held marketing and management positions at Linkage Incorporated and The Conference Board.  Julie has a Master’s Degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and graduated Cum Laude from Lafayette College in Easton, PA.

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