How One Brand Uses Insanely Useful Content to Help Customers Make Better Decisions

high-utility-content

With complex decisions to make each year – from adjusting capital expenditures to figuring out the amount and timing of fertilizer applications – farmers must analyze reams of data to keep their operations running profitably. PotashCorp saw an opportunity to provide utility-based content that would not only inform farmers, but also influence mission-critical decision-making.

As the largest manufacturer of fertilizers by volume, PotashCorp was particularly hard hit by an industry-wide drop in fertilizer sales. In 2012, it experienced a sales decline of 18% in the United States driven by the cyclical nature of the commodity business. Agronomists at PotashCorp knew, however, that by saving money on potash (a naturally occurring salt mined from the earth), farmers were missing out on higher yields.

That calculus – figuring out how much additional fertilizer cost is worthwhile to increase yield and productivity – is a fairly complex problem requiring real-time data and analysis. In the absence of better information, farmers may opt not to apply potash for one or more growing seasons. Without it, crops still grow; but the soil loses its nutrients that are taken up by each harvest.

Working with its agency, gyro, PotashCorp developed a set of web-based calculators to help farmers make complex, data-driven decisions. Explains gyro managing partner, Brian Peters, “What we wanted to do was to put empirical evidence in the hands of farmers. We wanted to treat farmers like the savvy businesspeople they are by arming them with tools to make more informed business decisions.”

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PotashCorp hosts four web-based, interactive tools to support farmers’ real-time decision-making:

  • Nutrient Removal Calculator asks farmers to enter current yield and fertilizer application to determine what degree current practices are depleting nutrients from the soil.
  • Nutrient ROI Calculator pulls real-time data about local fertilizer pricing, combined with farmers’ inputs of nutrient balance and yield, to determine ROI on each ton of fertilizer applied.

HighUtilityContent_6

  • Growing Degree Days Calculator
  • Rainfall Tracker
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The company also created a state-by-state nutrient balance analysis showing an alarming gap between the amount of nutrients being absorbed by crops and the amount being reapplied to the soil. This gap has led much of the nation’s farmland to hit critically low nutrient levels.

“What we’re doing is taking the methods soil scientists use and automating it in a web-based tool,” says Robert Mullen, chief agronomist for PotashCorp. “If you’re a farmer working 18 hours per day, it’s unlikely you have time to read technical white papers and apply those insights to your own operations. With the calculators, we are taking scientifically sound information and methods, and making it very easy to use. Even more important, the information from the online calculators is actionable for farmers.”

And because the tools are web-based, they are quicker to produce and update than an app. Adds Peters, “We’re not asking farmers to download an app onto a mobile device, which speeds adoption.”

Over 120,000 farmers visit the site each year and that number continues to climb. While no marketing activity can change the volatile nature of a commodity-based business, the program allows farmers to remove emotion from the buying process, which PotashCorp hopes will lead to more consistent application over time.

Amplifying the message

To ensure that the right people find out about the online tools, PotashCorp uses social media to share educational content and take part in online conversations. Facebook ads help to amplify reach by targeting growers and agricultural retailers. And the team distributes content to agricultural websites and news venues to spawn additional earned exposure.

This article originally appeared in the February issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bimonthly, print magazine.

PotashCorp (gyro) was among the winners in the 2015 Content Marketing Awards, winning for Best Mobile App/Utility. There’s still time to enter your great work in the 2016 Content Marketing Awards competition. Entries must be submitted by April 29.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Chief Content Officer

The post How One Brand Uses Insanely Useful Content to Help Customers Make Better Decisions appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

2 Questions to Ask Before Becoming a Brand Publisher

Before-becoming-brand-publisher

A slow and steady stream of articles from reputable sources, including Inc., Fortune and Content Marketing Institute, has been encouraging brands and their marketing teams to think and act more like publishers. They extoll those that do.

But is publishing the salvation of content marketing?

There are certainly many advantages to creating higher-quality content more consistently – increased audience growth, decreased turnover, improved engagement, better creation of brand value, etc.

It’s no surprise that the quality of content is of great importance to brands, however only about one-third of marketers say their organization is effective at content marketing. Content marketing is prolific, and to attract and retain your customers’ attention with content you need to clearly stand out.

Publishing, however, is not easy. Becoming a brand publisher is a massive, complex effort. Not every company has an inherently compelling story to tell, and not every company has the resources to consistently deliver the brand story through carefully crafted content over a long period.

Becoming a brand publisher won’t change the fact that it takes between 15 and 17 months to see a return from a content marketing investment – if it’s executed well. Throwing in more resources to become a brand publisher so higher quality content can be produced won’t solve the attention conundrum as brands compete for customers’ attention.

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Ask these 2 questions

It is literally impossible for 100% of brands to be successful publishers, because the audiences do not have enough attention to go around. Given that reality, how can you determine if your brand should be a publisher? Answer these two questions:

  1. How interesting are you?

Take a good, honest look at your brand and figure out how interesting you are. Some enterprises have great stories to tell. Some do amazing things. Some have highly impactful thought leaders. Other businesses aren’t so captivating. If your brand isn’t all that interesting compared to others in your space, you might want to consider more effective alternatives to becoming a full-fledged brand publisher.

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  1. Do you have sufficient funding and leadership support to continue the endeavor and wait on a return on investment for at least two years?

Putting out top-quality content on a regular basis is no easy job by itself, and being a brand publisher requires more than that. The amount of time and resources required will greatly increase, but being a publisher is not a short-term payoff.

If the answer to either of these questions is no, then becoming a publisher probably isn’t the answer for your brand. There are still plenty of options, however, many of which have even greater potential value for many brands.

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Not brand-publisher material? Don’t give up

Media brands aside, being a publisher is not a core business objective. While being a publisher may be a more effective way to deliver meaningful value to customers and hold the audience’s attention, it’s not the only way. Customers gravitate to value, and there are many ways to provide that value other than becoming a publisher.

Shift your paradigm from thinking about content to developing resources that solve genuine customer problems.

Instead of enabling your customers to solve their own problems, develop tools that help solve problems for them. Ask yourself what problems your customers have that are readily solvable with a bit of time and effort. Analyze them, prioritize them, and solve the most critical ones that provide the best opportunity for long-term-value content creation.

Nike+ is a great example of a high-value resource done correctly. It has a clear and consistent goal, which in its words is to “Track your progress, stay motivated, and train better.” Nike+ is a tool, a community, and a content channel combined to not just tell you how to become fit but to play an active role in your fitness.

nike+-example

Nike could have had fitness experts contribute to a blog, magazine, or video series to talk about the same things, but no single content tactic (or combination of tactics) could provide the same amount of value as Nike+.

Plant a seed and let your audience take the reins

Not every brand has to be a great original content creator in order to publish great things. An appropriately motivated audience can do the heavy lifting if you provide them with the platform. It also empowers your audience members to increase their level of affinity for your brand.

GoPro has done this expertly. Recognizing and leveraging its users’ desire to share their experiences with the world, GoPro has ridden the wave of user-generated content to a $ 3.4 billion market cap. Over 6,000 videos tagged GoPro are uploaded to YouTube every day. If you were to watch all of its user-generated videos uploaded in 2014, it would take three years. By curating and rewarding the best contributors, GoPro has turned its users’ nascent desires into a virtuous cycle of ever-increasing engagement; one that includes 3.5 million YouTube subscribers, 1.5 million Twitter followers, almost 7 million Instagram followers, and more than 9 million Facebook “likes.” GoPro’s next step: monetizing the content for both the brand and its customers through a new content-licensing portal.

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Conclusion

If your existing content marketing efforts are becoming less effective, becoming a brand publisher is one option. That option, however, is expensive, difficult, and may only delay the onset of many of the underlying problems plaguing your content marketing program.

Rid yourself of all paradigms but the one which relies on this singular, fundamental truth: Customers will favor those brands that contribute the most value to their lives. Let that reality guide your actions and you will soon find your audiences flocking to you.

Whether you are considering becoming a brand publisher or seeking other ways to grow your content marketing program, subscribe to CMI’s free daily or weekly email.

Cover image by Splitshire via pixabay.com

The post 2 Questions to Ask Before Becoming a Brand Publisher appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Bringing Ideas to Life: A Look Behind the Creative Curtain

behind-creative-curtain

I was jotting down notes in one of the many journals I have around the office (or The Cave, as it is known around here). I happened to come across multiple pages of notes and sketches created around this time last year when we were formulating ideas for the Content Marketing World 2015 theme. After poring over the pages, I thought it would be neat to share with you the creative process for our biggest project – from simple ideas on paper to the final products – and how we all worked together to get it done.


The creative process is collaborative; drawing on team strengths for an effective visual story.
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Step 1: Develop the theme

We are a pretty fun-loving, close-knit group at CMI. That is why the ideation process for projects is always interesting to say the least. Ideas for various successful CMI projects have been born not only in our staff meetings but during our extracurricular activities such as pick-up basketball games, lunch outings, golfing, or a cup of coffee.

In December of 2014, the idea of having a Hollywood theme for Content Marketing World was presented. We all thought the general theme was a good one.

We knew that the theme had to touch many aspects of our event, including:

  • Joe Pulizzi’s opening keynote talk
  • Main stage design
  • Conference materials including posters, program, signage
  • Marketing tools including social and digital
  • Sponsor booths (optional)
  • Speaker presentations (optional)

We needed to not only consider the fun, visual applications of the theme, but also how it translated into the conference’s subject matter – content marketing – and how Joe, other speakers, and sponsors could incorporate a Hollywood theme into their own work.

After discussions with each team (sales, marketing, events, executive) involved in Content Marketing World, we came up with the tagline: “Bright Lights, Big Content.”

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Step 2: Gathering the ideas

Immediately after getting the thumbs-up on the theme from the team, I started on the ideation process with the marketing, community management, and event teams.

With decades of Tinseltown promotion to look through, I referred to some life-and-style magazines (and websites) about the 1940s to 1960s era of Hollywood. The goal was to get the idea machine in motion with visual references, from red carpet photos, promotional posters and lobby cards to production notes from Hollywood’s most iconic eras.

Take any one of my journals, and you’ll see many sketches that happen at in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions.

Step 3: Developing and executing ideas

With our marketing vice president and community manager, we decided to introduce the Hollywood theme to our audience, sponsors, and attendees with a series of social media-friendly images using the likenesses of some of Hollywood’s most iconic and recognizable actors and launch it on our social platforms.

social media friendly images

Those fun-lovin’ posters

A few years back, the CMWorld theme was rock and roll. I had an idea of doing rock-and-roll-style concert posters promoting each session track. Large-scale posters were placed in areas around the convention center and smaller versions were printed for attendees to take home. Digital versions also were available via our social channels. They were a hit with both the speakers and attendees, so each year I continue to create a set of posters promoting the conference tracks and speakers.

Below are some of the original ideas and sketches for the posters. Our initial idea was to use iconic actors and quotes, but after some early layouts, we decided to move forward with the iconic movies. This gave us a better visual to use across multiple channels, online and offline.

iconic movies

I worked very closely with our vice president of marketing in the creation process. We coordinated which movies and genres had a natural fit to a session track (i.e., the Future Content track as the Back to the Future-inspired poster). In addition, we worked closely with the event staff to make sure we had the most up-to-date speaker listings to ensure that no one got left out. Speakers had access to their own poster as well as optional visuals (banner ads, speaker announcements, buttons, etc.) for sharing on their social channels and promoting on their websites.

PRO TIP: If you want your influencers to share your visuals, make it easy. We did this via tagging on Facebook and Twitter, and shared Dropbox folders for the raw files. By providing access in multiple ways, we increased the likelihood that they would help promote their sessions and our big event.

Oh my stars

After kicking around some ideas for the general look of some of the marketing imagery, my attention turned to the on-site presence of the theme – from outside the convention center, to the walls inside, the expo hall, and conference areas.

I worked with the events and marketing teams (notice the integration of teams again) to come up with an idea of a Walk of Fame complete with floor graphics mimicking the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Being that CMW 2015 was our fifth anniversary, we wanted to show love to those people who had attended every year by putting their names on the CMW Walk of Fame.

Take a look at the original idea sketch below and the final product (with yours truly posing next to my star).

CMW Walk of fame

We didn’t stop the theme transformation with the floor or the walls. Our biggest challenge was the Hollywood Squares set. It was something else. If you didn’t get to see it, let me explain. We built a full-size set looking almost exactly like the vintage ’70s game show. We hosted one show each day and, in between, attendees could climb into their favorite square and have a picture snapped.

To get things started, our events team worked with our event contractors and tech onsite team to get the specs approved and then we had to realize the concept. With input from the contractors, I sketched out some of the concept using the initial ideas. It also was my job to create the graphics, logo, and everything orange. The tech team worked out how to make it all happen – and they did a fantastic job.

CMW Concept sketches

A little help from my friends

As I stated at the beginning, none of the visual content success is possible without the direction and input from the multiple teams that I work with at CMI. Integrating the CMI teams’ feedback obviously helps steer the creative, but it also helps me explore different avenues to take the designs.

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Over my years I have learned that to create great visual content, you must have great listening skills. The creative process is a collaborative one that, as our team has learned, draws on each person’s strengths, to get the right pieces in place for an effective visual story like the one we created for Content Marketing World 2015.

We’re well underway in following this same process for Content Marketing World 2016. Want to see the results and improve your content marketing skills? Register by February 29, 2016 for super early-bird savings. Use code BLOG100 to save an additional $ 100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Bringing Ideas to Life: A Look Behind the Creative Curtain appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

A Straightforward Take on 3 Confusing Terms: Content Marketing, Content Strategy, Content Marketing Strategy

3-confusing-content-terms

Are you looking for a job – or looking to hire someone – in a field associated with “content marketing” or “content strategy” or “content marketing strategy”? Do these terms pop up regularly in your reading and your conversations? If so, you know that people often misuse them.

Not that they mean to. It’s just that the terms often are used loosely, interchangeably even, resulting in confusion that can lead to ill will or poor business decisions.

For the sake of our businesses and our careers, all of us who work in these fields need to understand and appreciate the differences and similarities among these terms – and use the terms accurately.

For example, search job postings for “content strategist.” Go ahead, don’t be shy. You’ll find dozens of positions. In the descriptions, do you notice a theme? I’m willing to bet that you’re staring at a list of duties around writing, editing, and publishing content. And while that’s a great description of what many content marketers do, it doesn’t fit what content strategists (like me) do.

Where’s the disconnect? How does content marketing relate to content strategy, and how does content marketing strategy fit in?

Content marketing strategy as a sub-discipline

I’m just going to put this out there: I see content marketing strategy as a sub-discipline of content strategy. Let’s start by clarifying the difference between these two terms:

  • Content strategy is a sub-discipline of user experience (UX). A person in that role considers an organization’s content holistically and shapes the way that body of content influences people’s experiences with the brand. Content strategists think about how all the organization’s content fits together. As Rahel Anne Bailie puts it, “content strategy” equates to an “umbrella strategy.”
  • Content marketing strategy deals specifically with content marketing. Content marketing strategists determine what content will build the customer base by helping people make decisions or solve problems at various points in their experience with the brand.
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I teach an introduction to content strategy course, and I break it down for my students something like this:

Content_Marketing_Strategy_2

How content marketing fits with related roles

Given content marketing strategy is a sub-discipline of content strategy, does that mean the folks in marketing report to a content strategist? Not usually. In most organizations the content strategist and content marketing team report up through different departments, even if they sit next to each other on the same project team. Content marketers typically report to the marketing team, while content strategists report to the UX team.

I show my students the hive diagram that Kristina Halvorson has used in her presentations. This diagram details a range of possible roles on a given web project team. Of course, not all content is web content, but the diagram (with a few tweaks) would look similar for any kind of content team.

The original hive diagram doesn’t include the content marketer role. In my class, I point to where I think the content marketer might belong, nestled in among the web analyst, content strategist, web editor, and web writer roles.

Content-marketer-hive-diagram

My version of the hive diagram created by skillset.org. See the original (not including “content marketer”) at the Brain Traffic blog.

Here’s how I see the content marketer role in relation to each of its neighboring roles. Keep in mind that a role doesn’t necessarily belong to a person. Sometimes, multiple people play a role. Other times one person plays multiple roles.

  • Content marketer in relation to the web analyst: Gathers insights from the web analyst to determine how best to target the customer with the right content at the right time.
  • Content marketer in relation to the content strategist: Plans for the publication of marketing content, aligning with the overall strategy that the content strategist has formulated in partnership with stakeholders.
  • Content marketer in relation to the web editor: Adheres to the editorial standards put in place and enforced by the web editor.
  • Content marketer in relation to the web writer: Creates a plan that is carried out with or by the web writer.

Of course, the content marketer works with other roles, too, not just with the adjacent hexagons in this two-dimensional representation.

Zoom in to see more accurately the relationship I’m focusing on in this article, namely, the relationship between content marketing and content strategy.

Content_Marketing_Strategy_1

This view reinforces my point about content marketing strategy being a sub-discipline of content strategy. Content strategists do some things that content marketers don’t, and vice versa. The area where the two functions overlap – where people are thinking strategically about content marketing – is content marketing strategy.

It doesn’t matter who’s doing that work in the middle; it could be a strategist doing content marketing work or a content marketer doing strategy work. What matters is that someone’s doing this work. With traditional marketing becoming “less and less effective by the minute,” this overlap area – content marketing strategy – may represent one of your organization’s biggest growth opportunities today.

A call for clarity

In summary, when we use “content strategy,” “content marketing,” and “content marketing strategy” interchangeably, we confuse people, from new practitioners looking to enter the field to organizations trying to make sound hiring decisions.

I propose that we distinguish between these terms by distinguishing between the roles as follows:

  • A content strategist plans and guides content efforts across the organization, including marketing efforts.
  • A content marketing strategist plans and guides content marketing efforts specifically.
  • A content marketer may play a strategic role, a tactical role, or some combination of the two within the practice of content marketing.

If I’m being honest, I don’t see the confusion clearing up anytime soon. I expect to keep seeing content marketing roles with the title of “content strategist.” But it’ll be OK. We’ll keep working together. We’ll support each other. And we’ll keep explaining the distinctions between these three terms – content marketing, content strategy, and content marketing strategy – to anyone who’s interested. We’ll make the content world a less confusing place one conversation at a time.

Want to expand your content marketing strategy skills? Sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers newsletter featuring exclusive insights from CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose. If you are like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his weekly thoughts.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post A Straightforward Take on 3 Confusing Terms: Content Marketing, Content Strategy, Content Marketing Strategy appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Why You Need Two Types of Content Strategist

type-types-content-strategist-cover

Recently I was asked: “How do you define an exceptional content experience?” My response was “I don’t deal with front-end experience. I make the content sing and dance by managing it behind the scenes. A front-end strategist tells me what’s needed, and I develop the back-end strategy to support those needs.”

Content strategists come in two main types: front-end and back-end. If you’re a marketer who treats your organization’s content as a business asset, you need to understand both types of strategist so you can bring in the right kind of help at the right time or develop the appropriate skills in-house.

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Two mindsets, each important

You must coordinate strategies for both the front end and the back end if your enterprise aspires to a scalable approach to content – an approach that leads to content that performs well with customers and takes advantage of automation.

Front-end and back-end roles require different mindsets, each important. In some cases, an individual may play both roles, but most content strategists develop one skill set or the other.

Front-end content strategists typically have a love for the content and the customer experience. They make recommendations about the content itself. When marketers say “content strategist,” they typically mean front-end strategist. That makes sense because the front end – the customer experience – is where all business planning starts. The front-end strategist answers questions like these:

  • Who’s our target audience?
  • Why (for real) are we creating content for those people?
  • What content do they need most?
  • How well do we meet those needs today?
  • How can we meet those needs better tomorrow – while also serving the goals of the business?
  • How can we better coordinate the efforts of all our content creators?
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Back-end strategists like me (typically known as intelligent content strategists) have a love for structure, scalability, and technology. They make recommendations about how to use technology – hardware and software – to handle all that content in efficient and powerful ways. This type of strategist answers questions like these:

  • How can we organize content so that our authors can easily store and retrieve it, and prepare it for automated selection and delivery in the relevant channels?
  • How do we structure the content so that modules are consistent and can be easily assembled (mixed and matched) on-demand to meet customer needs?
  • How do we make sure that we aren’t creating, recreating, and recreating content over and over for each channel?
  • How do we scale our processes so we can do more with the same resources?
  • How do we take advantage of the wealth of content we have and surface it for our customers in a way that is fresh and valuable?
  • How do we future-proof our content to take advantage of the next big thing?
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An example

Let’s take the example of personalized content. Personalized (adaptive) content delivers the right content to the right customer on the device of their choosing. Well-written content designed to meet the customer’s needs is important (front-end strategy).

You have to start there, but you can’t stop there.

Personalized content also relies on back-end strategy: Modularized, structured, format-free content supported by rich metadata. In other words, back-end strategy assures that content can be used and reused in various contexts and tagged with metadata so that computers, and people, can find it.

A deeper look at the two roles

Both roles are important, and they must coordinate. If they don’t, front-end strategy without back-end strategy can lead to solutions that are effective for the customer but don’t scale or cost a lot to create and maintain. Similarly, back-end strategy alone may lead to technologically elegant solutions that fail to resonate with customers.

I talk in terms of “roles” because content strategy today is often handled by people in the role of dedicated content strategist, but content strategy can also be a function within other job titles. You don’t have to be a content strategist to take on strategy-related tasks.

Front-end tasks:

  • Define customer personas.
  • Define customer journeys.
  • Analyze and map customer needs to the business strategy.
  • Determine what topics to address when, including content marketing offerings, to support the customer at multiple points in the customer journey.
  • Choose the best content types (text, visuals, video).
  • Develop SEO guidelines to ensure that people searching online can find the content.
  • Develop style guidelines (on how to write for the audience).
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Back-end tasks:

  • Identify how content varies based on customer needs and where each need arises in the customer journey.
  • Identify how content can be modularized so that it can be automatically reused (mixed and matched) to meet customer needs.
  • Develop format-free structured content models so that content can be written in a consistent way and automatically published to any channel (mobile, web, print).
  • Define the structure of the CMS repository so that it supports authoring and content retrieval.
  • Develop metadata to tag all content modules for dynamic content retrieval.
  • Develop business rules to identify how content should be assembled automatically upon customer request.
  • Define structured-writing guidelines (on how to write for each content model).

Marcia_WorkflowGov-01

As you see in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram, front-end and back-end strategists share responsibility for workflow governance – determining who creates what content, who reviews content, who has permission to change content, and who decides what gets delivered when and where.

Get the help you need with back-end content strategy

Lots of people talk about front-end strategy. I will focus on getting help with back-end strategy. That’s what I do: I help to grow back-end content strategists within organizations or help organizations hire resources to fill that role.

If your organization is looking to hire a back-end content strategist or to assign those tasks to in-house content teams, first explore your current resources for creating and managing content. Remember your web-management team or even IT resources when trying to determine the options.

Also look into what may seem like unusual places in your organization for individuals who can help with the intelligent content strategy. Some of these people might be too technical for your needs, but companies often have gems in hiding.

Examples of places to look internally:

  • App-development teams – They are familiar with interactivity and dynamic delivery.
  • Learning-development teams – They are familiar with modularizing content to create reusable learning objects and reassembling that content to build self-directed interactive learning.
  • Document-management teams – They typically have experience with developing rich metadata for content storage and retrieval.
  • Technical-communication teams – They have been creating format-free structured reusable content for decades.

Questions to ask when hiring for back-end content strategy

Here are some questions you might want to ask of candidates you consider hiring for back-end content strategy tasks:

  • Have you designed personalized content, content-as-a-service, or multichannel/omnichannel materials? Describe those projects. What made these projects different from a typical content marketing project?
  • What is the best way to scale a project for long-term success?
  • What kinds of technology (not specific product offerings) lend themselves to scalability, personalization, or omnichannel?
  • What are the greatest challenges you have faced on one of these types of projects? How did you overcome them?
  • How do you educate team members on these types of projects? How have you overcome resistance?
  • What are the best practices for these types of projects?

Conclusion

Today’s companies need both front-end content strategy and back-end strategy. To deliver content that wins over customers while achieving business goals, combine the skills and outlooks required at both ends. If you have found your own ways of making these ends meet, please tell us about it in a comment.

Missed the Intelligent Content Conference? Don’t fret. You can purchase the Post-Show Video pass and catch Ann’s talks by signing up. Access is good for one full year and contains video, audio, and slide capture for the Main Conference sessions.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Why You Need Two Types of Content Strategist appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

How to Increase Conversions at Each Stage of the Customer Journey

increase-conversations-cover

Visitors interact with your brand six to eight times on average before they become customers, according to several studies.

Keeping that in mind, does it make sense to treat visitors on their first interaction the same as those on their sixth? Trying to get a visitor at the start of the journey to purchase immediately is a waste of time and energy. It might even drive them away.

Doesn’t it make more sense to treat visitors based on the next stage in THEIR journey?


Visitors interact with your brand 6 to 8 times on average before they become a customer via @Siddharth87
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Stage 1: Awareness

This is the start of the journey, when someone comes in contact with your brand for the first time. Based on the framework you’re using, this stage is known as top of the funnel, awareness, or acquisition. The concept is the same; it’s the first interaction.

At this point, it’s likely that the visitors don’t know much about your product or how much you can help.

Your job is to capture their interest and get them to come back.

At this stage, a conversion isn’t a sale, it’s a repeat visit or better yet, an email subscription. If visitors share their email, you always can bring them back to your site.

You capture emails with engaging copy and educational content. Your copy should explain to visitors the purpose of a product such as yours. Talk about the real benefits behind it because your visitors don’t care about the features at this point. Remember, they aren’t even thinking of paying for your product at this point.

Then, use content to get them to subscribe. This could be an e-book, an email course, a video course, webinars, or any other download that would help the visitor.

Ramit Sethi only focuses on converting visitors to subscribers on his blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He has numerous paid products, some priced at thousands of dollars, but visitors won’t find them anywhere on his site.

Ramit-Sethi

Click to enlarge

Instead, visitors see an option for an e-book on the home page. Click-throughs to any of the product pages reveal only lead-generation forms. That’s because Ramit knows it’s easier for him to convert a visitor to a subscriber first, and then into a customer, instead of pushing the sale at the start.

Here’s another example: BitNinja, a server security software provider, found that not many people were purchasing its product. Even with a 7-day free-trial offer, the conversion rates were low.

Instead of trying to convert first-time visitors into customers, BitNinja decided to collect subscribers. It set up an exit-intent pop-up for an e-book about server security. This led to a 114% increase in subscriber conversions. Even better, the leads were more likely to convert to customers.

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Stage 2: Consideration

Now that you have their email addresses, you can bombard them with sales pitches. Yay!

OK, you know that’s a joke, right? If you try that, they’ll unsubscribe faster than you can say “nurture.”

Your subscribers are still not ready to buy at this stage. However, they are curious about your product. They understand that it can help them but they aren’t fully sold. They need more information.

That’s why you nurture them. You feed them more content, content that delves deeper into the problems they face and how to solve them, subtly mentioning that, yes, your product solves the problems too.

HubSpot does this really well. It breaks this stage into a series of conversions. At each conversion point, it gathers a little more information about you – a process called progressive profiling – before it feels like you’re ready for the final conversion – a free trial.

When you first subscribe to the HubSpot blog, you receive regular updates from its blog. Occasionally, you are sent an e-book that helps you solve a certain problem, but also positions HubSpot as the best way to do it.

To download the book, you need to visit a landing page, which pre-populates the information you gave when you signed up, such as your name and email address. It also adds one or two fields to collect new information about you, like your place of employment and job title.

HubSpot-form

Click to enlarge

In this example, HubSpot filled in my name, email address, and place of work. By completing the form, I qualify myself as a lead and move to the final conversion point of this stage – the free trial or demo.

At no point in this stage is HubSpot trying to get me to buy. However, it achieved numerous conversions by getting me to download e-books and scheduling a demo.

Your process doesn’t need to be as advanced as HubSpot’s, especially if you don’t have the tools for it. But you need to understand what your success metrics are for this stage. Again, don’t optimize for sales. Instead, focus on getting that little buy-in, like clicking through to your blog post or downloading a book, until you reach the final conversion of a free trial or some other commitment from the prospect.

LinkedIn does this in a really simple way. It sells premium subscriptions and products like LinkedIn Ads, but it can’t really push you to buy on the site or it risks disrupting the user experience. Instead of focusing on the up-front sale, LinkedIn gets you to qualify yourself via emails.

Linkedin-emails

Apart from the regular LinkedIn notifications, I also received a targeted email for an e-book on lead nurturing. There is only one call to action – download the book. LinkedIn knows I’m not ready to buy – I’m still in Stage 2 – so all it cares about is getting me to show some interest by clicking through, and that’s what the email is optimized for.

When I click through and download the book, I’m signaling that I’m interested in LinkedIn’s lead-nurturing tools. That takes us to Stage 3.

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Stage 3: Decision

This is it! Your lead is at the final stage. She understands your product, she’s even tried it out, and now it’s time, finally, to optimize for the sale.

Now, you might think that your product is so awesome that everybody who tries it will be hooked and they don’t need a nudge to purchase. Well, that’s great, but don’t leave the sale to chance. Buying your product means spending money, and no one really loves spending money. Yes, some will convert without a nudge but many will hesitate. There will always be objections.

A more personalized touch might be necessary at this stage. Every person has different objections, so you need to address them individually.

You need to go beyond traditional onboarding. It’s not enough to just show customers how to use your product. You need to proactively reach out to them. Here are some things you can do that can dramatically increase your conversion rates at this stage:

  • Ask the prospects to contact you with their questions or doubts. There usually are last-minute objections/resistance and most customers will leave without voicing them without a prompt or invitation. By reaching out to ask, you show that you care and show them how your product solves their problem.
  • Offer to jump on a call with them. Sometimes people just don’t have the time to learn a new product, especially if it’s complicated. By hopping on a call with them, you can walk them through it and get them to that “aha” moment sooner.
  • Invite them to a webinar. If you don’t have the resources for a one-on-one conversation, get the prospects to sign up for a webinar where you walk through the product. You can record most of it and only appear live in the Q&A session at the end. For some extra sales, offer viewers a limited-time discount at the end.

Here’s an example from Heap, an analytics company. After signing up, I get an email explaining the next steps with a link to a tutorial video. While this is standard, the next part is what makes Heap different.

Heap’s support team member, John Clover, goes on to tell me I can schedule a one-on-one tour with him, and even invites me over to the office. I took him up on the call and he was able to answer all my questions.

Heap

Click to enlarge

Sometimes, you want to reach out to the customers while they are still in your app. With in-app messaging, you can automatically start a chat if you feel like they are about to bounce.

HelloMD.com, a site that connects medical marijuana patients with doctors online, does this well. Its onboarding process consists of filling out a long medical form before booking a call with a doctor. If the prospect of completing a lengthy medical questionnaire is not bad enough, customers also had to answer numerous questions about the privacy of this information. At a 7% conversion rate, HelloMD needed a more hands-on approach.

HelloMD-Basic-info.

To solve this, HelloMD started using in-app messages and automatically displayed them according to the stage where the customer was. The message also encouraged two-way communication, allowing prospects to voice their concerns. This simple step boosted the conversion rates to 25%.

Just remember, at this stage, it’s OK to make the pitch. You’ve done the hard work by successfully guiding your visitor through the entire journey, and now you need to optimize for the sale.

What stage are your users in?

When optimizing your site or sales funnel, keep in mind what stage your users are in. If there’s a mismatch between what they are expecting and what you’re optimizing for, you won’t be successful. Your conversion rates will always remain low and you’ll never figure out why.

Instead, focus on moving them through the funnel and measure success based on conversions from one stage to the next.

Want to learn more about how to convert visitors into sales with an assist from content marketing? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World. Use code BLOG100 to save $ 100 on registration.

Cover image by Jeff Sheldon, Unsplash, via pixabay.com

The post How to Increase Conversions at Each Stage of the Customer Journey appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Host Your Own Twitter Chat: Time-Saving Advice, Tools, and Templates

host-own-twitter-chat-cover

One of our favorite ways to interact with our community on Twitter is through our weekly #CMWorld Twitter chat. The chat started in 2013 with a 10-week experiment prior to Content Marketing World as a way to connect our speakers with potential and registered attendees. After that event, we received many requests from the #CMWorld Twitter community to continue the chats. Fast forward to today, and we have hosted almost 130 chats and have learned a lot along the way.

If you are considering starting a Twitter chat as part of your content marketing efforts or improving your existing chat, read on to get a detailed look inside our process as well as some lessons learned.

Identifying your why

Like anything you do, you need to consider why you want to invest the time in a Twitter chat and how it will support your other marketing efforts. Asked another way: How will your Twitter chat provide a better experience for your customers?

For us, Twitter chats have become an essential part of our content plan. As mentioned, the original goal of our chat was to introduce people to our Content Marketing World speakers. While that still remains a goal, the chat serves other purposes:

  • Learning more about our #CMWorld community, including what questions and ideas they have
  • Introducing our community to speakers and topics at Intelligent Content Conference and from CMI University
  • Exploring high-interest blog topics in more detail
  • Inviting non-CMI regulars who are experts in the industry to share their insight and who bring a new audience to the chat (and CMI’s offerings)
  • Having editorial fodder to repurpose for blog posts, SlideShares, and more

Planning guests, topics, and dates [Template]

Planning the Twitter chats is a team effort, with three of us at CMI each taking a role: Michele Linn (vice president of content); Monina Wagner (community manager), and me (vice president of marketing). The general tasks include:

  • Brainstorming ideas for speakers and topics
  • Reaching out to guests to confirm topic and date
  • Handling logistics for the guests and the chats
  • Drafting questions for the chats
  • Drafting and sharing all promotions
  • Writing introductions for the subsequent blog posts

PRO TIP: Plan your chats in batches to save time. We typically brainstorm topics and ideas every eight to 12 weeks and do a lot of outreach at once. Similarly, we also write the questions and the introductions to the blog posts in bulk. It’s been a significant time-saver.

We use a Google Sheet as our primary planning and brainstorming vehicle. You can download and customize our template. We detail:

cmi-twitter-chat-planning-template

Guests and topic ideas

We have a tab in which we brainstorm our guest and topic ideas. As mentioned, we have several goals for our chats, and every guest and topic serves those purposes. Sometimes we identify guests (e.g., CMWorld/ICC speakers and influencers in the industry) and other times we identify topics (e.g., what kinds of questions are we getting asked a lot?).

PRO TIP: As we have learned the hard way, not all topics are digestible in 140 characters. When planning topics, consider how the Twitter community will be able to interact.

Schedule

The next tab on our spreadsheet tracks our detailed schedule, not only detailed plans for upcoming chats but historical data about each chat so we can understand which topics and guests are the best fit for our audience.

Our spreadsheet tracks:

  • Date of the chat
  • Marketing notes (This includes anything we want to promote, such as early-bird event discounts or new enrollment period for CMI University. These details help us match the right speaker and topic to what we are focused on from a marketing perspective at any time.)
  • Title/topic of the chat
  • Guest
  • Guest email
  • Guest Twitter handle
  • Primary category (All of our content assets, including our chats, are organized by key topic areas; when we repurpose content, we can more easily see which content we have per category.)
  • Note to indicate if the calendar request has been sent to the guest

After the chat, the following fields are completed:

  • Link to the Hashtracking report (more on that later)
  • Number of tweets
  • Number of contributors
  • Reach
  • Impressions (timeline deliveries)
  • Growth in impressions, week over week

Ideas for questions

Once the topic and speaker are set, our next step is to develop questions. Michele and I take turns writing chat questions, and the other person proofs and edits.

PRO TIP: After writing questions for 100-plus chats, we have learned that it helps to get multiple perspectives so the questions – and answers – don’t sound the same. Try to share the load with someone who has different expertise than you. And, while I recommend crafting the questions to save your guests’ time, don’t rule out asking them for insights.

Archive list of questions

We have a separate tab where we store all of the previously asked questions. It’s a simple list to keep and a handy reference.

Promoting chats with speakers and community [Template]

About a week before each chat, Monina shares with the guest a document that outlines the details of the chat:

  • The questions – as well as the time each question will be asked
  • Promotional tweets informing our community of the chat time, topic, and guest
  • Monina’s contact information as our community manager who operates @CMIContent handle
  • Links to our Facebook invite or LinkedIn post giving our community a sneak peek at the questions

Our goal is to take the guesswork out of the hour while making the chat as fun and engaging as possible for the guest.

PRO TIP: You can download and customize the template we send to our guests.

cmi-twitter-chat-promotion-template

In addition to reaching out to the guest, we also share the details with our community via a Facebook event page, which is set up for each chat.

ian-cleary-twitter-chat-facebook-example

We have found that there are several benefits to this approach:

  • Our community members can see if a chat applies to their informational needs.
  • Participation and responses have been more robust because attendees can think about their answers in advance.
  • New chat participants find us through organic reach on Facebook.

Tracking and participating [Tools]

Each week, we use Hashtracking to record our Twitter chats. Not only does this report provide a transcript of the hour’s tweets but it also offers specific details, such as top contributors and most retweeted tweets, which help us make note of hot topics or potential questions to be used for future CMI blog posts or Twitter chats.

We also share the individual Hashtracking reports with our guests so they can see details on the response to their chats. Guests really appreciate this, as it provides them with:

  • Feedback and responses to questions on a topic they are passionate about
  • Potential post ideas for their own blog
  • New connections with like-minded community members
  • A chance to review the chat in case something was missed

With a list averaging 200-plus chat participants with whom the guests can easily engage from Hashtracking, our guests now have an instant and active community they can tap into for their own content plans.

cmworld-top-lists-screenshot

Click to enlarge

To keep the chat on schedule, tweets are prescheduled using TweetDeck or Buffer. It helps us stay on track in each hour session and gives our community manager the ability to welcome and engage with our audience without watching the clock.

During the chats, we use Nurph or TweetDeck, but we’re also fans of tchat.io and Hootsuite. Our chat participants also use other methods, but as long as we’re all following the CMWorld hashtag, we’re seeing the same information. Find a tool that you’re most comfortable with – that’s the most important part.

Our questions are asked in roughly six-minute increments, allowing ample time for our participants to respond and engage. With eight questions spaced at five to six minutes apart, a few minutes are available in the beginning for introductions, fun banter, and catching up — and 10 minutes at the end for a participant-guest Q&A.

PRO TIP: Our chat originally included 10 questions, but we changed the format to eight questions with a Q&A with the guest at the end. This format works well because our community members like to have the opportunity to ask their own questions that arise over the course of the hour.

Repurposing content: Transcript creation, blog posts, analytics

Once the chat is over, we use a virtual assistant to create a transcript from the tweets in the Hashtracking report. The transcripts are shared with the team in a Dropbox folder, and several things occur.

PRO TIP: To filter spam tweets from your Hashtracking report, refine your search within the transcript by limiting terms and Twitter handles using Boolean operators.

Transcripts used for examples, tools, and key ideas

Our director of content curation, Jodi Harris, reviews all transcripts and looks for two things:

  • Content marketing examples
  • Tools and technologies marketers use

She logs those findings in a spreadsheet she uses to curate into other content. You can read more about CMI’s reuse strategy (and get another handy template).

Of course, she also looks for key ideas we may want to cover in future content plans.

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Transcript published as a blog post

Each transcript is published on our CMWorld blog and our Twitter chat page. Not only are these transcripts a great reference for those who want to review the session, but they also provide some search benefits for our Content Marketing World website. Also included on the Twitter chat blog posts are Storify links for each chat and the most popular tweet from that week.

Here is one transcript example from Andrea Fryrear’s #CMWorld Twitter chat on Agile content marketing.

andrea-fryrear-agile-twitter-chat-transcript

Blog posts on CMI

Our Twitter chats also provide a seemingly endless stream of editorial ideas, some of which we translate into posts on the CMI blog that can take multiple forms.

For instance, during a chat about small business content marketing, one participant expressed interest in the ways Google Trends could be used for content. Arnie Kuenn followed up with a blog post on using Google Trends to punch up content creation.

We also have had guests answer the questions from their chats in longer form. One such example is a post from Meghan Casey in which she answered questions from her chat on content strategy basics for marketers.

Then, we provide a wrap-up of our favorite tweets from the chats at the end of the year to give our community some extra love.

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Results

Through Google Analytics, we know that our Twitter referral traffic is up 20% year-over-year. Additionally, we see a 54% increase in Twitter followers. While we can’t attribute all of the new followers to our Twitter chats, we know noon to 1 p.m. ET Tuesdays is our most popular hour on Twitter. While the total number of tweets, number of participants, and reach are important, what is even more interesting is that we can see what days and times on Twitter are getting the most referrals and conversions, which we can trace back to chat topics that day.

And, as an added bonus, the chats have made our in-person interactions much more enjoyable (especially for the introverts out there). It’s fun to identify and chat with people you first knew from Twitter.

We hope you will join us on a #CMWorld Twitter chat soon. We hold chats on Tuesdays at noon Eastern (U.S.) – follow the #cmworld hashtag and find us at @CMIContent.

Are you interested in being a special guest? Do you have a great topic idea or any questions? Submit ideas in the comments. Check out the speaker lineup or catch up on past chats on our Twitter chat page.

Follow our Twitter chats virtually and get pumped for the real life meet-up at Content Marketing World 2016. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $ 100 off of the main event and all-access passes.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Host Your Own Twitter Chat: Time-Saving Advice, Tools, and Templates appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Finding Your Sweet Spot – An Extreme Content Focus [Exercise]

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If you’ve been reading my latest posts here at Content Marketing Institute, you’ll see a trend around differentiation. Specifically, either start telling a different story or don’t bother at all.

Related to this, Gary Vaynerchuk made a statement in the first minute of his DailyVee 015 show that’s worth breaking apart:

The No. 1 thing that you can do is … you need to decide what’s the one thing that you are better at than anything else … and you need to become the extreme version of that.


What’s the 1 thing that you are better at than anything else? Become the extreme version of that via @garyvee
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Generalist content doesn’t cut through the clutter, and yet most of the content marketing examples we see are just that – general. Worse yet, they are general and not helpful. In that case, it would be better not to create any content at all.

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Easier said than done

While as a content marketer you may believe that is true, choosing a content area is anything but simple. Just look at any decent-sized enterprise. Each product manager wants a focus on the problems around his or her product. The content person rises to the challenge by creating content around multiple themes and campaigns. The content person is charged with creating content for more product managers.

Wonderful, now all the product areas have some “content.” But what happens? We can’t possibly deliver the best content in the world if we are filling content holes in every part of the enterprise. This is like working in your email inbox the entire day. By the end of the day, you realize how unproductive you’ve been.

You must choose. Go back up to Gary’s quote and look at the word “decide.” You must choose. It doesn’t just happen. As Michael Porter so eloquently says, “Strategy is choice. Strategy means saying no to certain kinds of things.”


Strategy is choice. Strategy means saying no to certain kinds of things says @MichaelEPorter via @cmicontent
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You have to make the hard choice. You need to make a decision on where to put your eggs. Where can you make meaningful impact?

Finding extreme – knowledge and skill

In my latest book Content Inc. I talk about the importance of identifying your sweet spot. For a larger enterprise, the sweet spot is the intersection of an exceptional knowledge or unique skill area and a defined customer pain point.

Knowledge-customer-pain-points

What do we mean by knowledge? Knowledge is information acquired about a particular subject through study or observation.

Joseph Kalinowski, our creative director at Content Marketing Institute, has knowledge (by the definition above) in a number of areas including the band Kiss, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Star Wars action figures, and Jack Daniels. For any one of these topics, Joseph would destroy the average person with his knowledge in that area.

In addition to his knowledge areas, Joseph is also a skilled graphic designer. Skill is defined by dictionary.com as “the ability to do something well” or an area in which a person has “expertise or competence.” Simply put, skill is knowledge used properly.

If Joseph wanted to start an audience-building content marketing strategy, he would start by listing these areas (even before looking at the target audience’s needs). It’s better to look at your own strengths first – where you have a unique story to tell – instead of identifying the customer pain points and then seeing if you have anything to offer.

Long story short – you have to find your extreme area of possible authority.

Where to start – an exercise

Begin by listing those areas in which your organization has a skill set or knowledge area in something that’s larger or better than the average organization. This is brainstorming time – more is better at this point.

Knowledge areas                                                            

1.

2.

3.

4.

Special skills

1.

2.

3.

4.

If you completed the exercise correctly, you should have significantly more knowledge areas than skill areas. Here’s how this exercise might look for agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere.

Knowledge areas

  • Agricultural technology
  • How to profit as a farmer
  • Supply chain/logistics in agriculture
  • Energy costs and farming
  • How a small business farmer can grow new revenue streams

Special skills

  • Manufacturing farming equipment
  • Design simulation specific to agriculture
  • International trade relations

After you’ve completed this little exercise, rate your knowledge areas and special skills with your team. Put a 5 next to the ones where you are “off the charts” with your skill or expertise. Put a 1 next to those that really don’t differentiate your organization from any other.

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Identify customer pain point

Great. You now have lots of knowledge and skill areas. I hope you identified a few you never thought of. Now, you need to find the customer pain point to finish determining the sweet spot.

First, you have to identify the customer.

For this to work, the focus needs to be on one audience persona. If you are a business-to-business marketer, you may have seven to nine decision-maker, influencer, and gatekeeper audiences that you are targeting with your communications or which are part of the buying process. Again, you need to choose.

In this stage, most marketers don’t want to choose. They believe if they choose, someone will be left out (either an audience member or a product manager who needs content). But if you don’t choose, your content never becomes specific or relevant enough to matter … to get attention … to build trust.

Altair Engineering, a B2B simulation-software company, created a content brand called Enlighten, specifically designed for mechanical engineers who use simulation software. Once Altair chose the audience, it identified a key problem – product weight reduction.

In manufacturing, the weight of a product is critical to its production costs, its shipping cost, and the possibility that the product will be specified into a larger product set. In other words, weight matters to mechanical engineers.

Altair chose to become the problem-solver around product weight reduction, and includes this mission statement on the site:

The enlighten website has been created by Altair ProductDesign and strives to be the world’s leading source for useful, informative and inspirational content concerned with minimizing the weight of products across industry. Enlighten is intended to help inform and educate on the current thinking and trends in the market and highlight advances in lightweight design techniques, materials technology and manufacturing processes.

Not bad, right?

Choosing the pain

Again, get back with your team and do the exercise … list critical pain points that your audience has. You already know many of them because you’ve been marketing to them, but now is the time to talk to your salespeople, your customer service folks, your engineers, and product people.

Once your list is complete, rate each from 1 (snoozer) to 5 (critical problem that affects the livelihood of the audience).

You have to choose. This is what Zig Ziglar calls being “meaningful specific.” If you are “meaningful broad,” you’ll never be relevant enough. You have to decide on the customer pain point where you can help and make a real impact on your customer (or future customer).


Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific says @TheZigZiglar via @cmicontent
Click To Tweet


How do you know?

If you are struggling to know whether you are specific enough, just ask yourself the following question, “If we delivered compelling and relevant content on a consistent basis to our target audience around this topic over a long period, could we become the leading informational providers in the world around that topic?”

If the answer is no, you are not specific enough. Period.

Connecting to create your sweet spot

Now, match the areas which have a 5 – from your knowledge and skill side – with the customer pain points that have a 5. After going through this exercise, you’ll uncover a few areas that you can seriously run with. You’ll also probably discover that what you had been creating content around is not even close to being “meaningful specific.”

Understanding the model

Why is this model important? Your business might have a knowledge area that may not be relevant to customers. For example, a number of General Electric executives are knowledgeable in business strategy. GE’s internal training programs are some of the most famous ever developed by a corporation. That said, that knowledge may not translate into solving a GE customer’s issue or pain point. So GE’s knowledge of business strategy doesn’t necessarily align with the targeted customer’s pain point and doesn’t work for the sweet spot model.

Doug Kessler, co-founder of content agency Velocity Partners, believes the sweet spot is three-dimensional. It’s important to know the exact size, shape, and depth. As he details:

  • Size – Your sweet spot should be a focused area, with as tight a focus as possible without leaving stuff out.
  • Shape – You need to know exactly where your expertise reaches and where it stops. Just because you have knowledge in certain areas doesn’t mean that authority naturally extends to other areas.
  • Depth – Your expertise goes as deeply as it needs to go; you don’t have to pretend it goes deeper.
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Going the distance

Whether you are just starting out with a content marketing strategy for a new audience or retrofitting an old strategy with new thinking, I believe this exercise is worth doing. As my partner-in-crime Robert Rose says at the end of every This Old Marketing podcast, “It’s your story to tell … tell it well.” Find a story that’s worth telling … your unique story that is meaningful to a particular audience. Be extreme!

For regular insight, practical advice, and helpful exercises from Joe Pulizzi and other experts in content marketing, subscribe to the free daily or weekly CMI blog.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Finding Your Sweet Spot – An Extreme Content Focus [Exercise] appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Your Content Team Can Sprint With Agile Marketing

Sprint-with-agile-marketing-cover

Agile marketing is fast becoming the way for marketing teams to produce impactful, audience-focused resources consistently. I was delighted to hear members of the content marketing community embracing Agile methodologies in my recent #CMWorld Twitter chat. As I answered questions, others chimed in, making the conversation a gold mine of insights and ideas on Agile marketing that I wanted to share with you.

What does it mean for a marketing team to be Agile?

Some teams are naturally adaptive and data-driven, and could technically be considered agile (lowercase “a”). To qualify as Agile (capital “A”), a marketing team needs a structure that enables it to adapt and iterate.

This structure could take various forms, including Scrum (the classic Agile process based around sprints), Kanban (a pull-based system that uses work-in-progress limits), or a hybrid of the team’s invention. Most Agile teams work in sprints – set periods during which team members aim to complete a set amount of work that’s connected to a long-term plan. Each sprint lasts between one week and one month, with two weeks being the most common duration.

A mainstay of the Agile approach is the stand-up – a 15-minute meeting, usually held at the beginning of every work day, during which team members stay on their feet. They take turns updating everyone on what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and what obstacles they need help to overcome.

Whatever form the structure takes, some kind of systematic foundation is needed to keep an Agile team from descending into frenetic reactions disconnected from a long-term plan.

Changing your mind all the time does not make you Agile.


Changing your mind all the time does not make you #Agile says @AndreaFryrear #contentstrategy
Click To Tweet


Agile marketing teams, like Agile teams in other departments, share the following hallmarks. They:

  • Respond to change based on data
  • Follow a flexible plan
  • Keep their focus on the audience
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How do you convince others (teammates or higher-ups) to use Agile marketing if you’re the only one who’s interested in it?

In the #CMWorld Twitter chat, three themes emerged:

  1. Try it as an individual and show off your increased productivity.
  2. If you have allies, create some low-risk pilot programs.
  3. Use force.

I’m a fan of the first approach – going Agile alone – because even if you can’t convince anybody else, your own sanity and output will benefit.

Many chat participants reported good success with the second approach because it produces data that you can use as an argument. On the flip side, you could identify examples of the pitfalls of non-Agile teams and encourage your organization to avoid similar mistakes.

Finally, some mentioned NERF guns and hostages. I don’t condone the use of force except in extreme cases.

Do Agile marketers produce more or less content than those on non-Agile marketing teams?

I loved the responses to this question because people resoundingly agreed that the metric that matters is not more content but better content.

So, while Agile marketers typically produce more content due to their ability to focus within project parameters, they also typically are more audience-focused. Agile marketing fires both barrels: Quantity and quality.

One possible detriment to output: Agile marketers often are cross-functional; they can perform just about any marketing function as needed. If a priority project is in jeopardy of failing, they may need to join the rest of the Agile team in swarming it, pulling away from content during that effort.

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What’s the biggest hurdle your team faced in its early Agile days?

As echoed by dozens of chat participants, communication – within the team and across the organization – is especially vital in the early days of an Agile transition.

When your team comes upon hurdles, you can feel like you’re the only ones in the world trying to make this process work. You’re not!

I recommend attending an Agile marketing meetup. These gatherings are springing up around the country. Also, more marketing conferences are creating training and breakout sessions to help guide marketers along this path.

When in doubt, tweet me your Agile problems @AndreaFryrear. I’m happy to help if I can.

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What strategies does an Agile team use that a traditional marketing team might not?

I can’t say enough about the power of daily stand-up meetings for enhancing communication within the team and between departments.

For non-Agile teams, the idea of meeting every day to talk about what you did in the past 24 hours can be horrifying. But, when done right, these meetings clear up many issues before they create bottlenecks.

Between these daily check-ins and the visibility of the marketing backlog (a prioritized list of upcoming projects and tasks), you all but eliminate the question “What the heck does marketing do all day?”

What are your favorite tools for managing the Agile process?

I’m not a fan of blowing your marketing budget on a tool that promises to make you Agile overnight, but tools can be a big help in the process.

Slack, Trello, and Wrike were mentioned a number of times during the chat. Many practitioners swear by their white board and sticky notes – and pencils. You don’t need special tools, but if your team finds a tool that enhances communication and visibility, by all means, use it.

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Agile teams focus on sprints – heads-down content production with no small interruptions. Is that realistic?

You could almost hear people scoffing at this question through their Twitter feeds. No interruptions? Are you joking?

Notice that the question is about small interruptions, not interruptions in general. Interruptions always rear their heads. If Agile teams could figure out a way to obliterate interruptions, we would rule the business world.

Agile methodology does help team members decide which interruptions to act on immediately. An Agile team member might respond to an interruption by saying, “I’m in the middle of project X. Is your issue more important than that?”


An #Agile approach helps teams decide which interruptions to act on now and which can wait.
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  • If the interrupting issue is more important, cool. You stop and address it.
  • If the interrupting issue is not more important, you record it as something to address in a future sprint, and you keep on keeping on.

Our team limits our sprints to two weeks for this reason. When we tell people, “not right now,” we can assure them that we’ll get to their requests soon.

After you “go Agile,” how long until you start seeing a payoff?

Getting data that you can compare with your pre-Agile output can take several sprints. Likewise, it can take a couple of weeks or even months for a team to fully get onboard with everything that falls under the umbrella of “going Agile.”

At the same time, as a content marketer, I experienced an almost instant relief of pressure when our team started doing Scrum. The chat participants reported that, although it took a while to get comfortable with the process changes, they saw some payoffs immediately.

For me, deadlines didn’t seem so scary, and I felt secure in what I was expected to produce in a defined amount of time. Here I am, 200 articles later, still going strong. I think that’s a pretty good argument for Agile marketing. (If you need more persuasion to adopt Agile marketing, check out my other CMI posts on the subject.)

To learn more from Andrea on Agile marketing, attend her sessions at the Intelligent Content Conference March 7-9. Use code BLOG100 to save $ 100 off of the main event and all-access passes.

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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

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