Learn Inbound is Ireland's foremost digital marketing conference. It was also the platform from which Zazzle founder Simon Penson launched a new campaign against the current 'misuse' and 'misunderstanding' of what content marketing is, and how it should be delivered.
In a passioned speech Zazzle's MD shared a vision of what great content actually should look like and how it should be used to create 'targeted audiences of value'.
You can see the slides below and we have even included a transcript of the session so you can understand how to tweak your own strategy to maximize long term value.
“It’s not often you open a conference speech angry and worked up right? Before I really get carried away though it’s worth asking a question. Who here is aware of Jerry Maguire and understands the reference? A few of you…damn…I now feel like a comedian having to explain his best joke. That’s killed that then!
Very briefly the film follows Tom Cruise as a sports agent who gets disillusioned by the commercial world he lives in and makes a stand for a ‘better’ kind of agency based on people and relationships. Sounds terrible but watch it! There’s your first piece of homework.
The point here is that I feel the same right now for content marketing.
This is my mission statement for how we should be thinking about it, and delivering in 2017 and beyond.
Oh and I’m not Tom Cruise btw. I know there are similarities but my name’s Simon and I founded Zazzle Media and today I’ll be sharing elements of our approach.
So, why am I so upset with content marketing right now? Let’s look at some examples.
This is a perfect example. It’s something we placed on the Daily Mail a few weeks ago.
A nice ‘victory’ as a standalone piece, sure, but for some reason it’s this that has become the default for content marketing. Somehow we’ve just become obsessed by getting a link on a national paper. Nan, look what I did…. shit.
Content marketing is NOT about flashy features on newspaper sites, it’s about crafting constant content output that over time builds awareness, engagement, repeat visits and sales.
It’s best summed up like this: [the art of] Building targeted audiences of value.
To really understand that we have to go back, way back and understand that this ‘thing’ is not new. Michelin were busy adding value right back in 1900 with an annual motorist’s guide to France. They sell tyres but they were using content to add relevant value.
And we see the same basic evolutionary process across every mass media channel – TV, Radio, Print; it all starts with an initial obsession with technology before we realise that a radio is pretty boring without great content coming out of it.
The same is happening now online. We’re over the tech. Now we want great content.
The future of the internet is content.
But to win you need to truly understand what makes content great and the simple answer is variation.
The answer to this challenge is what we call the Brand as Publisher approach and I want to dive into detail now to explain exactly how that works.
We start with the ‘what is it?’ question. The simple answer is this: that every brand should think about what their content output, and indeed their business, should look like if they were the biggest selling magazine in their industry.
This really helps to focus the mind on just how different a truly rounded content approach should be to the ‘now’.
Brands should, as a starting point, think about how they can move content front and centre of the brand.
Rather than making money out of advertising as magazine owners do, they sell their products and services.
The solution then requires an approach that adds depth and variation; not just a campaign here and there designed to gain a few links to make your Nan proud!
The approach can be broken down into five key elements and we will walk through each of them in turn now.
Before we get into that detail it is worth reminding ourselves of the basic approach. How to make this work and this slide captures that.
In the simplest terms possible everything revolves around a central editorial calendar and we then create a plan to distribute that through a mix of owned, earned and paid media channels.
In a way that builds targeted audiences of value.
Marketing however has always been, and will always be, about people. That means that any content marketing strategy worthy of its name should be founded in an understanding of the audience. As a mentor of mine once said: ‘get as close as possible to your audience and you’ll never be far wrong with your offering.’
The beauty of digital of course is that we don’t have to guess, or run subjective research groups as used to be the case. Instead we can rely on the power of web data.
Getting the right mix of data is something we have played with over and over again at Zazzle. We started off working with data from Facebook and combining that with other sources but as time has gone on the platform has rounded their numbers off to such a point that they become inaccurate as far as audience insight is concerned.
We’re lucky as part of a large global agency network now to have access to a plethora of tools to help here, but obviously there is little point in sharing anything proprietary as you can’t use it.
Instead I’ve focused on tools you can.
Firstly, let’s look at Facebook.
It is still possible to extract data here as a ‘steer’ rather than a be-all-and-end-all. Here we can see how it is possible to understand demographic variance versus the ‘average UK audience’. I explain how you can extract that data in a post on Moz from a couple of years back called Forget Google’s Games Make Social a Primary Traffic Source.
Where it gets really interesting and useful from a content perspective is when you start looking at interests against the average person. This can really help shape content ideas and strategy.
Free tools like the lite version of Yougov’s Profiler can also help with this if the interest set is large enough.
Where things get very, very interesting, however, is when we start using paid-for tools like Comscore. While it’s a relatively expensive product it is brilliant for understanding the people visiting the site at present, or those owned by competitors.
Its data engine allows you to see a demographic breakdown, as we can see here, and also a view on click-stream [so where they come from and where they go next].
Using this top level data, we can then build an audience in a really cool tool called Global Web Index. With a few key data points, you are able to create an ‘audience’ and once you do that you can then ask a series of really insightful questions of them.
The output is in table format but you can very quickly create these simple charts to understand more about them. Questions include asking what they use the internet for and even what they expect from a brand like yours, and what they don’t.
It’s very important to ensure you do not drown in the data, however and we make a big point of only pulling what we need to put a human face on it all.
You’ll know that process as persona creation and it is critical to spend time on it before going into the ideas phase.
Often marketers stop at this stage when it comes to understanding who they are creating content for and that’s a mistake. We set up a structure to ensure we meet semi-regularly with client customers and simply buy them a coffee or a pint and shoot the breeze. You learn so much from these chats with everything from key events and meet ups to tonality and language.
The next stage is to make sure you set the agenda for your editorial output and that starts and ends with something called an editorial mission statement.
‘What is this thing?’ I hear you ask. Put simply the mission statement is the crystallisation of your content values and objectives. Every great editorial product has one and this is a great example from Sports illustrated.
As you can see it succinctly captures what they stand for as journalists and content creators. They want the inside story and want to deliver it in an accurate, passion-filled and insightful way to get their readers as close as possible to the sports they love. Brilliant and powerful.
Another great tip is to decide on what your editorial pillars are. If you look at a magazine front cover you can spot these easily and in this example, we can see what Men’s Health looks like. The idea is that when you produce good content for a period of time it becomes obvious that a few key ideas work best. We certainly see this for our site.
Men’s Health are very good at this as you might expect and every month you’ll see that they have a cover ‘splash’ on improving your mind, improving your body and improving your sex life! Actually, they’ve dropped the latter recently to be more focused on health, fitness and mind, but you get the point.
Having three pillars each month makes it easier to form an editorial plan as you know you must have an idea around that specific focal point. Develop these for your brand and you’ll find it helps with editorial positioning and planning.
We’ve even had a go at this ourselves to show you what we mean. This is the Zazzle mag
All of that understanding allows us then to create the right content mix for not just the audience but the brand also.
And, critically, the right content mix. Muze? I know, that’s what happens when you give a designer artistic licence! You can see here that our pillars are around content strategy, content creation and distribution.
Here we can see an overview of the output considerations we look at for every brand at the very beginning of the strategy process to enable us to answer that question.
The pyramid here represents the basic content types we would look to create as part of a rounded strategy. Not all are always relevant, or possible, but we start here.
At the top we have Hero content. This is campaign content, designed to provide earned reach, brand awareness and engagement.
Next we have Hub content. This is ‘constant content’; assets created to be delivered regularly, often via a blog or knowledge/resource hub.
It’s this content that can give us the most as it is regularly produced and has true variation. Within it we have search-data led content, often designed to answer key questions that the audience is asking (long tail). We also add in ‘human’ questions that a brainstorm may throw out based on the personas we designed earlier. So, we ask the question ‘what would persona X be looking for or asking?’
We also create magazine style content ideas to improve the mix. Things like top 10s, interviews, Q and As, news-led pieces and so on.
The third content area is what we call hygiene content. This is best classified as content that sits on a static URL, or page and serves one of two purposes. It is either added to a key landing page or ‘money page’ to improve conversion, user experience and engagement or rankings.
Or, we create long form evergreen content, designed to answer the biggest questions the audience has in massive detail. This content is updated on a regular basis to ensure it is the definitive guide, bar none.
The only other element for consideration is the influencer marketing output, as the solutions from this activity can sit outside the three ‘H’s’. It may be that a major part of the distribution strategy is working with forum influencers, or organising meet-ups for instance, so we must establish the importance of this as part of the overall mix at an early stage.
Having analysed what the client needs from that mix the next step is to then blend the mix over time.
Here we can see how we decide on focus over time and in this example we know that the objective is search focused and the site is weak in specific areas. To begin with we focus on hygiene content and kick-starting a constant content blog strategy. It isn’t until month six, say, that we even think about hero campaigns. Eventually, however, we have done all the static content we need and that time switches over the influencer work.
Part three of our plan is to look at how we get that small stuff right in more detail. And while it may be ‘small’ it is certainly not unimportant.
We start the process of creating ‘ideas’ for this with data. You’ll have heard, or seen, a lot of these techniques spoken about previously, because they work.
Our data strategists will start with tools like Answer the Public, SEMrush and advanced search operators to create a list of phrases we know our audience is looking for. These are often in the form of questions, such as ‘How do you I find a taxi in Dublin?’
We also weave in the Micro Moments methodology coined by Google to capture those ‘in the moment’ opportunities driven by mobile audiences looking for immediate answers to specific things.
We then also take a structured approach to planning, looking to create long tail ideas for each of the following categories - Technical info, situational opportunity, use, problem solving, technical and innovation and history. This helps you produce more ideas than normal.
And of course the persona based questions we brainstorm based specifically on each of these people. Amelia will have a very different set of questions to Corinna, for instance.
We then also look at other elements included in this rounded ideation structure, working through each stage in the process you can see here as individual mini sessions within the main brainstorm.
Within that process you’ll also come up with ideas that have more legs than simply as short form blog content or evergreen guides. Those ideas you’ll be able to show off to your Nan will also appear.
And that brings us onto the critical hero content planning phase. It’s an area we have certainly made lots of mistakes in and after much soul searching we’ve managed to minimize the failure rate by simply turning the process on its head.
Instead of being led by ideas we tip it on its head very, very early in the process and ask a series of simple validation questions.
Here we can see a handful of key questions and a small group of ‘checks’ if you will, and working through these for each and every idea will maximize your chances of the campaign being a success and will sort the wheat from the chaff.
If the concept makes it through this stage it hits our campaign planning phase, which, in many respects, is a microcosm of the wider content planning framework.
The campaign plan captures the paid, earned and owned plan to reach as many of the right people as possible.
That plan works in a very methodical way, ticking off every relevant platform, approach and tactic to ensure we maximize coverage.
The result of this is a campaign planner and you can see the cover sheet of that here. The good news is that our Brand as Publisher Toolkit download includes this very template so you can use it to plan your own campaign.
The front page captures the overall timing of activity by channel and tabs are then used to plan each of those channels in acute detail.
The final stage is the most important in many respects; pulling those disparate ideas into a single plan. One that exhibits the traits required to make content work and build targeted audiences of value.
The critical component of that is something we call Content Flow and it centres on the ideology that a content strategy should have variation and be consistently delivered. We call that constant content.
We can see here how that plays out with major campaigns creating peaks and regular content gluing it together.
This concept comes from magazine strategy. This is called a flat plan and it is how editors plan their print titles. You can see here that page by page the idea is to create variation of flow and pace as the reader works through the magazine.
When you turn the pages you often start in a mag with quick, pacey, short-form content and then hit a long form feature (often called a breather feature). This is done on purpose to help keep the reader engaged and reading on.
You need to achieve the same thing with your digital content plan by designing a content calendar in a way that delivers that flow day-by-day. One way we achieve that is by testing the calendar before you finalise it or by pre-planning what output could look like.
On this slide you can see how we pre-plan; with the content types we plan to use down one side and a view on how regularly they will run. By playing around with the mix at this stage it makes it much easier to get it right when it comes to putting pen to paper for real.
Another free download to help you pull that together is our Content Flow Matrix. It’s included in the Brand as Publisher Toolkit. The idea is that it makes it easier to choose the right content type for each stage of the purchase funnel and the ‘size’ or impact you want the asset to have. Down the side we have the purchase funnel stages and left to right the size of the content.
And of course you must be led by the data. There is a myriad of ways to measure the impact of what you are already producing – enough in fact for a conference spot in its own right and I’m not about to cover them all but one worth ensuring you have set up are Content Groupings in Analytics.
They are easy to set up and you can decide what you group specifically. In this example we are grouping word counts to understand what performs best but you could do it by content type. The ‘how to’ can be found via the URL below.
The result of all of this work, analysis, blood, sweat and tears? It sits in a beautiful editorial calendar like this one that oozes editorial understanding and variation and delivers constant content.
If you want to learn more about the approach I’ve written a post about it for Moz and you can find it here. And don’t forget your free download!
Thanks again and I look forward to discussing further on Twitter.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and follow us on social media for the latest news.