What is Content Marketing? IDC’s Definition of Content Marketing

If you looked away for a split second you may have missed the rise of Content Marketing from “buzz word” to “must have”. In fact, at the beginning of 2014 CMOs at the largest technology companies reported that “Building out content marketing as an organizational competency” was the 2nd most important initiative, only behind measuring ROI. Since then, they have responded by putting more budget, staff, and energy into the area, yet there is still confusion around the topic. What exactly is Content Marketing? Is it a type of marketing asset? Is it a process or a technique? Or something else?


IDC’s CMO Advisory Service, has seen this issue first hand and to help remedy the situation the group has  published a document, What Is Content Marketing? IDC Defines One of Marketing’s Most Critical New Competencies. Included within is a formal definition for Content Marketing.

IDC’s Definition of Content Marketing

Content marketing is any marketing technique whereby media and published information (content) are used to influence buyer behavior and stimulate action leading to commercial relationships. Optimally executed content marketing delivers useful, relevant information assets that buyers consider a beneficial service rather than an interruption or a “pitch.”

What is Included Within Content Marketing?

A definition is a great start, but the question that follows is, “What is, and is not Content Marketing?” To help marketers become more grounded in this definition of content marketing the CMO Advisory Service has also published a guide for “Types of Marketing Assets.” In the graphic below you can see the break out of marketing assets into three categories:

  • Content Marketing Assets 
  • Product Marketing Assets
  • Corporate Marketing Assets

Each is important to the company and within the marketing mix, but only content marketing is new in purpose and new in form. Also, key to remember is Content Marketing Assets are not replacements for Product Marketing Assets or Corporate Marketing Assets.

Why Content Marketing, Why Now?

For decades the marketing team produced communication assets about its products, services, and about the company itself.  Before the digital era, sales people were the primary persuaders and these assets were used as sales tools. Marketing conducted some persuasive outreach, primarily through direct mail. However, this little thing called the internet changed everything – as digital technologies have progressed, buyers have become increasingly self-sufficient, the contribution of the sales person has eroded. This erosion leaves a gigantic gap in a vendor’s go-to-market capability. How do companies build these relationships with buyers if they won’t talk with sales people? Content Marketing fills this gap.

At IDC we believe that marketers must continue work to keep pace with their buyers. To be successful, not only is agility required, but clear guidelines and processes on how to execute new and exciting practices like Content Marketing.

Sam Melnick is Senior Reasearch Analyst with IDC’s CMO Advisory Service, follow him on Twitter: @SamMelnick

9 New Terms Modern Marketers will want to Know

New practices need new language to describe them. When IDC’s smart, experienced, forward-looking, clients and special guests got together at our recent Marketing Leadership board meeting in New York, I jotted down these terms they used as particularly useful for describing their challenges and ideas.

  1. Product selfie: A type of content where it’s all about the product and nothing about the buyer/user (Guidance: Keep to a minimum – you know why.)
  2. Snackable content: Short-form, easy-to-consume, desirable, content (Guidance: As attention spans get shorter, you’ll need more of this.)
  3. Brand-as-a-Service: Offering beneficial, free, and minimally-self-serving, customer service that extends your brand promise. Examples: USAA offering car-buying services, Pantene offering tips for creating celebrity hair-styles during an Academy Awards social media campaign; (Guidance: Powerful! Find yours.)
  4. Budget slush fund: Holding back 5-15% of your budget so that you can respond with agility to unexpected opportunities such as a social media fire or an idea from a regional marketer that is worth testing. (Guidance: Great strategy to you get beyond the same-old, same-old, but you’ll need a seeking and vetting process to make sure this doesn’t go to waste)
  5. Off-domain: Use of non-owned capabilities such as content syndication, outside point-of-view, 3rd-party voices; curated content, and community/social/partner media or events  (Guidance: This fast growing practice will require a different mind-set than the traditional “owned and ads first”  Start with some pilots now and plan to expand.)
  6. Hunting in the zoo: A derogatory term for the frustrating propensity for sales people to prospect only in well-known territory and ignore leads from new companies (Guidance: While I’m reluctant to promote language that contributes to the marketing – sales conflict, I think we have to give witness to this reality.  It’s not likely to change without CEO intervention, so build reality into campaign and metrics – work with it or around it.)
  7. Multi-screening: Consumers are learning to use multiple devices in complementary ways to achieve their goals. Example: Using a mobile phone to research and buy a product seen at a tradeshow kiosk. (Guidance: One more reason to get beyond your internal org structure and think about what customers are trying to accomplish. Break down silo’s within marketing. But also bring marketing closer to all company functions that touch customers.)
  8. RACI: This acronym (pronounced “racy”) stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. A RACI grid is used to clarify roles in cross-functional practices. (Guidance: Accept that almost all tasks today can’t be accomplished in a vacuum. RACI is an indispensible tool for helping people work across silos)
  9. Orchestrate: Arrange and mobilize multiple diverse elements to achieve a desired result. (Guidance: Think of campaign managers as orchestra conductors who lead groups of experts each playing an instrument critical to the beauty of the concert. This model is more in tune (pun intended) with agile marketing than traditional top-down management.)

B2B Audience Segmentation Strategies that Work

As companies develop buyer-centric communication, one of most important questions is – how do we effectively group buyers into segments? We perceive that somewhere between the one-size-fits-all dinosaur and the unicorn-like “market of one” exist segmentation strategies that work better than others. But which ones? The secret is discovering self-identifying groups.

 
Great segments are built around groups that have naturally formed and are already connected.
 
For B2B marketers, the most effective audience segmentation strategies are vertical industry (e.g. hospitals, banks, retail), job function (e.g. CFO, head of HR, VP of Analytics), and geography (e.g. location, language, culture). In some cases, communities of interest can also be valuable. Communities of interest evolve around passions and may exist only online.  Examples of communities of interest relevant to B2B marketers may include those interested in security or privacy or a tech company’s installed base. These attributes are ones that buyers will not only easily recognize about themselves but tend to be the stimulus for group formation.
 
Using self-identified groups as a primary segmentation strategy has two huge benefits.
  • Content will be more relevant and can be leveraged and streamlined. Self-identifying groups such as the ones described above respond to the same value propositions. They tend to have similar opportunities and/or problems. They will have similar compelling reasons to buy and are served by similar solutions. They tend to have similar business models, organizational structures, and environmental conditions. They share a common vocabulary. They ponder the same questions. They read the same editorial. They understand the same stories; respond to the same examples and analogies. They react to the same warnings. You can create highly relevant, effective, content and sales messages for these groups and that content will work hard.

  • The social network will market and sell for you. People with the attributes described above (vertical industry, job function, geography, communities of interest) are connected in social networks.  They go the same trade shows and recruit each others’ executives. They respect the same experts and analysts and use the same suppliers. Social media has revealed to the world what we all know from our own buying experience – people rarely make big decisions by themselves. We seek help and advice from those we trust. We look for stories about how “people like me who have had this problem” have succeeded or failed. We collaborate with like-minded adventurers to try something new.  Imagine your message as a small marble. Throw your marble onto a Kansas wheat field.  Throw another. What are the chances that those two marbles will hit each other? Now imagine throwing your marbles into a shoe box. They bounce into one another with the slightest jolt.  Already connected groups create an echo chamber that can dramatically extend your own outreach effort
 

Consider company size, buying role, and risk profile as secondary audience segmentation strategies.

 
  • Buying role and risk profiles are very useful but used alone are insufficient. Within the overarching audience segmentation strategy, you may want to create sub-segments such as different kinds of buyers and influencers (e.g. financial buyer, technical buyer, decision-maker, researcher, or advisor) or risk profiles (e.g. early adopter, majority, conservative).  Content will be less relevant and you will get virtually no support from the social network. Both of these segmentation strategies are helpful. Buying role helps identify the different objectives and questions that must be answered by content. Risk profile is useful for content tone.  For Early adopters tend to respond well to opportunity-oriented messages (“look how great you can be!”) whereas conservative companies tend to respond well to risk-avoidance messages (“look how much pain you won’t feel!”). However, unless you are a very large company with brand dominance and a horizontal solution, these strategies are less effective by themselves for winning new business than those described above.

  • Company-size segments help sales but not marketing. Dividing buyers into tiers defined by company size such as enterprise accounts or small and medium sized business (SMB) may be a useful strategy for some business decisions. It informs sales management tasks such as territory definition, quota setting, and sales methodology selection. Company size is also useful for pricing strategies. However, Wal-Mart and GE have little in common other than size and complexity. However, company size provides almost no support for audience messaging.
 

For B2B audience segmentation strategies, your ideal group is the triple crown of vertical, functional role, and geography, or in some cases, communities of interest.  Your particular situation may have some unique requirements.  However, whatever segmentation approach you consider, make sure it passes the litmus test – self-identify as a group that experience similar problems and shares a social network.

Sales Star Turned CMO Tells All: An Interview with Tyson Roberts of Yesler

Executives who earned their stripes in the pre-internet days sometimes cling to the notion that aggressive sales tactics are still the path to success.  Tyson Roberts doesn’t agree. The former sales star who is now a CMO and content marketing expert, explains why he changed his tune.

Tyson Roberts is a CMO with a rare background. Tyson, who is CMO of Yesler, the agency division of ProjectLine, an award-winning B2B marketing services company headquartered in Seattle, now works with leading tech companies to develop and implement their content strategies. But earlier in his career, Tyson carried a bag – selling software and services for Avenue A, Razorfish, Check Point Software, and even as the CEO of a start-up he founded he carried the largest quota.  I recently talked to Tyson about how his approach to creating customers has changed.

Tyson, you had some pointed things to say about how ineffective aggressive sales people are today. Yet, you used to be one of these sales people – and a successful one. Tell us about that.
When I was on the start-up sales team at online advertising agency Avenue A (AQNT) in the late 1990’s, it was just like GlenGarry GlenRoss. Very simple.  We generated our own leads. Our intern would give us a daily spreadsheet of every internet advertisement placed that day along with a phone number.  We literally called every one. In hindsight, it was terribly inefficient – maybe a 2% contact rate and 10% (0.2% net) meeting rate.  It worked. We grew, but at a cost.

In the sales pit we proudly displayed a “wall of shame” – a collection of letters and emails pleading for an end to our efforts to contact them. Some even contained threats. The expectation was: You earn big money, “bring us heads on sticks or we’ll find someone who can”. We couldn’t blame our lack of success on the marketing people or anyone else for that matter.

So, where was marketing in all of this?
Marketing built collateral and ran point on our presence at events like ad:tech.   I recall very little interaction between sales and marketing.  They would get our input and approval on the sales kit, but that was it.  Marketing would also drop hundreds of leads on our head after each event.  We quickly learned to ignore the leads or cherry pick them because so many were unqualified.  Our sales intern got better leads manually surfing the web all day.  It was true that many leads provided by marketing would begin advertising online in the next 6-12 months, but we needed to make this month’s and this quarter’s numbers.

Now you work with marketers to implement and refine modern demand centers. Yet you just said that sales people can’t depend on marketing – why have you changed your view?
The “wall of shame” was a foreshadowing of things to come. A lot has changed in the past 15 years.  Tactics that were seen as just aggressive in the 90’s, today come across as unsophisticated, clumsy, and desperate.  At one of our clients, the sales people were constantly complaining about the lack of leads from marketing. We helped produce the first 500 inbound leads they’d seen in years.  Then I learned that the sales team just started dialing every one and asking each to buy! That’s like going speed dating and propositioning each person you sit across from.  

Buyers have taken control of the purchase process and are doing a lot more self-directed investigation prior to engaging with sales. If sales people don’t recognize and adapt to this, not only will your success rate be dismal, but you’re branding yourself as a genuine tool at the same time.  This is not the way to build rapport, trust, a relationship, or a brand.

What works now?
Companies must provide a quality path from initial interaction to happy customer. All the pieces to build this are available.  In the modern B2B organization marketing owns everything from initial interaction with a lead through to sales readiness.  Sales people focus exclusively on the opportunity pipeline.  This clear separation and definition of duties is a fundamental driver of improved demand economies. 

The cold call should be no part of your demand generation strategy.  You have to switch to an opt-in model.  Leverage an army of content at the front end. Then the sale rep adds spots of personal touch and completes the close.

The old sales business development model is inefficient. You can scale business development more easily and get better results at a lower cost by using modern marketing with its methods, systems, and automation than you can by using sales with its people, personalities, and talents.  You definitely need sales effort – but you need less.

What advice do you have for CMOs facing the challenge of a head of sales that is still “old school”?
The first step to modern B2B demand generation is realizing that your prospects don’t give a rip about your company or its beloved solutions.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that your prospects are narcissistically obsessed with their own company and its challenges and opportunities.  This obsession is the key to being relevant, earning attention, consideration and ultimately business.

If Content is Still King, Data is Heir to the Throne

Content marketing is becoming a primary strategy to solve the challenges of massively scaling and diversifying marketing channels. But content does not naturally support both scale and diversity at the same time. The only thing that scales as endlessly and cost effectively as the digital world is data. As a result, data marketing is on the rise and will ultimately inherent the throne as the core strategy for modern marketing. What is data marketing? It’s using interactive data to directly influence or add value to your prospects, customers, and partners. Think of it as content marketing without the editorial. Data marketing is already fueling the rapid growth of content marketing. The best pieces of content marketing are typically wrapped around a compelling piece of (static) data. The key is that stripped of editorial, data must become interactive and not only deliver personalized insights but capture and bring user input back. 
Modern business solutions are increasingly deployed in the cloud on SaaS platforms that capture every transaction of every user. SaaS vendors are finding huge value in these datasets. They provide empirical evidence of best practice, efficacy, and cost effectiveness. Marketing and sales automation vendors can show their customers and prospects what types of campaigns result in the greatest lead generation, the highest value and velocity through the pipeline and the greatest return. They can tell them what type of social media content and cadence is most effective on which social media channels. This insight represents enormous value-add over and above the operational efficiency the systems provide.
Consider the power of this model applied to channel marketing. A SaaS platform for channel enablement can offer partners a single point of access to content repositories, transaction systems, execution environments, (inbound and outbound marketing, sales process tools) and social networks. If it’s constructed properly it provides a place for partners to get work done, not just a library to read about how to get stuff done. For smaller partners that lack infrastructure and staffing resources this is an invaluable resource. As they use the platform it captures:
  • Engagement – who’s downloading what how often from the platform
  • Transactions – deal registration, order submission, billing update, MDF reconciliation.
  • Execution– the number of leads their marketing has produced, how leads are progressing through their pipeline
  • Social interactions – groups they join, how they participate, what SMEs they interact with.
  • Performance data – closed deals, order value

Access to this data can be offered from the platform through the development of a few simple forms and reports. The more data partners provide, the greater the level of analysis and insight they get in return. This information can be used to identify best practices of the top performers and shared (in aggregate) with other partners to help them run their businesses, resulting in better overall performance of all partners.
By utilizing pure data as collateral, companies can deliver highly targeted proprietary insights at scale much more efficiently than they can with content. While the role of content will in no way diminish, companies that master the art of data marketing will have greater levels of engagement, retention, and revenue with all their key constituents than those that rely exclusively on content marketing. 

Content Trends: Insight from IDG’s Tech Media Executives

A company that publishes over 460 websites, 200 mobile sites and apps, and 200 print titles knows something about media and content. Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing trends with executives from IDC’s parent company International Data Group (IDG), the world’s leading technology media company.

Here’s what I learned about the changing state of communication and content.

The currency of information is shifting:
The primary indicator of engagement is the “quality” time spent with content as well as the meaningfulness of the action that time drives. Someone who is truly engaged in a conversation is more likely to download content. Some content is Core while other content is Candy. Core content gets fewer pageviews but drives more meaningful action while Candy content attracts attention (such as page views or clicks) but doesn’t drive much action. Be careful about using easy metrics like page views or clicks as a sole metric as they are easy to manipulate by upping the ratio of Candy content.  Clicks are also increasingly useless as a metric as 85% of clicks come from about 10% of people. 

New ways to think about social:
Expect social media as a separate category to eventually go away. ALL media is now social with participation ranging from simple comments and sharing to citizen reporting.  An emerging model for content is to create high-quality conversations with two or more experts/leaders/celebrities engaging in public dialog about a story then to create an echo chamber around the story by attracting a larger community to listen in and comment. Note that both IDC CMO Advisory service and the IDG media and editorial team find that marketers are still pretty lost when it comes to how to work with the social aspects of communication.

The way we consume content is changing: 
My favorite new term is “snackable” content. Audiences prefer consuming in smaller bites. Increasingly, these bites are visual, with mini-videos especially popular.  Video is also getting more casual and less edited. Think of a recorded Skype conversation (see the above comment on social). The move to snackable is changing content delivery. The “content event” (spending four months coming up with a big launch of a big story) is declining and is shifting to dripping out small amounts of content on the subject over time.

“Native” media is hot:
 A big new trend is native media which is content in an online publication that is labeled as sponsored content (typically thought leadership) that really reads like part of the user experience. This is NOT an advertorial driven by a sponsor. Advertorials are too product-oriented and transactional. Instead, real journalists create the content on behalf of the sponsor. The real journalists are much more reader-focused and in-tune with the editorial voice and policies of the publication. Think of this as joint-venture communication.

Trends in ad-buying:
Real-time bidding for advertising inventory (versus monthly contracts) is the most revolutionary trend in the media industry since publications went online. Fast growing ad categories: selling ads based on audience behavioral context, search ads, newsfeed ads, mini-ads (like Facebook uses).

What we are learning about mobile: 
Smart money isn’t thinking about whether it’s mobile first or not. The key is user first.  Publications are using “responsive design” design it once and render differently for different screens – a trend made possible with HTML5. Across all kinds of advertising (not IDG specific) mobile ad revenue is still tiny – only 1% of all ad spending. However, mobile screen time is about 10.1% of all screen time.  Will this change? Maybe not. Mobile is driving a different use model.  Rather than being primarily an advertising screen, mobile is being used as an authentication point to offer other services.  Audiences have different expectations for mobile. They don’t consider it to be as open and free as the web. They are more willing to pay for content and services. What is working for mobile monetization: promoted tweets, newsfeed ads; metered content (example, New York Times).

The Secret to Marketing to the Line-of-Business Executive

Many technology companies have directed their marketing and sales teams to look for business beyond the traditional IT customer.  The secret to marketing to the line-of-business executive is to think like they do. Huh? Is this a secret?

Imagine you have a cute little terrier that you love dearly but who chews up everything in sight.  You fear that you will have to give the dog away if he keeps wrecking things.  As a super-busy person you rarely have time to read articles, however, one of the articles below will stop you in your tracks. Which one?
       a) Animals around Our Home
       b) Dogs: What do they do every day?
       c) Why We Love Terriers
       d) How to Stop Terriers from Destroying Your Home

You know that the answer is D.  And if each of the authors had a dog training business, which one are you most likely to contact?

Everyone gravitates toward things that they believe are made “just for me” and ignores things that are made for “someone else”.  It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get the attention of the Chief Marketing Officer, the Vice President of Human Resources, the head of pediatric medicine, or a  terrier owner. The more completely you enter to your customer’s world, the more likely you are to be successful with them.

Do the Work
It’s a matter of simple economics.  As the busy owner of the errant terrier, you do not want to waste your precious time reading articles that are of marginal value (Animals around Our Home?).  Nor are you willing to do the heavy cognitive lifting needed to mine a useful nugget from a broader purpose article (Why We Love Terriers?). 

If you want to attract and serve the line-of-business customer, then YOU (or at least someone in your company) must do the heavy cognitive lifting learning about your customer’s world. YOU must spend your precious time (and money) to customize your offerings and messaging for them.  There is simply no other way.  Someone has to build the cognitive bridge between your world and your customer’s. Your customer will not do it – so that leaves only you.

Avoid the “Vertical Slap”
Line-of-business customers will feel annoyed and betrayed if you evade the work of customization by using a technique that I call the “vertical slap”. The “vertical slap” gets its name for the unfortunate practice of slapping a picture of a nurse on a regular, old, horizontal, campaign and claiming that you market to the healthcare vertical. 

Don’t be superficial. Do the work. At least one person on the campaign team has to bring direct experience in the line-of-business focus area. Alternatively, at least one person has to acquire this deep knowledge. (HINT: in addition to understanding the line-of-business, you may also need to invest in understanding the differences between the worlds of different executive levels – for example, a CMO thinks differently than a Director for Marketing).

Don’t be cheap. Spend the time and the money. You can either pay up front for customizing content and offerings – or you can pay down the line with low conversion rates.

Actually, the secret to marketing to the line-of-business executive is not a secret. It just takes work.

Start Operationalizing Your Buyer’s Journey

I was surprised to hear so much talk about the ‘buyer’s journey’ at a recent Sales 2.0 conference. More talk than I often hear at marketing conferences! Having said this, it was clear that many people who talked about buyer’s journeys did not know what the term meant.

A hesitant raise of hands at one sales enablement panel showed that a little more than half the room thought that their company used a buyer’s journey framework. The panelists didn’t buy that answer. Sniffed one, “Most companies lift the sales stages right out of their CRM system and call that a buyer’s journey.”

What isn’t a buyer’s journey? It isn’t a sales methodology. It isn’t build rapport, uncover needs, identify options, propose solutions, and close the deal. It isn’t a product life-cycle. It isn’t development, launch, grow, mature, decline. It isn’t marketing stages. It isn’t build awareness, create interest, engage, and persuade. All of these processes can be useful to guide an important function. However, they all describe vendor’s journeys – not buyer’s journeys.

So, what is a buyer’s journey? A buyer’s journey is a framework that describes the cognitive process each buyer must personally traverse leading from Apathy (Do I care?) to Commitment (How can I buy this?).  IDC’s Customer Creation Framework highlights three simple stages of this journey: Exploration, Evaluation, and Purchase. You can break these stages into sub-steps if you like.

In the simplest terms, a buyer’s journey is really nothing more than a list of questions.  Buyers have different questions at different steps of their journey.  If buyers get their questions answered clearly, positively, credibly, and with relevance, they will take another step. If they do not, they stall or abandon their quest.

Let’s take the example of some questions on a buyer’s journey towards a new car:

  • Exploration: Is my current car headed for a problem – how do I know? Are there new cars that I would like better? What cars are new this year? What do I really need?
  • Evaluation: Which cars offer the best value? Which do I find most attractive? Is this supplier trust-worthy? What do the experts say? What do my friends think? How can I test drive?
  • Purchase: How much can I afford? Should I buy this now? Do I find terms acceptable?
Operationalizing a buyer’s journey
 
1) Collect a list of questions.
 
Start small. Select just one of your products and its most typical buyer. What questions does this buyer have about the problem? About alternative solutions? About acquiring, adopting, and using products like the one you offer? Finally, what questions might a buyer have specifically about your product?  Most companies will need multiple question lists for multiple situations. But don’t boil the ocean at the beginning.

Where do you get these questions? Ask your buyers! Ask the people in your company who talk to buyers – sales people, customer support, systems engineers, etc. Listen to social media chatter.  My experience has been that you can collect 95% of the questions you need after you have talked to about 30 people who have a broad range of roles and backgrounds.

 2) Answer the questions.

 
If your company has EVER sold a product, then somewhere, someone has the answers to the buyer’s questions. It probably isn’t the marketing team – but that’s okay. Go back the same people and places from which you gathered the questions.  Some questions can be answered easily. Others will be thorny.  Some questions will have happy answers. Other questions will be evil.

Do not avoid the thorny and evil questions!  I like this quote from Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through.”  Every unanswered question is a place where prospects can get frustrated and where leads will stall or fall out of your pipeline.

You can collect both the questions and the answers in a spreadsheet or an FAQ document.

 3) Put the answers on your website and give them to your sales team.

 
Keep your initial content super simple. Make sure the answers to all the important questions are easily found on your website. Make sure that your sales team has easy access to all of the answers.
 

 4) Improve

 
Later, you can explore the best way to deliver your answers to buyers – how should the message be voiced? What content types and media work best at different steps and with different buyer personas? How do I best map the buyer’s journey steps to the sales process?

 But these are secondary issues. If you don’t first have the answers that your buyer needs, all these secondary questions are a total waste of time.