Mastering the Three C’s of Content Marketing

https://www.flickr.com/photos/florianric/7263382550/sizes/h/
Used by permission of Florian Richter.

 

In more than 20 years in publishing, I’ve worn quite a few titles—copywriter, art director, production manager, managing editor. Content marketer is more than just another title, though.

It’s an evolutionary shift.

Until now, we could safely specialize in the one or two things we did well because there was someone else to tend to the rest. The direct mail team could be happy with their 3% bump in conversions because the falling event sales were someone else’s problem. The corporate sponsorship team didn’t mind that they were sending duplicate campaigns to the same people as the education team because as long as they got the ROI, it was all the same to them.

Now, we’re in the Age of Content and a provincial attitude like that won’t cut it. So here are my three C’s of content marketing—the attitudes that will prime you for content marketing success—as well as examples of tools to enable them.

Curiosity

With the rapid evolution of the role and the constantly shifting environment we have to keep pace with, content marketers are often counted on to be the ones with the answer—no matter what the question is.

For a content marketer,
being curious is Job #1.

If you’ve come to content marketing from the creation side, this is most likely already deep in your DNA. Most creatives are at least partly driven by a strong interest in the world and in seeing what’s out there. This is especially true for those from a journalism background. For everyone else, this may require a little work. More than in marketing other products, casting a wide net for ideas and influences to promote your content is a necessity. That means aggregation and curation.

I rely on an old school standby for these—the feed reader. Based on their overall user experience (especially on mobile), there are only two that I would recommend:

Feedly

Feedly was the great savior when Google discontinued Reader in 2013. Thanks to an amazingly simple import feature, users were able to pick up where they left off almost without a hitch. Same logins, same feeds, zero effort.

Flipboard

Coming on the scene in 2010, Flipboard took a similar approach to Feedly, but with a slightly fancier interface. Nominally a “build your own magazine” product, its reputation is for innovative design rather than breakthrough functions. Being a default app on Samsung phones of a particular generation definitely helped spread its fame.

As I said, they’re similar. The difference is in discovery. Flipboard provides more heavily curated sources, where Feedly offers easier access to sources off the beaten path. Since our goal is to cast a wide net, I give it to Feedly on points.

Craft

It’s almost a content developer party game by now to ask someone whether creating good content is an Art or a Science and see where they land. (I believe Science has the edge currently, but that may be more about defending our budgets against the ROI police than actual conviction).

The problem is, neither is correct.

Creating good content is the craft of making
science look like art.

It is critical that you understand, accept, and internalize this definition. Otherwise, you will likely place too much emphasis on either Art or Science and find yourself in one of two failing positions.

Placing too much emphasis on Art is what leads people to discount the data and insist on their own way against all known best practices. It’s for the Mad Men types who are more interested in “winning” than in building relationships through content.

Placing too much emphasis on Science, though, gives us things like spam, pop-ups, and compulsive listicle making. They work—but only for a little while and only for some things.

Craftsmanship is a wholly different mindset. Doug Powell’s definition captures it well.

A craftsman possesses both knowledge of the work necessary to produce excellence and the attention to detail necessary to recognize it from the beginning to the end of his or her work.

My examples only include one of the much-hyped analytics-based products that so many content marketers swear by. I’ve chosen to skip most of those for two reasons:

  1. They cost a ton of money and it’s already an uphill climb to get and keep a content marketing budget.
  2. They might take you from good to great, but they won’t do anything for you if you haven’t gotten to good yet. Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.
Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline Analyzer

This site is a simultaneous pat on the back and kick in the pants. It hasn’t been updated in ages, so it’s possible the rating algorithms are stale, but as far as I can see a high score is still meaningful (the title of this post went through a few rounds there). This would also work well in tandem with Google’s Keyword Planner.

Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is the latest addition to my toolkit and probably the most likely to appear in someone else’s list. Unfortunately, it’s $1,300 a year and I don’t have the budget for that. However, it’s handy connections to Twitter and LinkedIn make even the 14-day free trial worthwhile, even if just to build your network. A quick dip into the content analysis tools will give you some really good ideas to work with, as well.

A note about Trendspottr and similar predictive analytics products: use with care. Trying to time the market doesn’t work unless you’re a hedgefund’s supercomputer. These tools may tilt the field a little, but not much.

Which leads me to….

Courage

The fact that we’re now in the era of data-driven marketing does not mean that everything you knew goes out the window, nor does it mean that data never lies. Content marketing as a term may be 20 years old, but content marketing as a dedicated business practice is much, much younger.

Here’s an especially apt quote from William Goldman about the original content marketers—Hollywood:

Nobody knows anything. … Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.

It’s okay to trust your gut sometimes.

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