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Stop, Start, and Continue: Finding the Right Content Marketing Mix

Jeff Tzucker // March 14, 2019

Orange Hand Flashing Do Not Go on Street Sign

Back in 2012, E3 President Tiffany Sauder wrote a small blog post about a simple strategic structure that is perhaps more relevant today than ever. Why? In this world of a million possible tactics, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and forget the fundamentals.

The structure goes like this:

  • Start: What are the things your organization must start doing to support the objectives laid out by the business or by leadership?
  • Stop: What are the marketing tactics that are not being executed consistently or effectively that you should stop doing?
  • Continue: What activities are working that you should continue executing?  

While this structure can be used for both your overarching marketing strategy and individual marketing tactics or channels, let’s take a look at each of those items as it relates to common examples in content marketing specifically.

What You Should Stop Doing With Your Content Marketing

Being a jack-of-all trades, but master of none

Is it better to have a mediocre presence on every digital channel, or is it better to focus on two or three channels and crush them? In most cases, it’s better to focus on fewer channels and do it well than to tackle more and look shoddy, inconsistent, or aimless in the process.

Letting things go can provide clarity of purpose, streamline your budget, allow you to focus on developing your voice online, and foster a deeper relationship with your audience. And, let’s be real here: it takes a lot of work and a big team to create content for social media. Unless you have a rather large in-house team to crank out content, it’s incredibly difficult to show up well on every single channel. So, focus on what you can truly get done well and do that. Dig in and crush it.

Putting out content that confuses people or that people hate

Yes, in the digital world, attention is currency. But on the extreme end, the wrong kind of attention can spiral out of control quickly and do real damage to your brand. There is more of a risk in the B2C world of harming a brand on social, but it’s a risk that exists for every company and person.

One of the more common problems you may face is overthinking your content. Maybe you try to be too clever too much of the time, you overpost (or underpost!), or your company voice just doesn’t come off as genuine. Stop doing that. All of that.

Putting out content that doesn’t have a specific purpose

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they knew where they were laying the bricks and why.

So much published content doesn’t serve a greater strategic purpose—it’s just something fun to publish, or filler until you get to the next piece of content. Sometimes that can be fine, and you certainly don’t need to hit a home run with every piece of content, but you should at least be able to point at everything you publish and say exactly who the content is intended for and the reason it’s being posted.

For businesses with multiple audiences and a longer sales cycle, you should identify each audience, where they like to hang out online, where they are in the sales funnel, and how you will reach them at each stage of the funnel. If you’re publishing a blog, video, photos, or other media, make sure to do keyword research on your audience so you are making your content relevant and search-friendly.

It might sound like a lot of work, and it certainly can be. But content marketing is about doing the hard work every day, laying bricks purposefully with intent. If you don’t know where a brick goes, it doesn’t belong anywhere. Put it aside until you know where to put it.

Acting like B2B marketing shouldn’t include social media

When we run competitive audits for website traffic, it’s often the case that websites with the most traffic belong to brands who have an established presence on social media. The brands with a limited social presence have limited website traffic.

The bottom line is this: Business are run by people. People are on social media. If you aren’t on social media, you have a massive hole in how you show up in the world for prospects, customers, and current or future employees.

Stop making excuses and get in the game by putting together a content strategy that includes social media channels that you will dedicate time and resources to mastering.

Posting the same content on each social media channel

Each social media channel has its own focus, its own specialty, and its own audience. If you’re just creating one piece of content and cross-posting it to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and every other platform, you’re doing it all wrong. You need to give your audience a reason to follow you on each channel, and you need to respect how each channel wants information conveyed.

That’s not to say that you won’t ever have the same information on each channel—some announcements are just that big. But, even for those, you can have two or three different versions of creative and copy so you mix up the delivery, even if the message is essentially the same.

If your channel distribution strategy is just putting the same posts everywhere, you need to revisit what you’re doing because your audience is probably bored with you and you’re missing opportunities for multiple touchpoints.

What to Start Doing With Your Content Marketing

Market like a human

A common refrain in the B2B world is “we’re marketing to other businesses.” Translated, what that phrase means is social media and content marketing are seen as unimportant and, if they would do anything, it would need to be in some droll corporate voice. Yes, while it can be difficult to figure out how to reach your audience through B2B content marketing when “going viral” means getting one Like and one Share, such a limited view of content marketing is wrongheaded. Why?

I don’t mean to point out the obvious, but businesses are run by people. People are on the internet and, rather often, they use it at least partially for work-related interests.

In essence: You are marketing to people who run a business, not a business who runs people.

In a hyper-competitive global business community where products are oftentimes commodities, “good enough” services or software can be found for less money elsewhere, and price differences between competitors are scant, what factors are driving people’s decisions? Emotions.

People want to work with people they trust and with whom they have a productive, enjoyable working relationship. Content—whether that be social media, email, blog posts, or something else entirely—can help fill that gap both proactively and reactively.

As for that droll corporate voice, everyone knows the best salespeople are the personable ones who also know when to talk problems and solutions. So why would you put a bland front on your content marketing? It’s understandable not to have a cheeky case study, but that doesn’t mean everything you produce has to be devoid of personality. Imbue your content marketing with personality, just like your best salespeople.

Finally, you don’t need to have a Twitter feed like Wendy’s to make an effect, but you do need to put yourself out there a little bit.

Start having a content calendar

Don’t publish without a plan. But if you must publish without a plan, you should have a plan that says “Publishing without a plan.” That sounds odd, but it’s true: make a plan for when you will abandon your plan of proactive content, whether that’s posting from an event, engaging with your audience, or taking part in a fun new meme.

Your content calendar builds intentionality with what you’re creating, why you’re creating it, who your target audience is, and when you’re posting it. You should be able to point at every piece of content you put out there and know exactly who it’s for and why you’re posting it. If you can’t do that, you’re missing the point of content marketing—even in the willy-nilly world of social media.

For B2B companies that commonly have a slower news cycle, it’s easy to simply let content creation slide from one week to the next until it’s right on top of you (or it’s passed you by completely). To prevent that from happening, a content calendar helps keep your team accountable and on task.

For B2C companies, a content calendar may be a little less structured as unexpected events, memes, or fan engagement could dictate a lot of your content marketing. For instance, the Super Bowl ads from Bud Light created a firestorm among their competitors that certainly wasn’t planned. While those sorts of events are more rare, you should have a plan for how you will respond when they occur.

Dedicate yourself to whatever channels you decide to pursue

As we said earlier, it’s better to be great in one strategic area than it is to be mediocre across a variety of channels. If that means abandoning other channels your company is already on, then so be it. Just make sure to get the channel mix right and dig in.

For example, if you decide to be active on Facebook because it makes the most strategic sense for who you are trying to reach, then go all-in there before you layer on anything else.

In reality, your boss may not approve of ditching a bunch of your online efforts. In that case, look at your media mix and weigh what you’re capable of doing well against where your audience is most active, then lean into those channels. This may mean focusing more heavily on a couple channels to get it right while still keeping the other channels attended to—just maybe a little lighter in the short term. This could mean you push hard on Facebook, YouTube, and email, but cut down on your Twitter and Instagram posts in order to invest your time and budget in the other channels.

Given the time and effort it takes to run a full slate of content marketing channels, be judicious where you focus. You’ll get more out of the few that you focus on than you would have from the whole lot.

Build a Full-funnel (or Flywheel) Content Strategy

In the beginning of the digital revolution, simply producing content was enough. Then, it grew a little more sophisticated as digital marketers advanced in expertise and CMOs starting asking for metrics. But much of the work was done on expertise, domain knowledge, institutional knowledge, and sometimes sheer moxie. That’s not good enough any longer.

A full-funnel content strategy is big both in importance and the size of the task. From the content you create to what you post, pay for, or gather traffic from search, knowing who the audience is, what they’re looking for, how they look for it, and what resonates at each stage of their journey is your most powerful content marketing backbone.

This task seems daunting, but it can be done (I know because I’ve done it). Most businesses have multiple products, audiences, KPIs, and metrics. Some beginning questions you need to ask yourself are: What content fits for awareness? What happens once someone is aware of us? What content do I need to move them through our sales funnel? What happens after they initially convert? What content do I need to satisfy each stage of the journey? What happens after the sale or sign-up? How do I continue to market to my customers with relevant content and information? What KPIs should I be tracking at each stage?

Once you have those questions answered, you will look at your budgets and allocations in a different way. You’ll have purpose and clarity regarding what content goes where, why you’re creating it, who does what task, and why they’re doing it. It won’t just be an educated guess based on experience, but a fully-fledged plan of action.

What to Continue Doing With Your Content Marketing

Leaning into areas where you’re finding success

This seems obvious, but keep doing the things you’re doing well. The one thing I would suggest here is asking what happens if you do more of what’s already working. Increasing your efforts will usually improve your ROI—for a while, at least. Find out the point of diminishing returns, and then scale back appropriately. If you haven’t tested the limits, you don’t know the limits.

By the way, those limits are worth re-testing on occasion. Habits change online, so should yours.

Growing your sophistication

All marketing is changing at a rapid pace, whether it’s digital, traditional, or a mix of the two. Some thoughts to get you going:

  • If you’re doing regular email newsletters now, think about A/B testing them.
  • If you’re A/B testing email, think about building in automation and nurturing programs.
  • If you’re already creating content at a fairly robust scale, refine your approach to reach specific audiences.
  • If your paid media mix is growing stale, think about cross-device marketing tactics like connected TV.
  • Map out the customer’s journey to see where there are gaps or room for improvement.

There are a lot of tactics and strategies you can employ. Never stop trying to improve on what you’re doing.

Improving Your Reporting and Attribution

I’m going to assume that you have the basics in place, like analytics for your website(s), and you’re at least doing some amount of reporting for social media and email. But a lot of reporting and attribution can suffer from the post hoc fallacy. (TL;DR: You sent out an email and had an uptick in conversions a week later. It must’ve been the email!)

There are many solutions out there to improve your reporting, data insights, and attribution. We use Domo for dashboarding, attribution, and deeper data analysis. We’d be happy to help you untangle your data and get some clearer insights.

 

 

To learn more about the benefits of using a reporting dashboard, watch this awesome short video of our Senior Marketing Technology Manager, Grady Neff.

Learning and Changing

Trite, I know. But…creative destruction. Digital is creating as it destroys, replacing what came before at never-before-seen speeds in human history. It used to be years, decades, and even centuries between major inventions that changed history (see: wheel. Cotton gin. Peanut butter).

Businesses and industries are being disrupted in ways no one anticipates until it’s too late. Your skills in the digital arena are the same. If you are not constantly learning and growing, someone behind you is getting ready to take your spot.

Worse yet, if your business is not learning and growing with regards to how it executes marketing, your business itself could be ripe for the picking. Identify your weak spots and make them stronger to shore up your defenses. Look to the bleeding edge of technology to anticipate what’s coming. Read case studies of failed businesses to learn how to see blind spots. Then, re-think your go-to-market strategy.

Marketing alone may not always be able to save a doomed product or service, but it can make the good times better and the bad times less severe while a company pivots.

 

Jeff Tzucker Team Photo at Element Three

Jeff’s road to becoming a digital marketer was long, starting with a project that helped predict the future of mobile phones even before the iPhone was released. His newfound fascination with technology motivated him to learn HTML and CSS and to start to delve into UI design—and then led him to head the Indiana Pacers’ digital marketing team. His experience on the client side and vendor side of the equation alike gives him the ability to see problems from multiple perspectives, something that helps him craft strategic solutions that make sense for everyone.