Content marketing wizard and B2B marketing expert Kevin Cain discusses the content deluge and fostering collaboration, and explains why the ‘dabble’ approach to content marketing is a really, really bad idea.
Mahlab Kevin, could you tell us a little about your career history?
Kevin Cain I studied international relations and languages in school, and moved to Germany after I graduated to work in a field that, although I did not particularly like it, exposed me to the worlds of content and communications. I moved back to the States where I worked firstly for a consulting firm in Boston as a copyeditor before moving to State Street, a financial services company based in Boston. There, I managed the organisation’s content strategy, developing a collection of whitepapers. It was an intense experience – creating and managing high-quality and highly technical thought leadership pieces of about 80 pages in length, pushing them out multiple times a year and working campaigns around them to ensure maximum reach and engagement.
From there I moved to OpenView Venture Partners where I really got into content marketing, working with portfolio clients to help them to get their own individual programs built and established. While I was there I really refined my knowledge about developing websites, search engine optimisation, digital, social media and everything involved in rolling out an effective content marketing program.
Now I’m in Australia running my own content marketing consulting business and familiarising myself with the Australian market.
M How can marketers best align their content with the various stages of their organisation’s buyer journey?
KC You should create a content matrix. Essentially, a content matrix is a way to look in detail at what your buyer journey looks like. It allows you to understand each one of your buyers, their wants and needs, what their goals are and how your content can help them at every stage of the purchasing journey. With a matrix, you can map where, when and how specific pieces of content should be presented to your customers and, ultimately, maintain a sharp focus on the kinds of conversions you’re trying to achieve and whether or not your content is facilitating those conversions. It’s a great way to get organised and to maintain a sense of discipline in your strategy.
A lot of marketers think about this stuff but they implement it in a very general kind of way. They say, ‘oh yeah, I know my buyers’ or ‘yeah, I get the buyer journey’ but they don’t actually sit down and put some rigorous discipline into it. If you can force yourself to create and maintain a matrix, your content marketing efforts will be more streamlined and thoughtful.
M As the Australian market continues to familiarise itself with the principles and practices of content marketing, it seems many organisations are adopting a ‘dabble’ approach. They assign small tasks to a handful of individuals – be it email marketing, social media or blog management for example – and don’t give the time, energy and resources necessary to achieve real content marketing success. What are your thoughts on this approach?
KC It’s certainly not a good approach. It’s never good to place something as important as content marketing onto somebody’s existing creative responsibilities. The person who gets assigned to social media or to building that enewsletter has a full-time job already and these are not quick and simple tasks to tick off of a to-do list! If done in this way, your content marketing efforts are destined to fail. Not only is that person unable to give the content marketing strategy the attention it needs but they’re also unable to do their regular job as well as they normally could.
It’s really important you find a dedicated resource for your content marketing efforts. The way to make the case for this is to present case studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of a content marketing approach in terms of driving awareness, generating leads and fostering engagement.
Look at the money you’ve been spending historically on things like events, outbound flyers and other things that are really expensive but, perhaps, don’t drive the business. Compare those costs with a small content marketing program and you’ll see that, for a fraction of what you’re currently spending, you can get much better results.
M When we know that the most effective content marketing programs are built on interdepartmental collaboration, how can marketers working in heavily siloed organisations begin to break down departmental barriers?
KC I think you need to come up with some kind of editorial board into which you’re bringing key stakeholders from each department on a regular basis – whether it’s once a month, once a week, or every two or three months – to talk through what your organisation’s content strategy is. If you do this early on, you create a sense of accountability within the group, allowing each individual to understand what role they will have to play in the strategy and how their part impacts the others.
M How have you measured the success of your past content marketing projects? What metrics do you value over others and are there any particular touch points or behaviours that you wish you could analyse more effectively?
KC The ultimate thing to measure is your conversion rate. The whole point of content marketing is to get somebody to do something as a result of your content. Your success should be measured on how many people downloaded that free trial, how many people signed up to that enewsletter, who gave you their contact details and, ultimately, how many people made a purchase. Conversions should be perceived as the primary metric with all others taking a secondary position. You might be concerned with things like how much traffic you’re driving to your website or how long people stay with your content – these are really important metrics – but they’re not going to make or break you. If you get a million people coming to your site but only one person converts, what’s the point? But if you get ten people to your site and all ten convert, you know you’re on the right track.
In terms of things I’d like to analyse more effectively, I’d like to get a better sense of the sentiment of my audience. I think we’d all like to gather a greater and more regular inflow of qualitative feedback from audiences too. But the sheer manpower necessary to turn this feedback into valuable and actionable insights is, at this point in time, too great. Software advancements are increasingly making this possible – you can identify where someone has clicked or where their mouse travelled on the page, for example. But understanding how people consume content and knowing what gets their neurons firing would be really interesting!
M Drawing on your experience working with an array of B2B businesses, what have you found to be the most effective lead generation strategies?
KC It varies depending on your audience but from an inbound perspective, things like search engine optimisation are hugely effective. Figuring out how to get your content found on the first page of Google search is key to driving leads to your front doorstep. Search marketing aside, tapping into the right groups on platforms like LinkedIn, posting answers on things like Quora and maintaining an active social media presence all make it easier for prospects to find you.
Many people say that email marketing is the number one channel for B2B lead generation. From an outbound perspective, email marketing can be really successful but it’s a matter of figuring out how to do it well. Create compelling subject lines and don’t spam your audience, for example – no-one wants to hear from you three times a week! Be sure to only contact your audience when you have something valuable to say. The majority of emails I get that don’t go straight to the junk folder go right to the trash because there’s just so much content out there! If your enewsletter doesn’t have a compelling subject line or if you haven’t established a solid reputation and a loyal following, people just aren’t going to open your content. So I think email tactics should be used selectively.
M Speaking of the content deluge, how can marketers use content to rise above the noise and get noticed by prospects?
KC Don’t create noise! Create value with your content. As long as you’re creating something that isn’t chest pounding and bragging, but rather really helpful to your audience, you’ll get the results you’re after.
Secondly, you need to be sure you know who your audience is. Don’t try to create a one-size-fits-all piece of content and hope that everyone in the vast universe is going to like it. Content is most effective when the creator knows who they are trying to speak to. Talk to your audience based on their pain points, their needs and whatever concerns they’re having. Try to use this knowledge to tailor the experience they’re receiving.
Thirdly, make sure you’re coming up on top in search. Rather than trying to bombard your prospects with content, figure out how to get ranked in the top two spots on Google search so that when someone’s looking for you they find you easily.
Finally, make your content stupidly easy to find on your website. If a prospect has to go through three, four, even five clicks to get to the information that they’re after, they’ll more than likely give up – it goes without saying that the average person’s attention span has plummeted dramatically.
M As a content marketing consultant, what are some of the major pain points that you come up against when working with marketers?
KC One major pain point for me as a consultant is trying to get people to understand the value of content marketing. Even in the States, where I think content marketing is a little further along than here, there are still marketers who don’t really get it. It is exhausting trying to get through to them that posting a blog piece once every two months isn’t going to cut it – it takes so much more than that!
A major client-facing pain point is figuring out how to best leverage and utilise people’s time. So often I’ve seen businesses in which everyone is on board with content marketing in theory but it’s only one or two people’s jobs to actually make it happen. These few can’t be successful on their own and need the thought leadership of other people in the organisation to help guide the strategy. What inevitably happens in this kind of set up is that those people supporting the content marketing program as passive onlookers become bottlenecks to the program’s progress – the CEO, VP or whoever is supposed to write a blog post or create some kind of content but, due to their unsurprisingly crammed schedules, can’t get it done, causing schedules to slide. The way to try to overcome this is to develop smart strategies that leverage people’s time. For example, if I want the CEO to write something, I don’t expect him or her to do so. Instead, I will ask for half an hour of their time to interview them and write the piece on their behalf. That way, I’m gathering the information I need to create the content without completely throwing the CEO’s schedule – and my own schedule – out of place.
M How do you see the changing role of the CMO and their approaching battles and obstacles? What does the future look like?
KC As the world evolves, roles change. If you’re an old-school CMO, unfortunately you’re a dying breed. The old-school CMO tends to be of the mindset that says, ‘we don’t need to be on social media’ or ‘ we don’t need to do digital because we’ve always done it this way and we’re not going to change’. On the other hand, there are those who possess the mindset that they need to keep a keen eye on the shifts that are going on and they’re aware that success is a matter of remaining in touch with your industry and its surrounding environment. The CMOs who experience first-hand what’s happening and observe it at close range are the ones who will succeed. I also think the CMO needs to possess an ability to find and keep the talent needed to execute strategies effectively.
M What opportunities do you see for Australian marketers right now?
KC There are so many opportunities for individuals and companies to get first-mover advantage because content marketing is relatively new here. If you’re in a niche market, well, any market for that matter, you’ve an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot – become the brand associated with the beginnings of this movement not the brand who decided to remain one of the many.