January 23, 2018

Why marketers must become the new publishers

One of the great trends were seeing at ITSMA is increased automation of the lead process. It’s great because the software acts as a battering ram for alignment between marketing and sales.

But this trend has an unintended side effect: it exposes our content development processes (or lack thereof). If we now have a system measuring how long it takes marketing to nurture a lead until it is sales ready, we will now also have a measure of whether the nurturing period increases or decreases over time.

That metric is going to be critically important as we automate the lead process because nurturing is marketing’s special sauce. It’s how we move people tantalizingly close to a sale—without ever putting a salesperson in front of them.

We accomplish this feat through content. And if our nurturing metric is going to improve over time, so must our content.

Improvement through relevance
By improve I don’t mean that we all have to learn to write like Tolstoy. By improve I mostly mean that we need to make the content more and more relevant to target buyers. I’ve spent the last two days as a guest at Marketing Sherpa’s B2B conference in Boston and the many excellent speakers used publishing metaphors constantly. And I think those metaphors are useful for simplifying the content process (and for improving it) because most of us are familiar with the publishing model.

The publishing model is also relevant because as a business model, it is dying—especially for trade magazines. The ad revenues that once funded coverage of every arcane niche of technology have dried up, and so has the content that could have mentioned our companies. Demand for that content hasn’t gone away however, and companies that can provide an adequate alternative will grow their businesses more than those that can’t.

How to adapt the publishing process to marketing
To fulfill an ever-increasing demand for content you need a process. And the publishing process works better than the marketing content development process because the publishing process developed without an overlord (e.g., salespeople screaming for a brochure today or an event tomorrow). The publishing process is intended to identify a target audience, develop an understanding of that audience, and deliver targeted, relevant content. To consistently beat competitors, that content needs to remain relevant and targeted. If it doesn’t, circulation drops, ad revenue drops, and the publication goes out of business.

In other words, relevance is the primary measure of success.

That’s how we should think about our marketing content process. Here are some aspects of the publishing process that drive relevance:

  • Identify the target reader. Publications fail if they don’t grasp exactly whom they are trying to reach and why. Marketers need to do a similar kind of segmentation.
  • Create an editorial calendar. Every good publication has an editorial calendar. When I was at CIO, we despised the calendar process because it was the primary instrument that our salespeople used to demonstrate relevance with potential advertisers (and our competitors could see it). But looking back on it I think we despised it more because it revealed the gaps in our coverage and in our knowledge of readers and their needs. The calendar planning exercise always gave us a ton of ideas that wound up driving much of our coverage for the year—especially since we weren’t a newsmagazine and most of the topics were evergreen. Much of the content we offer as marketers is also evergreen, so there’s no reason not to have a plan for content. If nothing else, it gives you something to wave in salespeople’ faces the next time they come screaming about a brochure.
  • Research the reader. Most magazines do annual reader surveys to ask subscribers what they think of the magazine and what could be improved. Through these surveys, they construct archetypes of the typical reader. Marketers can replace offers with survey questions once in awhile to help build an understanding of timely issues to drive future content.
  • Interview the players and the experts. Journalists aren’t experts in the fields they cover, but they’re experts at finding those that are. They’re also good at finding the people who live the stuff they’re writing about every day. All good journalism comes from expert insight and real-world examples. Marketers need to talk to subject matter experts inside the company, influencers outside the company (analysts, academics, bloggers, journalists), and customers. All you need to do is ask questions and the content will flow out of these people.
  • Audit content. When surveying readers, magazines also ask whether readers like specific articles and subject areas covered in the magazine. Marketers need the same feedback from customers and from salespeople. If you don’t have the money to do research, consider adding a review button or comment feature to content.
  • Diversify content. Most magazines are a mixture of long and short, graphic and text-heavy stories. Marketing content needs to be similarly diverse.
  • Cycle through top reader interests. Magazines develop a short list of topic areas that matter most to their readers and hit those topics regularly as part of the issue planning process. Marketers need to develop a similar list as they plan their content calendars.
  • Be timely. Editors always try to leave room in the planning process for the timely, exclusive scoop—the story that identifies an important trend before others do. For marketers, being timely means having content that matches every stage of the buying cycle, so that you have a chance for an “exclusive” at each stage.

What’s your publishing process for content? What have I left out?

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