Most content marketers have two core beliefs about content:
- That “good” content (high-quality content) will outperform “bad” content every time, i.e. that good content gets more results.
- That good content takes more time to create than bad content.
For instance, an epic blog post that takes 20 hours to create will get more business results than a blog post that takes just one hour to dash off. A 20-hour post will always outperform a one-hour post. Right?
Except it just ain’t so.
As a recent study of 1,597 content marketers found, “There is virtually no correlation between time spent creating content and marketing success.”
I repeat: According to the data, the amount of time poured into creating content has no effect on marketing success.
Time spent in creating content ≠ equal business results.
For some of us, that study might as well have just said water flows uphill. So let’s break this down.
As CoSchedule (the company that did the survey) says:
“The question isn’t simply, “Are you creating epic, high-quality content?”
Instead, it’s, “Are you creating the right kind of epic, high-quality content?”
That immediately starts to shed some light on what’s really important here. It starts to make more sense.
When we think about creating the right content – not just the best content – it’s actually no surprise that the right content gets results, even if it might not be the highest-quality.
A thought experiment in right content versus more content
Let’s say you do marketing for an accounting firm that works with mid-size companies in Boston.
You’ve got a nice website with a nice blog and an email newsletter you send out every week. You’ve got a couple of downloadable reports for lead generation, plus two calculators that give prospects rough estimates of their tax obligations.
All of this content is optimized for the search engines. It’s specifically optimized for the types of phrases people use at the beginning, middle and the end of their buyer’s journeys.
In short, you’ve got a complete content marketing system set up. All the best practices are employed. Your company gives people the right content – relevant content – for wherever they are in the buyer’s journey.
And then…. You decide to publish a detailed, world-class blog post about oranges.
Yup. I’m not talking about some weird accounting term or strategy you haven’t heard before. I mean oranges the fruit.
Let’s say you’ve invested $2,000 in this blog post about oranges. It’s beautifully written, has stunning, custom photographs. It’s optimized for the term “oranges are healthy”. It’s darn near a work of art.
It took your team 20 hours to create.
And it gets you absolutely zero business.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be, and I bet you aren’t.
Because no content marketer worth their salary would ever do something like this. Publishing a post – even an awesome post – about oranges makes no sense if you’re in business to sell accounting services. Neither your visitors nor your customers care about oranges.
Oranges are irrelevant to your business.
The right content is relevant and useful – both to your business and your audience
While this is an extreme example, it explains why high-quality content is not necessarily what we want. Random high-quality content will not help. Heck – even relevant-but-off-message high-quality content really won’t help.
What we want is the right content.
Now, if you had instead taken those 20 hours of content creation and put them into creating a piece of content that filled a content gap in your buyers’ journey… that content probably would get you results.
That content would support both your business goals and the needs of your audience.
That content could generate enough business to pay its way, too. You could afford to invest $2,000 on a piece of super-high quality content that filled that gap in your sales process/buyer’s journey.
You would want to do a good job with this critical content – not just dash off a sloppy blog post as an afterthought. Because this strategy-backed piece of content is like a bridge guiding your prospects toward what is hopefully your ultimate goal: To become your customer.
This is why CoSchedule found “there is some positive correlation between content quality and marketing success.” While quality alone won’t get you results, if you’re creating the right content, then quality can help.
So despite all the talk about how we have to create high-quality content, that alone won’t help you. But if you create content that helps prospects through their buyer’s journey, then, yes, if you put more effort into creating higher quality content, it will probably help your results.
But again: It has to be the right content.
So now that we’ve cleared that up, the question becomes: How do we create the right content?
Let’s get the “right content” down first, then put resources into making it better once we’ve got the right content in place.
In other words, let’s think about content strategy.
How content strategy fits into marketing automation (and content marketing in general)
Ever heard of “random acts of content”?
It refers to what happens when content marketers get focused on just pumping out more content without any thought to strategy. It’s how you end up with lots and lots of content – maybe even high-quality content – that often ends up getting very poor results.
It’s easy to fall into this. And most content marketers have. In the 2017 Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs B2B Content Marketing Trends report, only 54 percent of the content marketers who even have a strategy have well-defined business goals for their content. And only 57 percent of them have a deep understanding of audience personas.
And remember, too: This isn’t the general audience of B2B content marketers we’re talking about here. It’s just the marketers who have a content strategy. That’s still (even in 2018) only 80 percent of B2B content marketers.
In other words, most content marketers are still practicing random acts of content.
We can see this even more clearly in the 2017 Content Management and Strategy Survey, also from the Content Marketing Institute.
In this report, we learn that only 33 percent of marketers have customer journey maps.
This echoes similar research from Forrester, too – they found that only 31 percent of marketers use journey maps in their work.
What needs to be done – and what so few content marketers are doing – is to “map” your content to the buyer’s journey.
But first, to do this, you need to define your buyer’s journey. And you need to define the journey for each customer persona you have.
There are many ways to visualize this. Here’s one:
And here’s what it might look like once you’ve assigned different pieces of content to this buyers’ journey. (If you’ve got multiple customer personas, we recommend creating a spreadsheet like this for each one.)
It might seem like this is a lot of background work, but this is exactly what needs to be done before you get too deep into marketing automation.
You see, because if you want marketing automation to work… you have to be automating something that’s, um… working.
And just throwing random acts of content at people… probably isn’t working. In fact, we know it isn’t working. Witness the #1 barrier to marketing automation success:
It’s a lack of strategy.
Also notice how lack of relevant content makes that list, too? That brings us to the next phase.
Content gaps and how to fill them
As soon as you begin to map out your content, you are likely to find some gaps. You’ll discover, say, that you’ve got 15 pieces of content for persona A at the Awareness stage, but nothing at all for them at the service delivery stage.
This is a very common problem. But it actually has an upside.
While it means you’ve got a gap in your content, it also means you’ve probably been losing prospects at this stage of your sales funnel. And now, at last, you’ve finally identified the gap.
You’ve identified a piece of the “right” type of content we were talking about before.
And so now – instead of just committing random acts of content – you can intelligently and confidently put your resources into filling these content gaps.
That means you’ll have shifted from just publishing more content to publishing the right content. This is actually one of the secret side benefits of setting up marketing automation – it forces you to get more disciplined about how you plan your content.
You need to have all your content mapped to different stages of the buyers’ journey, and then you can move into automating the delivery of all this content.
… but only after you’ve talked to Sales.
Why Sales and Marketing need to talk about content gaps and marketing automation planning
I know – you thought you were done at this point. You were all ready to build a magnificent marketing automation empire.
But before you break ground, it’s smart to do one more thing.
You see, what we marketers think is the right content… isn’t always the right content.
Even if we’ve got some great analytics to back up our strategy, just because we’ve got a plan on paper doesn’t mean it’s actually going to convert real people.
We need to bring in Sales to make sure what we think our content strategy needs is what our prospects actually want.
Why? Because Sales people are incredibly well informed about what buyers need to know at every step of the sales process. It’s their job – literally.
And while Sales is notorious for not using all of the sales enablement content marketing has created, it’s often because they don’t even know some of the content exists. (So bringing them onboard to access your existing content and to plan your marketing automation system actually does double duty.)
Often, they actually do know the content exists, but there’s something “off” about the content, and so they’re not using it. Maybe it’s because the content is too salesy. Maybe it’s because the content isn’t realistic, or maybe because it doesn’t have the right tone and approach for the prospect.
Whatever the problem is, you need sales to get real with you about where your content is falling short. You basically need to do a bit of a content audit with your Sales team (or at least two people from their ranks).
Get them in the room and walk through what you think the buyer’s journey is for each persona. Name a piece of content you’ve got for each step of that process, and make sure sales is familiar with that piece of content. Then get feedback from them about whether:
- The buyer’s journey is actually happening the way you think it’s happening.
- If sales thinks you’ve got truly useful content (the “right” content) for every phase of that buyer’s journey.
- What information or content sales thinks would be most likely to move the buyer from one phase to another.
Take detailed notes of everything they tell you. And don’t ask for their opinion just once. Bring Sales in early and often – both in meetings and in chats “offline”.
You’re basically building the architecture of your marketing automation here. So when you get your marketing automation software set up, you’ll know which pieces of content to send, and when to send them.
You’ll also probably end up with a considerable “to-do list” of ways to improve the content you’ve got and a list of new content assets you need. Add these to your editorial calendar and just get them done – sooner rather than later. Your entire content creation machine should be realigned to support this new marketing automation framework.
Meanwhile, you’ll also need to bring in your marketing automation guru – the person who will be actually setting up all these message sequences. They’ll need to take what you and Sales discover and decide on… and try to build it in the real world.
It is a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end. The future of marketing is in marketing automation.
It’s time for content marketing – and content marketers – to evolve. Moving away from low-quality content was a start, but the marketers who get results now employ a planned strategy that is disciplined about content creation.
That discipline is exactly what’s required to do marketing automation well. And so a marketing automation system that delivers the best content to prospects should be the brainchild of both sales and marketing. It will evolve to a content strategy that’s as closely aligned to the buyer’s journey as you can get it.
Marketing automation is, in part, a marketers’ attempt to automate segments of sales’ job. But it’s also to make the most of how B2B buyers operate now – how they complete a significant chunk of their buyer’s journey before they ever talk to sales.
But a good marketing automation system does more than just deliver the right content to the right person at the right time. It also maximizes the time and resources of Sales and Marketing – both of which have more pressures on them than ever.
With the right strategy and technology, every element in the system delivers optimal returns.