Years ago, when I was applying to college, I told my parents I wanted to study creative writing.
From the looks on their faces, you would have thought I had just told them I wanted to go skydiving without a parachute—a mix of confusion, dissension, and the tiniest bit of panic. “What will you do with that?” they asked.
Much later, I came to find that a version of this conversation was playing out for many marketers seeking executive buy-in for brand storytelling. Why, in a world where your competitors are investing in floods of advertising, should your brand commit resources to being more creative? It can seem, for the uninitiated or under-inititated brand, to be an enormous waste of time and effort in lieu of your already deployed tactics.
What is a marketing director or VP supposed to say to this? What concerns are actually underlying the question?
What does it take to convince your company to embrace brand storytelling?
Show Me the Money
I love the creativity that content marketing offers, but the analyst in me knows that everything at some point also has to come down to brass tacks for your business. If you want to have a productive and exciting conversation about the possibilities of content marketing with company leadership, this is often where you have to start: What is the ROI for storytelling?
Content marketing ROI is a question that comes with implicit short-term and long-term expectations. Focusing on only the immediate or the far future is likely to leave your organization feeling uneasy, so you’ll have to justify both in one go. A daunting task, but also an easy one so long as you have the right perspective.
A natural place to jump with content marketing is the long-term benefits, because we happen to be sitting at a great period in marketing history where the practice is hitting its maturity. From compounding improvement to site traffic to steadily growing lead generation, there seems to be no shortage of studies and brands bragging about the efficacy of their long-running content engine.
We even seem to be on the cusp of marketers no longer talking about content marketing as some separate, new practice and rather treating content marketing as an integral part of the marketing strategy. Conversations meant to earn executive buy-in for content are no longer the binary “doing” or “not doing,” but rather have become a conversation about a continuum—the essential “why isn’t our brand doing more?”
Often the answer to this question forces marketers into a short-term conversation. Sure, you can demonstrate content marketing ROI with brands that have established, long-running bases of content. But what kind of upfront investment does it take to build a flourishing blog, an engaging video series, a weekly podcast, or any of the other myriad materials that your competitors are pushing out? How much budget is going to have to be pulled from already “working” tactics to work towards something good in the long-term?
Thankfully, this obstacle is less than it appears. Few brands commit wholly to content marketing all at once, throwing massive budget and manpower behind the effort with little audience insight or historical basis. But one of the great advantages of content marketing is that it’s modular, accommodating a number of more conservative entry points that allow your brand to learn what will be most effective for your audience, while limiting financial exposure.
A healthy way to encourage first steps towards a full content marketing effort is to test a focused content marketing strategy on a specific vertical within your brand or subset of your audience, with the intention of applying learnings from this initial effort to a brand-wide content program when you are able to scale.
This measured approach provides a refreshingly conservative counterpoint to many other tactics—particularly digital advertising where common approaches begin by casting a wide net with high upfront media spend, with the intention of dialing in once you find an optimized niche. In contrast, combining a measured starting approach with the promise of steady, healthy growth can pack a powerful one-two punch for alleviating your C-suite’s concerns.
Image Attribution: NeoONBRAND
Thinking At Scale
So you’ve convinced your company that the benefits will outweigh the costs when it comes to focusing on content. The natural next question will often demand a timeline or roadmap: How exactly do these efforts grow and scale?
Scalability is one of the greatest advantages of content marketing. Thinking towards the future, marketing teams need to think about:
- How they’ll ensure their efforts are pleasing long-standing audiences while reaching new, eager populations.
- How they’ll continue to optimize material to match changing audience interests and need.
- How they’ll control costs while increasing production capacity.
The first two of these concerns are primarily market research considerations—what do we know about our target audience, and how do we create towards that knowledge? The beauty of content marketing is that with a bit of creativity and forethought, your material can double as a market research medium.
This can be done in very direct ways, like dressing up audience surveys as interactive quizzes or offering site personalization that encourages visitors to share something about themselves with you (in return, of course, for a better experience). But this can also be accomplished in a more subtle and consistent way: by building hypotheses and tests into your content strategy. Building new content with questions like “Is this emerging topic of interest to my visitors,” or “Is our expertise recognized in this particular space” in mind can help guide later analysis and audits to inform your editorial strategy moving forward.
Cost and production, on the other hand, require an understanding of your organization rather than your audience. There is no one right way to produce content. Some brands spend the time and effort to develop massive in-house teams, while others develop relationships with a pool of freelancers or work with external partners to build and grow their efforts. Often, a combination of internal efforts and insights with external perspective and manpower can help your brand tackle the growing pains and market questions that make production scaling difficult. But perhaps the most encouraging element of this process is that all along the way, your brand storytelling becomes more effective at driving ROI, rather than hitting a dreaded marketing plateau.
Image attribution: Jeffrey Betts
Defining Your Brand’s Unique Space
Saturation and exhaustion are natural enemies for marketers. When your audience becomes bored of what your brand has to say or how you’re saying it, you’ll quickly see your marketing efforts running into a wall of diminishing returns. This is a constant struggle for brands reliant on advertising and traditional marketing, where the more scale they support, the greater the saturation they have to compete with (and pay for) in their space.
Content marketing, however, presents unprecedented flexibility when rooted in storytelling. This is the most powerful point to drive home when speaking to executive leadership.
There is only so much room to define your brand’s perspective and voice when confined to short-form copy. Interruption only holds interest for a choice few moments before turning to distraction and eventually to annoyance. But with a well-supported content marketing effort, your brand is committing to work that gives your marketers the space and goal of uniquely defining who your brand is. It is flexible and specific. It defies definition and confinement. Content is the tool by which your company gets to make its own rules, begin its own conversations, and ultimately engage with your audience in ways that best suit both visitor and brand.
Content marketing is not a financial burden or creative indulgence. Rather, it’s the ever-more common tool by which marketers create strategic opportunities out of genuine audience experiences. It is this essential dynamic that makes content so powerful for your brand—and hopefully, all the more convincing for your leadership team.
Featured image attribution: Sherwin Torres
The post Earning Executive Buy-In for the Opportunities of Content Marketing appeared first on The Content Standard by Skyword.
About the Author
BiographyMore Content by Kyle Harper