When Grist asked senior marketing and communications professionals earlier this year to rank the effectiveness of their firm’s content marketing programmes, the results were stark. Just 13 per cent described those programmes as ‘very effective’.
That left nearly nine in ten still searching for content marketing’s sweet spot – the intersection between addressing the issues that matter most to clients, getting key messages across and reinforcing a firm’s position as expert in its field.
At Grist we believe two characteristics more than any others underscore a successful content marketing programme – two aspects of editorial best practice that allow your content-driven marketing to stand out from the rest.
Best practice #1 Editorial experience
Content marketing requires editorial thinking. Whereas most marketing is campaign based, editorial projects tend to be ongoing – regular deadlines and a need to adapt to events, diaried and undiaried. For traditional marketers this often requires a cultural shift. For a content marketing agency with a heritage in professional publishing, it’s second nature.
Editorial experience means imposing a discipline on the process. It means instigating editorial meetings to discuss, agree and shape ideas. It means watertight commissioning, editing and production. It means agreeing to strict deadlines. And it means creating a systematic approach to legal and editorial sign-off. As Mark Wellings noted in an earlier post on this site:
“Throughout the production process an experienced agency should maintain work-in-progress documents so they can update you at any given point, either via the editor or your dedicated account manager. The schedule will also have agreed ‘touchpoint’ dates for meetings, conference calls or email summaries. The aim should be to give you maximum control and minimum stress.”
Maximum control and minimum stress is right. Think about the senior colleague who offers up a half-baked blog post on a Friday and wants it published on the following Monday. Gratitude is mixed with dread as you contemplate how – or if – you can use it. Editorial experience means an end to reactive content marketing.
A final thought on editorial experience. It also means understanding the content marketing landscape, knowing when regular feature articles, a whitepaper or an infographic works best or how a professional audience interacts with this content. Consider for example that, according to a PPA survey, 78 per cent of B2B audiences use social media and are more likely than the general population to own a smartphone. An editorial expert knows how to interpret this knowledge and what it means for digital output.
Best practice #2 Subject expertise
No B2B content marketing programme can really prosper without specialist writers. It’s not enough to be able to craft words on a page or screen – the writer has to have subject expertise to get to the heart of what matters. Not only does this guarantee better content because the writer understands the issues and themes, the personalities and the players but it also gives the programme instant credibility.
One of the editorial methods we like to use at Grist is to interview our client’s clients. Hearing about the critical issues in an industry sector directly from senior practitioners makes for compelling copy. Yet these are precious relationships built up over many years. Are you ready to trust those relationships to a third party writer? A generalist will soon be unmasked in this specialist environment. A subject expert, on the other hand, will only add to the credibility of the content marketing programme.
Ask yourself if you’d trust your agency’s writers to interview your clients? If the answer is no, find yourself another agency.
Subject expertise also means the writer can confront ‘groupthink’ and test editorial assumptions. In doing so the expert helps better shape and direct content, validating or opposing conventional wisdom as appropriate. A generalist copywriter can’t do this.
As a challenger of consensus – the grit in the oyster – the subject expert takes on a hugely important role. Consider that the same survey referenced at the beginning of this post found that only one in three senior marketing and communications professionals believed that they produce engaging content that addresses clients’ issues. Moreover, 36 per cent admitted that they either ‘tend to write what partners want to write about’ or just don’t know if they are creating content their clients would want to engage with.
A true subject expert would challenge this complacency. A subject expert would write about what the agency’s client’s client wants to read about, helping you hit the sweet spot.