A blog from SoloPortfolio about content marketing.

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Content Marketers are Marketers Second

November 15, 2011 1 Comment

Thomas Hawke, Flickr

When I was in Cleveland in September for Content Marketing World, I attended a roundtable discussion and was asked whether content marketers are marketers. “What a weird question,” I thought. Luckily someone else jumped in to talk, which gave me some time to think it over.

My answer went something like this:

My own career path has been completely disjointed. I have worked at various stages in my career as a writer, photographer, graphic designer, accountant, financial officer, editor, and market researcher. I have worked in the financial services industry, healthcare, education, management consulting, and medical devices. There was a time when I was really embarrassed by this strange, circuitous path. I would try to minimize some of my previous roles while playing up others. All in order to make my background seem a bit more expected and rational.

In 2007 I launched SoloPortfolio. Most of my clients hired me to do content marketing, even though I still didn’t know that term. In essence, my clients were not hiring me as a marketer, but really as someone who could speak in a voice that sounded like their own. They wanted me to put together thought leadership programs, research reports, educational series… all heavy with subject matter expertise.

All of a sudden, my crazy-ass, try-a-little-of-everything career made perfect sense.

Which leads me back to that question I was asked back at CM World in Cleveland—and why it’s so relevant. In my experience, content marketers are marketers plus something. Whether you’re talking about a professional marketer or a CEO-turned social media maven, the very best content marketers have something interesting to talk about besides marketing. Makes sense, no? Examples, please:

  • I have met a number of CM experts who are former publishers. They have incredible knowledge about how to draw an audience and how to distribute content. After all, content marketing is about helping companies become publishers.
  • Others are SEO and analytics experts, who offer the back-office smarts about how content can pull in customers at each stage of the buying process. In earlier days, these people were not considered marketers but more on the IT/engineering side.
  • I’ve now met many content marketers who are former professionals in another field entirely (attorneys, engineers, accountants, etc..). They understand that to get business, they have to speak the language of business, not marketing. And they have to offer up educational content, not marketing fluffiness.
  • Journalists. That one’s obvious. A good friend of mine is a marketer + journalist… and I value her ability to sniff out stories that a target market wants to read, and then beef up that story with excellent research. Great journalists are writers who did well in stats.
  • And then there’s Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion. As the owner of an in-ground pool business during the recession, he started experimenting with content marketing and social media to save the business. Marcus had zero training as a marketer, but is among the most savvy content marketer you’ll meet. Plus he has an uncanny ability to make an entire room laugh uproariously at their own stupidity. (Extremely rare talent.)

The very best content marketers understand that success really takes niche expertise. Whether you are working on behalf of a company that sells a particular service (and you need to be able to go deep to talk credibly about supply chain management or tort reform) or whether you work for an agency that serves those clients, content marketing really does come down to marketing + non-marketing niche expertise.

[Photo by Thomas Hawke, Flickr Creative Commons]


Join us for a conversation about B2B blogging.

October 11, 2010

Come join us for a big ol’ back-and-forth about business blogging on Nov 3 with Seltzer Design! I’ll be on a panel with Annie Smidt from Seltzer and Aaron Desatnik from NEXUS and we’ll be covering the practical strategies companies should consider when planning for and executing company blogs.

While blogs seem like an easy path for companies who are trying to build a content marketing strategy, the choice is definitely not for everyone. What do you hope to gain? How will you measure success? Have you identified your passionate experts and enlisted their support? How will you create a social media echo effect? If you want a good idea of the amount of work involved in building a blog following, check out Junta Joe’s 35 ways to market your blog.

Next post… What Would Chris Koch Do? (WWCKD) I’ll be giving you a round-up of why Chris Koch is my blogging hero (and why he breaks all my rules).

The Dangers (Not) of Individual-Branded Blogging

September 17, 2010

There have been quite a few well-known bloggers hop-scotching from one publication to the next of late. Most recently, Dan Primack, creator of peHUB Wire, announced last month that he’ll be moving on to work as a blogger/journalist for Dan built his blog following on peHUB from 300 to 60,000… something I’m not surprised by given his blog persona. It’s worthwhile to go back through his older posts and see how he manages to position himself as a private equity expert, while never taking himself too seriously. Case in point, Dan is the only serious private equity blogger I know who posted the Twitter Movie Trailer.

Dan’s departure from peHUB Wire (and Thomson Reuters) brings up an important issue: to what extent should companies rely on these super-star bloggers to advance their social media strategy? Is the turnover risk worth the investment?

Uuuuhhhh…. YES!

The real draw of peHUB Wire was not the expert content about the private equity space (though that’s part of it, of course) but seeing this information through Dan’s eyes. He’s super-smart but also irreverent and funny. I’m fairly certain Dan will bring a big chunk of his readership with him to

How will peHUB Wire fare without Dan? Will their subscriber base continue to grow without Dan at the keyboard? I believe so. They have a very talented roster of bloggers, some of whom have the same edge as Dan did.

What do you think? Does your company highlight the blogger over the blog? Could your blog survive without your writer-in-chief?

Biggest Study To Date of B2B Content Marketing

September 15, 2010 1 Comment

Out today: Junta42 and MarketingProfs have published the most comprehensive study of content marketing in the B2B space to date. The findings will surprise you.

I was thrilled when they asked me to participate as a co-author in June. Since then, we have been pouring over the data, analyzing how marketers are adapting to their new role as content authors and publishers. First, check out usage rates of different content marketing strategies, below. Social media, excluding blogs, is being used by nearly 80% of marketers. Can’t say you’re surprised, right? Other usage rates did, however, surprise (shock) me a bit. At nearly the bottom of the list: mobile content. For all the industry swooning over mobile, it’s just not there yet in B2B. 

So we know everyone is using content marketing as a core strategy. Even so, there exists what we call a “confidence gap” among B2B marketers. Marketers may be investing in content marketing, but they are somewhat in the weeds in terms of really understanding how to use tactics effectively. Look at the chart below.  Yes, you are reading that right: 69% of B2B marketers who use social media (and we know that approx 80% do), believe the tactic is not working for them. We really can’t be sure whether they believe the tactic isn’t effective, or whether they do not know how to measure effectiveness of social media… but I find it pretty astounding that 69% are declaring themselves social media wanderlings. Other often-used tactics don’t fare much better: blogs, videos, article posting and white papers all leave at least half of users dissatisfied.  In-person events seems to be the tactic with the highest degree of confidence. If you think about it, makes a lot of sense. Good old-fashioned face time. 

This “gap” finding points to the need for a lot more education among B2B marketers about how to use content effectively and measure results. This post is just scraping the surface… I’ll blog some more about the report findings this week, but in the meantime, get yourself over to Junta42 and download your copy. And let me know: do you feel confident about your content marketing strategy? Are there particular tactics you’ll be pulling back from in 2011? Why?

Accenture Still Suffering Loss of Tiger

May 21, 2010

Every time I visit Accenture’s website and see their stop-gap, post-Tiger branding strategy I feel a tinge of sadness.

The Tiger campaign was beautiful because of its emotional qualities. The perfectionism and athleticism–mixed with occasional humor–summed up the aspirations of Accenture’s client base. It was the go-to example of rock star marketing for every professional service marketer. 

Notice how the old campaign appealed to both business strategy and personal strategy (It’s what you do next that counts). That personal echo in the Tiger campaign was the secret ingredient. The elephant? You’re never to big to be nimble? No personal appeal. There are other creatures and corny taglines in this compaign, but I’ll spare you the pain. The Photoshopped images are too cute for the macho world of consulting.

Many of Tiger’s old sponsorships are coming back but, mark my words, Accenture won’t touch him. Accenture needs to dig down and take greater risks in their marketing… this current campaign won’t be around for long.

SoloPortfolio’s Website Launch

May 19, 2010

I’m thrilled to announce we’ll be rolling out a website in June 2010. The blog has been my placeholder website since 2008… but hey, the girl is growing up. More details to follow, but here’s a sneak peak of the concept.

I’m also excited to announce that I’ve been invited to become a blogger and instructor for the new Content Marketing Institute, which is sponsored by the rock star of content marketing, Joe Pulizzi at Junta42. CMI will be launching their social media and education platform in the coming month. I’ll be blogging for CMI twice per month and providing podcast-based instruction on topics in content marketing and information design.

Two great new websites in one month. Interplanetary alignment.

Brandkarma: Your Revenge Moment Has Arrived

March 23, 2010

Have you ever felt the need to dump on a brand? Maybe your Comcast technician treated you like a donkey and you want to get even? Your moment has arrived.

Fast Company today tipped me off to Craig Davis’s latest venture: Brandkarma

Launched today, Brandkarma is a social media platform where members can gripe or celebrate brands–and companies in turn can get early information about their brands from the frontline. So far the beta site is in it’s infancy… serious infancy. When I checked in their Facebook fan page had 8 members (including me). Even so, I think this is a concept with incredible potential.

The site asks you to rate brands from the perspective of: planet, customers, employees, suppliers, investors. 

From those ratings, they create a flower of sorts with petals sized to represent the average rating (such as below).

IMO, the infographic they are using is confusing… hard to figure out what size of petal means vs. color. I’m sure if I read the site carefully I would be able to understand their design methods but… why do I have to??

I’m excited to see where the project goes and whether it gains traction in these early months. OK.. I’m off to lay waste to my least favorite brands: Citibank, T-Mobile and Comcast. [Insert villainous cackle.]

A Guide to Infographics… Take Heed Content Marketers

March 17, 2010

The Wall Street Journal’s new Guide to Information Graphics is a great primer on visualizing data–whether you work in the financial field or any other number of disciplines. It covers everything from knowing which chart/graph best suits your data to choosing colors to illuminate your data. As I’ve said before… if you are a content marketer, you have to up your game. Everyone is a publisher these days and very smart people are being drowned out by the tidal wave of online B2B content. Infographics–beautifully rendered–are a sophisticated way to help your content sing.

The Changing Rules of Magazine Advertising… And What It Tells Us About B2B Content Marketing

February 24, 2010

No surprise, Ad Age reports that magazine ad revenues are down again–that’s a ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines. No one is predicting the death of print mags of course, but the industry is only beginning to embrace the kind of cross-integration that’s been needed for years. 

“Any publisher who thinks that magazine spending is going to rebound to their levels before 2008 and 2009 is naive and deluding themselves,” said Lee Doyle, North American CEO at Mediaedge, one of the leading media agencies. “The recession is only accelerating the fundamental changes going on, he said. Spending is moving into other areas — with or without the downturn.

So what are these “fundamental changes” that are taking place? What really are the new models out there? Let’s take Lonny Magazine, a digital shelter magazine, as an example. Lonny’s founder and editor is Michelle Adams, former editor at the now-shuttered Domino Magazine. When I opened Lonny’s digital pages for the first time, it blew my mind. Why?? 

Lonny takes a whole new approach to magazine content. Yes, it offers ad pages much the same as a print magazine, but Lonny also offers something else. If you flip through the e-magazine, you’ll find that many of the items shown in the photos are linked to the retailer selling that item. Take the image below…. Do you have to have those ceramic horns or that gingham-check lamp? Just click on them and Lonny will take you to the online retailer. 

The line between content and advertising is indeed blurring, and in Lonny’s case, that blurring happens quite gracefully and effortlessly. 

So what’s a B2B content marketer doing talking about an online shelter magazine, you ask? Well, in my role I develop strategies for professional service firms to reach their audience through content–digital and print. Content marketing is that funny place between journalism and marketing, and my brain is over-full thinking about that barrier region of thought leadership and marketing. How do marketers inhabit that space gracefully? How to showcase your intelligence in a way that markets your services… without the strong-arm pitch? And what can a magazine like Lonny tell us about how quickly old models of information + advertising are changing? 

I’ll be devoting the next few blog entries to this dilemma: What are the next wave of innovations available to business marketers who favor intelligence-based marketing? As I said, my brain is over-full teasing out all the implications… but the good news is, it’s a crazy-exciting time to be a business marketer.

Oh WSJ Infographics… How I love thee.

January 19, 2010 2 Comments

I’ve been harping a lot recently on infographics. Why? I think we are at a cross-roads with content marketing. B2B Magazine reports that 70% of companies their surveyed are using e-newsletters. Let me repeat that: 70% of B2B companies in the US have adopted e-newsletters. There’s a lot of spam in that category, I dare say. 

What’s a marketer to do? Design is absolutely critical in winning over readership. I want to be careful to say that good design is not the only ingredient necessary (otherwise known as lipstick on a pig), but excellent idea sourcing and writing, coupled with an intelligent use of information design and graphics, can be a powerful mix. My favorite e-newsletter design these days: PwC’s 10 Minute series

For those who are interested in information design, I recommend the Wall Street Journal’s interactive section. For a subset of articles they publish each day, the WSJ develops interactive charts and graphs to help their readers dive deeper into the subject. Their coverage of the Galleon hedge fund debacle in interactive visuals last Fall was a great marriage of journalism and visual design.

For businesses using content marketing as a core marketing and business development strategy, you should think closely not only about developing great written content, but also how to illuminate that content through design. For the budget-conscious, it may be as simple as using call-out boxes to aid folks who may be skimming. For those with larger coffers, infographics are a powerful way to reinforce your message and show off your intelligence. After all, smart graphics can be a beautiful amalgam of the analytical and creative—which may be just the message you want to send about yourself if you work in professional services. 

Another good resource: the WSJ’s new book on the subject.

I’ll be speaking on this subject tomorrow at Seltzer Design’s Breakfast Forum, which will take place at Greenberg Traurig’s offices at 1 International Place in Boston.