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]

Modular Content

May 24, 2011

I spend a lot of time noodling about information design. I believe that too few content marketers pay attention to design as an essential, ground-floor element of their content marketing strategy.

The lesson hit home for me personally when CCO magazine launched in January and a few bloggers pointed out (thank you) that our articles were too long and too linear. Readers wanted to be able to skim for key points and to decide whether any given article was worth their time.

The CCO team gathered about two months ago and gave me marching orders: Take each feature article and break it into pieces, add sidebars and pull-quotes. Add skimming elements. Make it more reader friendly!

I have since referred to this strategy as creating modular content. Rather than having one 1,200 word-article, we will run a 700 word article with a couple of sidebars that sum up key points or supplement the article with additional information.

This strategy has a few benefits:

  • Readers can self-select more easily and decide whether the article is right for them.
  • For the distracted, time-starved readers, modular content allows for speedy skimming.
  • Sidebars allow you to invite 3rd party authorities to weigh in on a topic and lend perspective and nuance.

Our July issue of CCO magazine will truly be the first issue that embraces this new mantra. Will include some of the new layouts for that issue in the blog when it is released next month. In the meantime, my new call-to-action: make it modular!

Flipboard: Marketers Take Heed

January 5, 2011 1 Comment

This week I am guest blogging over at the Content Marketing Institute, giving you a round-up of the Top 9 apps for iPad (the “9” is really annoying you OCD/round number people… shake it off!). My top-pick among the group–and something every marketer needs to demo asap–is Flipboard. Sometimes called the social magazine, Flipboard aggregates content from your favorite sources, plus things your friends are reading, and puts it all together in a glossy magazine format. If you really want to understand how it works, watch the demo video.

When I first gave Flipboard a test run, I swear the Apple tagline echoed through my head: “This changes everything.” I say this because as practical as RSS feeds and listening posts may be, they are poorly designed and tend to suck the life out of content that is otherwise beautifully presented. Flipboard acts as a content aggregator, but manages to preserve the tactile feel of a magazine because photography, video and artwork are considered a critical part of the content experience. On the other hand, my Google Reader account reminds me of when I worked for a newspaper in Boston’s Chinatown as a teenager and I was asked to cut up articles and actually paste them (yes, with real glue) to a storyboard. The end result was messy, overstuffed pages.

Marketers: if you produce content as part of your marketing mix (9 out of 10 in B2B do it), are you paying enough attention to information design, graphic design, illustrations? We are crazy-bombarded with information every day, and I would argue that most of us are becoming experts at tuning things out. How many e-newsletters do you open from your email box? How often do you take the time to read a research report or a case study cover-to-cover? When researching a B2B company to hire for your business, how much time do you spend on their website gathering information? I would argue that great design is a lubricant: helping your customers/prospects to linger. And with apps such as Flipboard gaining in popularity, design becomes a crucial element of content creation.

What do you think? Does your organization value the role of design in content creation? Have you tried out Flipboard?

Lightbulbs, Darts and Compasses: The Ugly Manifesto

November 10, 2010 2 Comments

I am issuing an all-out ban on ridiculously campy images as metaphors for business acumen–starting with light bulbs, darts and compasses. And by “campy” I don’t mean cute-campy like when yuppersnappers go and collect vintage anatomical models, but seriously ugly-outdated campy. At the risk of offending many in one fell swoop, I hereby declare that I believe light bulbs, darts and compasses are visual cliches and should NEVER appear in anything, evermore.

No more brightly lit bulbs to suggest blinding brilliance (the effect is rather the opposite, i.m.o.).

No more dartboards that suggest, “I sure did nail that one… and while I’m at it, I’m drinking an import! What are you doing?

No more compasses that shout, “In the world of business, I’m an Eagle Scout.”

I also forever ban:

  • Disembodied arms engaging in firm handshakes
  • The clear-glass whiteboard (this addition compliments of Rochelle Seltzer)
  • Diversity as modeled by many-colored hands reaching to the sky
  • The fake business meeting, especially if it includes this guy below (who figures in 60% of all iStock faux-meetings).

In my next installment, I’ll be showing you some B2B images that are refreshing… dare I say artistic? But in the meantime, please share your favorite campy-means-ugly images with me! (And if you recently used an ugly image as mentioned above, I’m so sorry.)

Why I Love Chris Koch

October 12, 2010 2 Comments

I’ve been following Chris Koch, blogger & B2B IT marketing strategist, for about a year and I read his weekly blog about 80% of the time—something I can’t say about many professional blogs that I follow. Koch writes for the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) as a paid intellectual in residence—and of course does a whole lot of evangelizing through his blog, related ITSMA publications and speaking events.

Here’s the thing about Chris (surely we are on a first-name basis after professing my love): he’s attracted thousands of loyal blog followers using a format that would make most marketers sweat.

Chris’s posts are usually over 1,000 words. (I am constantly reminding clients to keep their content short for terminally distracted readers.) He also uses blander than bland design for his blog, with few graphics of any kinds in his posts.

How is it that a long-winded, visually limp blog has captured the attention of so many (according to Koch, he has 300 people signing up for his blog every week)? Why is Chris Koch a content demi-god even while he breaks so many long-held rules?

Why is Chris Koch a True Thought Leader:

(1) As we say up here in Massachusetts, Chris Koch is wicked smart. But more than that, he is also very passionate about the topics he covers. This combination of uber-smarts and passion is toughest to find—and any organization that places a strategic focus on content marketing must identify and find ways to channel their smart + passionate experts. Whether content marketing is relegated to the marketing department or outsourced to a 3rd party, you still must make sure that the content is tightly tethered to your subject matter evangelists. Without smart, passionate SMEs, your content will not ring true and will be unlikely to achieve the desired echo-effect in social media circles.

(2) Koch doesn’t mind being controversial, such as when he weighed in on the uproar sparked by Forrester’s decision to ban personal blogs by Forrester analysts. Controversy is a tougher sell for organizations trying to build a following (after all, who wants to alienate a prospect). The important thing is this: content marketers must be willing to wrestle with their subject matter, seek out new information through rigorous research and intellectual curiosity, and then have a disciplined process to bring ideas forward. If you are too comfortable with what you are saying, chances are good that many others have said the very same thing before you (read: boring). See one of Koch’s blog entries deals with this subject (in 1,600 words… youch!): Thought Leadership Is Dead. Long Live Idea Marketing.

(3) Koch’s pedigree as a journalist (former Editor at CIO Magazine) is evident in the way he thoughtfully analyzes topics, methodically unpacks solutions, and engages his smart & influential readers. Want to know why journalists make first-rate content marketers? I blogged about this very topic for the Content Marketing Institute a few months ago.

(4) Koch’s writing style is smart with a touch of irreverence. Who says things like, “Trying and failing to dislodge the IT hairball?” Smart, after all, can sound boorish if a writer is wooden and pretentious. I can’t really articulate what separates boorish smart from engaging smart, but talking about IT hairballs has something to do with it.

What do you think? Who are your favorite thought leaders and why? Can you think of any other content rebels who are different—but very successful—at their craft?

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).

Can Content Marketing Transform PSF Innovation?

September 29, 2010

Bob Buday, an expert in thought leadership and principal of The Bloom Group, recently wrote a blog post that I believe captures my dream for content marketing in professional services. He wrote:

When companies use thought leadership to fuel new services or rejuvenate existing ones, they not only codify expertise on how to solve some business problem; they turn it into capability that many (not just a handful) of their professionals  can use with clients.  They do this by taking a powerful concept described in a white paper or research study and turn it into a rigorous methodology.  They then develop effective curriculum around that methodology and put their professionals through training programs so they can master it.

In other words, content marketing in this scenario is not just a promotional tool, but actually helps to capitalize on the intangibles (ie. intelligence) of a firm. I think it’s useful to think about this not just as the act of writing up a case study. Instead, the content marketer is a conduit to help consultants develop concepts, systems and tools–based on a prior engagement–that can be used by other members of the firm to serve clients.

I have long believed that marketers–particularly those who have depth of experience in a given industry or functional area–can be leveraged as members of the strategic team. But it really does take a special organization (and a talented marketing team) to make this happen. You need a marketer who has the ability to research, analyze, conceptualize and, of course, write. In a perfect world, that person also has a strong sense of information design.

Anyone have experience with this? Examples of firms where marketers are brought on to help build, expand, transform service offerings?

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?

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.