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5 Content Marketing Lessons From Tech Giants

It’s no accident that tech leaders like Google, Apple, and Amazon have grown into some of the world’s most powerful organizations. By keeping up with rapidly changing technological developments and understanding how to best use their resources, they’ve all been able to sell their services in the most effective and engaging ways, even in a crowded marketplace.

So what if only a few key strategies are separating your company from the digital bigwigs? Let’s look into specific techniques you can take from these organizations and apply to your content team’s goals.

1. Objectives and key results

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capitalist John Doerr originally introduced Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to Google during 1999. According to Google Ventures partner Rick Klau, an OKR is a goal that should be uncomfortably ambitious, measurable (Google uses a 0.0–1.0 scale to measure success), and public. However, most importantly, OKRs should be goals that can’t be achieved. Rather than scoring a 1.0, you should be scoring a 0.6 or 0.7. If you consistently score the maximum 1.0, you need to set higher OKRs.

Secondly, despite Google’s use of the scale, OKRs don’t necessarily have to be quantitative; goals can be qualitative if they can be evaluated by the end of the quarter.

In order to increase effectiveness, Flurry Mobile product lead Kenton Kivetsu recommends setting only one or two OKRs per quarter. If you’re confused about where to start, content marketing OKRs generally fall into two categories: lead generation and thought leadership. Sample lead generation metrics can be a percentage increase in emails collected or a set quota. Thought leadership can be measured through a percentage increase in speaking gigs, a numerical increase in interviews, or byline opportunities.

2. Directly Responsible Individuals

As a content marketing team expands from one or two freelance writers into a large in-house team, dividing responsibilities becomes more complex. Some things don’t change—each blog post is assigned to one writer, and each editor is still responsible for editing a specific niche. However, it will be important to break larger tasks down to more granular levels.

For example, who is responsible for managing the editorial calendar? How about keeping tabs on each vertical’s calendar? For larger projects such as white papers, e-books, or reports, which writer will handle each section? Who will be tasked with design and distribution?

iPhone---Calendar

Apple has a simple, yet extremely effective, method for dealing with complex projects. Each meeting results in an action list, and a Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) is assigned to every item on this list. There is no ambiguity with the DRI method. It forces team members to distinctly divide up responsibilities.

3. Think clearly with narrative outlines

Structuring your content is crucial to the development process. Videographers use storyboards before they shoot film, designers create prototypes before passing mockups onto developers, and illustrators start with sketches before moving onto their final visuals. However, many writers just end up drafting blog posts or white papers on a whim. Before you hit the ground running with your blog idea, take a step back and use a technique from the Jeff Bezos playbook.

Every meeting of Amazon’s S-Team is structured around a six-page memo, called a “narrative,” about the subject to be discussed, and the first 30 minutes of each meeting are spent reading and jotting notes in the margins of the printed memo. In an interview with Fortune, Bezos noted how newcomers found his process strange, but he believes it demands everyone’s undivided attention. “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking,” Bezos said.

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While you may not want to write out full memos, creating comprehensive outlines can be extremely helpful when figuring out possible directions for content. You even have the opportunity to bounce ideas off experts or public relations colleagues (more on PR later!) for feedback.

4. Write a press release before creating larger content pieces

Many pieces of content marketing fall flat. Either they don’t resonate with the reader, don’t properly communicate the intended message, or are irrelevant.

Take another page out of Amazon’s book: Rather than impulsively executing ideas, their product managers work backwards by writing press releases for potential products or feature sets to get a better sense of whether their content would interest customers. If not, it’s easy for them to move on to the next idea.

In the early stages of drafting a significant piece of marketing collateral, write a short press release for it. Write a summary of your white paper, highlighting how it could benefit the reader. Experiment with different headlines and work with your PR team to figure out enticing angles. Then, collect data, consider new ideas, and move forward.

If the idea doesn’t come across as exciting in the press release, it probably won’t excite readers once you actually make it.

5. Stay Focused with a true north

The value of content marketing can’t always be measured quantitatively. As Joe Puluzzi once said, “How many shipwrecks did a lighthouse prevent?” But just because we can’t directly measure the value of lighthouses doesn’t mean they’re not making a difference.

If ROI is a tricky concept, you can stay focused on your mission by using a True North. Former CEO of Medtronic Bill George wrote about the concept of a True North from a leader’s perspective: It is the inner compass that helps guide leaders to new directions.

At his first startup, serial entrepreneur Matt Galligan used a variant of this technique—he kept his team focused by literally writing, “Does this make social networking better?” on the whiteboard. Whenever team members were discussing potential feature sets or ideas, they would use that question as their True North.

So, if you can’t rely on quantitative measures to prove your worth, guide your decision-making with questions like: How does this improve our readers’ lives? Sticking to your True North can keep you from veering too far left.

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Image by Evan Ology
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