The Wizard and the Wand: Can Technology Solve Content Marketing’s Biggest Problem?
As editor of The Content Strategist, I often feel like I’m welcoming new readers to the content marketing party—pouring champagne glasses of optimistic trend pieces, passing out hors d’oeuvre articles full of impressive examples of brand storytelling. But today, I want to address the elephant in the ballroom. Most brands still haven’t mastered the one skill that makes content marketing work: telling relevant stories, day after day.
I call this capability “content velocity.” It’s the big test no one has aced yet, the issue everyone wants to ignore because it’s so hard to address.
Simply put, it’s time to tackle this challenge head-on and talk about why content velocity is such a big problem for brands, what needs to change, and how technology just might be able to provide a magical solution.
The Content Velocity Problem
What does a content velocity problem look like?
Well, according to the Content Marketing Institute, only 16 percent of B2B content marketers publish content daily; overall, only 42 percent of B2B marketers publish more than once a week, a figure that’s especially troubling when you consider that CMI’s stats include social media posts. The numbers aren’t much better for B2C marketers: Just 17 percent publish daily, and only 48 percent publish more than once a week.
We wanted to dig deeper into this problem, so we surveyed our audience of 413 B2B and B2C marketers—and posed a similar question: How many pieces of content do you create each week (excluding social media posts)? While the results of our survey were more heartening, we still found that just 25 percent of respondents were creating seven or more pieces of content each week, which you can see in the graph below.
And that’s a problem. Maybe a few brands can succeed while publishing only a handful of pieces per month, but those cases are becoming exceedingly rare. The most effective method is to create a steady stream of content so brands can appeal to primary and secondary audiences, keep those audiences interested long-term, and optimize quickly to double down on what’s working.
Yes, quality is king, and nothing turns a reader off like a bad story. But it’s hard to build a relationship if your content marketing is the equivalent of a one-night stand.
Why It’s So Hard
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Really good content marketing isn’t easy. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult.
Save for the Super Bowl, there’s no longer any environment in which brands have a captive audience to speak to. We’re living in a truly unique time when consumers have what seems like a limitless choice of things to read, watch, or listen to at any moment. Save for Facebook, there are no media gatekeepers anymore. Hell, there’s barely a gate.
On one hand, as marketing legend Seth Godin told me, this freedom to publish has given brands an incredible opportunity. “[F]or the first time in the history of humanity, any human being with a hundred bucks has the ability to reach any other one of the several billion people that are online,” Godin said. “We can connect to people who are outside of our geographic region, and we have the chance to do great work and to do it in a way that makes an impact. I think that’s astonishing, and I couldn’t imagine a more positive and bigger change to our culture than the one we’re in right now.”
If you’re still reading this piece, you’re probably excited by that opportunity. You’re also probably aware that without barriers to entry, there’s an incredible amount of content marketing competition. The media world is a battle royale, and every day, brands are fighting with millions of publishers and content creators to win even a single minute of someone’s precious time.
But most brand marketers are fighting this battle with one hand tied behind their backs. There’s no shortage of hurdles keeping brands from doing content well, and we write about them often. There are excessive legal roadblocks and convoluted approval processes, the battles for a half-decent budget, and, of course, the need for a culture of content so brands have the infrastructure in place to build loyal audiences.
On top of all that, brands are also struggling to spend enough time in the ring. According to CMI’s 2015 reports, less than half of marketers surveyed said their organization has a dedicated content marketing group (47 percent for B2B; 45 percent for B2C). Similarly, we found 73 percent of content marketers have fewer than four people devoted to their content marketing.
In many situations, the point person in charge of content marketing is also balancing other responsibilities. Or even if she can devote all her time to content marketing, she has a limited team and a slew of other challenges in addition to creating awesome content—challenges like evangelizing a content program, working with legal, distributing content, measuring its success, and optimizing accordingly. If she wants to succeed, she has to maximize every second available to her.
And she has to figure out how to tackle all of these challenges fast because the competition is heating up. Every day, it becomes harder to attract and retain an audience.
Better Wizards Need Better Wands
At Contently, we constantly think about these issues—in brainstorms, at lunch, and even, obsessively enough, after work at the bar. They’re hurdles we face as publishers ourselves and hurdles our brand and media clients face. However, over the past few years, we’ve come up with a proven way to take on this challenge and crush it. Conveniently enough, it boils down to an executive-friendly acronym, C.E.O.—create, engage, optimize. Contently co-founder Shane Snow likes to visualize it with the Flywheel:
The illustration is pretty simple. To build and retain an audience, you need a process in place that allows you to quickly create content, engage your audience with that content through multiple distribution channels, measure the success of each piece and distribution channel, and then use those measurements to fuel your next round of publishing.
From experience, we know it works. Over the past year, we’ve grown our audience for The Content Strategist five-fold. This month, over 200,000 people will read or watch the four stories we publish every weekday here on TCS, and many of those people will sign up for our daily newsletter and keep coming back. I’d love to be able to say that this is because, as Contently’s editor-in-chief, I’m some kind of content marketing wizard, the personification of Jay Baer’s rallying cry that “tools are great, but content marketing success is about the wizard, not the wand.” But I can’t.
In truth, the flywheel doesn’t work without a pretty great wand, which we have thanks to the software we built in-house and a combination of external tools:
This combination allows us to:
a) Rely on the Contently platform to create high-quality content, organize our editorial calendar, tap into a network of experienced freelance storytellers, collaborate with them quickly and efficiently, jet stories through our internal approval workflow, and publish to our CMS with a single click.
b) Engage our audience through our own tools as well as a combination of email and social media optimization platforms.
c) Measure and perfect the engagement process so we’re better publishers tomorrow than we were yesterday. Contently Insights is so helpful for cutting through the noise and figuring out what’s actually working.
To be honest, I used to think software wasn’t all that important to content marketing. I thought the wizard was all that mattered. But after using this system the past year and reporting on how brands struggle to master content marketing, I firmly believe software is going to be one of the key elements for brands that learn how to create content that resonates with people on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, most marketers don’t have the aforementioned tools at their disposal. We also asked that group of over 400 content marketers whether they have a tool or platform that helps them manage their content marketing program. The majority do not.
And only 32 percent have a tool that helps them measure their content effectiveness.
Even fewer—21 percent—have a tool or platform that helps them create more content at scale when they are ready to amp up their efforts.
Without these tools in place, brands and marketers are at a huge disadvantage. They’re destined to struggle when creating content, and they can’t optimize because they have no way of measuring what’s working in a meaningful way. The already limited amount of time they’re devoting to content is wasted.
Of course, on its own, the wand doesn’t solve anything. You still need a great wizard to make magic happen. And even then, it can take years of practice before you see truly great results. But I believe most brands and marketers would rather end up like Harry Potter, wielding that wand to defeat the dark arts (of display ads) than the Wizard of Oz, wand-less and pompous, bellowing about fake successes that never happened and never will.